Bulls Add to the Odor in New Jersey


Feb 26

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Vinny and I were having a bit of a dispute after Wednesday’s stunning come-from-ahead 111-99 Bulls loss to the New Jersey Nets. It was a respectable disagreement, one you might find between a man without much hair and another who has too much and knows it.

Anyway, my senses were up as I smelled something funny. Like Tyrus Thomas doing his Kornel David imitation and firing away on fourth quarter jumpers, three in four consecutive Bulls possessions with the other possession an off balance driving left hander from Thomas. David, you may remember as one of Tim Floyd’s favorites who called himself the Hungarian Michael Jordan. Who didn’t? Anyway, Kornel liked to fire them, which led to the classic line from then Bulls broadcaster John Paxson, who wondered if David’s translator had forgotten the English word for “pass.”

Anyway, this tommy gun Tyrus stretch began with the Bulls leading 82-81 with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter and concluded after Ben Gordon missed on a quick pull up 20 footer and a drive into traffic with the Bulls trailing 93-82 with 5:27 left.

John Salmons stopped that with a three, but the Nets then hit the Bulls with another eight straight as Salmons, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng searched out quick shots, and it was quickly apparent this one was over for the Bulls.

“Of course, people are going to look deep into it,” said Thomas, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds and five of 16 shooting. “I don’t think there is anything to look into and try to seriously analyze. We’ve got to do what we want to do sometimes. We’re not on the same page as far as what we want to do.”

Hey, investigative reporting is said to be dead. So while that was going on, the Nets’ Devin Harris, who finished with 42 points and 19 in the fourth quarter, was absolutely dismembering the Bulls version of defense, blowing by the guards and then Joakim Noah inside for a pair of layups, then pulling up for a three, driving again, hitting a runner, splitting the defense again for a layup and three-point play to begin to put the game out of reach at 101-85 with 3:56 left after that 8-0 run.

“We had a four-point lead at the end of the third (stop reminding us),” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “And then we couldn’t control penetration. We tried different things, some zone, contain, force him down, switched on him, but Harris was having his way. We tried to trap, force him down and did a bunch of stuff. He made some big plays, big shots. He made plays. We gave up too many points. He really hurt us with penetration.

“We took too many jump shots,” added Del Negro. “We tried to get back too quick. The ball movement was not near as sharp. We did not shoot it well. We were a little slow tonight. Harris was on a roll and it was tough to stop him. I thought some of Tyrus’ (shots) were forced. I thought some of them were not. But he wasn’t the only one. We didn’t go through our offense as much. It showed in just 19 assists. But Harris was the difference, no question.”

So it was left to Rose first and then Kirk Hinrich, who came in for Rose with the Bulls down 95-85 with 4:52 left as Rose never returned again down the stretch, and they were unable to do much with Harris.

“Harris was the difference,” agreed Rose, though pretty much only on that. “I think we should have trapped the pick and roll. He (Del Negro) told us to contain, so that’s what we were doing.”

The Bulls don’t often trap the pick and roll to try to stay away from perimeter shooters beating them, which worked well Tuesday in a different sort of way in the win over Orlando when the Bulls didn’t commit the double team early to Dwight Howard and had him somewhat confused on moving the ball. But this game seemed to call for some more action on Harris late given that he was scoring just about every time. And because Harris also kept going all the way to the basket and wasn’t looking to pass off the drive, so it seemed it would have been safe—since the didn’t seem to be trapping to get the ball out of his hands—if someone gave some weakside help on this drives.

“When someone is going off like that you just trap them,” said Rose. “We didn’t. He’s a good offensive player. It was hard to guard him out there.”

Hard for Rose, of course, who left early again, and somewhat hard for Hinrich, who bumped knees with Vince Carter earlier in the game and seemed hobbled some.

“It was tender the rest of the game,” admitted Hinrich, who had 14 points and tied Rose for team high with five assists. “I can only play him as tough as I can with the way we’re trying to play him while I’m out there.

“Recently, we’re on kind of a roller coaster out there,” said Hinrich. “Playing really well and having lapses, like the Indiana game where it seems under control (the Bulls led by nine with about a minute left in the third) and it gets away. It was the same tonight.”

So if it seems like a collapse and looks like a collapse and smells like a collapse, it must be a stinker, I mentioned to Del Negro.

Hey, they were in the ill-named Meadowlands, built on garbage fill.

“I don’t know if it was a stinker,” said Del Negro. “We were up four going into the fourth and they made plays and we did not. We had a really good game last night and not an effective fourth tonight. That’s how close things are.”

Though sometimes if you see a pile of manure, you can’t just tell people it’s a sunrise.

“We were doing stupid stuff the whole game and kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” said Gordon, who led the Bulls with 17 on six of 15 shooting. “Stupid shots, stupid decisions, stupid defense. We lost this one tonight, if you ask me. We shouldn’t play like this, so it is definitely disappointing,” he added. “This is a beatable team. We beat them twice already this season. The game was there. The game was there for us if we wanted it. We just didn’t play the way we needed to. Bad defense, bad offense, bad decision-making.”??

That should just about take in everyone.

It was a bad one, especially because the Nets are now 26-32 and tied in the standings with the Bulls, and the Nets even were talking about this as a must win toward a playoff spot.

The Bulls should have won this one, and like Sunday in Indianapolis, controlled this one basically throughout, though there were five ties and 11 lead changes.

Gordon got off to a quick start with 10 of his 17 in the first quarter and Brad Miller, one of three Bulls reserves in double figures, did nice work early in running Brook Lopez out of the game on some clever veteran moves to score and draw fouls, and Miller also threw a beautiful back door bounce pass to Gordon for a score. Though later Miller would pick up a turnover and lead to another when his passes were actually too good for some teammates as the Bulls haven’t seen his kind of high post passing before.

John Salmons carried the Bulls with a strong second quarter, scoring nine of his 15 points with some hard moves and a pretty baseline reverse, though the Nets crept ahead 50-49 at halftime.

So Del Negro was right in a sense that this was a close game, and Gordon correct as one the Bulls should have won with a dominant third quarter in which Thomas, who earlier got a block in his 18th straight game, and Hinrich each had seven. Hinrich closed the third with a three, a 20 footer and a runner. That gave the Bulls a 78-69 lead with about a minute left, though Harris drew Salmons into a three-point play and scored on a drive in what would be a harbinger of a nightmarish finish.

“Now is the time,” said Harris, who was coming off that miracle buzzer beater and 39 points in a win over the 76ers. “We really can’t wait anymore. We can’t be patient. I’d rather be aggressive than passive. Being more aggressive on offense is what I’m trying to do right now. I wanted to be aggressive and try and control the game as much as possible. The last two times we played this team, they made all the big plays in the fourth quarter. We definitely wanted to change things up.”

The Nets surely did.

Keyon Dooling harassed Gordon into a three for eight fourth quarter as the Bulls opened missing 12 of 13 shots to a Nets team that effectively became the first of the two of the night to try defense. Thomas fired off those four misses, one without a pass out of a timeout, in under three minutes. Luol Deng, who has been slumping in losing playing time since the trades, missed three of four and finished with 12 for the game. Hinrich and Rose were burned about equally by Harris, 10 with Hinrich playing him.

It’s becoming one of the intriguing sidebars of the Bulls season of late, Del Negro sitting Rose often in the fourth quarters and late, even though Rose has been perhaps the most effective Bull this season in late game situations. Though Del Negro seems to be making a point, even as he did in the win in Orlando when the ball moved better and the shots came out of better movement, that he seems somewhat more comfortable with veteran players and this development phase is over. The way to make the playoffs is to play the guys who know about being there, which doesn’t often include the team’s youngest and least experienced players.

It’s an interesting debate: Develop or win?

Can you do both?

And which is more important for the franchise? After all, making the playoffs generally is said to help everyone grow faster. Though can you grow if you are not in those kinds of situations that get you there?

It was an unfortunate loss for the Bulls, not only on blowing the lead, but Vince Carter had just 11 points on four of 14 shooting and Miller and Joakim Noah pretty much handed Lopez. Somehow Bobby Simmons got loose for 18 points off the bench, though the Bulls reserves still held a 42-35 edge. Though the Bulls free throw defense was atrocious as the Nets were 25 of 25 from the line.

“We were just out there going through the motions,” said Gordon. “We came down and made unforced errors. We were not helping one another, leaving guys out there just to drive, playing lackadaisical and with not enough effort. Losing games like this and to Indiana after playing like that against Orlando. It’s kind of confusing.”

I did want to add a little applause and congratulations for Kirk Hinrich, who is having his college No. 10 jersey retired Sunday by the U. of Kansas, whom he helped lead to a pair of Final Fours before coming to the Bulls.

Yes, Kirk Hinrich up there with Wilt, Clyde Lovellette, Paul Pierce. Danny Manning, at the Phog Allen Field House on the Naismith floor, one of the most storied basketball sites in the world.

“It’s an unbelievable honor,” said Hinrich, who is generally fairly blasé but seemed overwhelmed by the coming occasion. “It’s a magical place with all that tradition, all the great players who have been through there. I am truly honored. It’s unbelievable. I’m just so happy to be a small part of it.”

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