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Bulls Lose and You Cannot Believe This One
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 13
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This one for the Bulls Thursday against the Miami Heat was like getting ready to go on a driving vacation and smashing up your car.
“It’s definitely heart breaking,” said Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 34 points and at least was lucky enough to be on the sidelines watching as the Bulls crashed with another famous feckless finish and lost 95-93 when Shawn Marion dunked with a second left on an inbounds play.
No one play makes a game. And the Bulls really didn’t deserve this one as they trailed just about the entire game, including by 14 late in the third quarter and by seven with 61 seconds left.
“I thought we did not play well in the first half,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We played at the tempo Miami likes. We had opportunities in the fourth quarter when we got some stops. We were not able to execute down the stretch. You cannot expect to play one quarter well and beat a team like Miami. I liked the effort and the resolve but we cannot afford to beat ourselves.”
And in the end, the Bulls did, and it was a team effort equally shared by the players and the coach.
If not particularly well played, it was a thrilling last few seconds as Daequan Cook inexplicably-we say that too much as it seems to happen so often now-fouled Gordon shooting a three pointer with the Bulls trailing by three and six seconds left. I’m not sure if it’s only the guys who stay one year in college, though we did see the Clippers’ Eric Gordon do one of these dumb dumbs earlier this season. Maybe the NBA should make these guys stay in college six years at this rate.
Anyway, Gordon made three free throws to tie the game.
OK, Miami ball. Obviously it’s going to Dwyane Wade, who had 24 points but on nine of 24 shooting as the Bulls finally went to Kirk Hinrich on him. Hinrich mostly did a good job after Wade had been torching Gordon and throwing off the entire Bulls defense with his penetration.
Wade was at the baseline with Shawn Marion inbounding, and the Heat would notice something that would eventually win the game. But they went with the called play to get Wade deep on Hinrich.
“We were really fortunate tonight,” said Wade. “We had a great play set up the first time but Kirk made a really good play on it.”
Wade actually bobbled the ball, and Hinrich quickly retrieved as he was overplaying and called timout.
It looked like another brilliant finish after the Bulls beat the Pistons Tuesday despite trailing by 10 with four minutes left and by 15 earlier in the fourth.
Bulls ball. 4.7 seconds left.
But Del Negro, curiously, put in Thabo Sefolosha to make the inbounds pass even though Sefolosha played just six minutes in the game and hadn’t played since midway through the second quarter. I know, it just was an inbounds pass.
But Wade made a great play and Sefolosha was like the quarterback who just looks at one receiver and the safety watches his eyes.
Gordon was supposed to come off a screen and get to the right corner. Gordon set up on the left side. He lost Cook cutting across the middle as Cook ran ahead of Gordon to the perimeter. And they put that guy in the three point contest over Gordon? He may not remember where the ball rack is.
Anyway, Gordon then ran off a screen by Joakim Noah and got alone into the corner. But Wade watched Gordon and then when he saw where Gordon was going, Wade looked back at Sefolsoha and stepped in for the interception and called timeout with 3.5 seconds left.
“I was in the right place at the right time to get that steal,” said Wade, too modestly.
But where the heck was the Bulls finisher?
Derrick Rose, who had been the player of choice for last second shots, was on the bench. Even Tuesday when Rose missed that final driving attempt for the win, but got the ball back and found Gordon for the winner, Del Negro said after the game even with Rose missing these shots of late-at the end of regulation in both Minnesota and Dallas that led to overtime losses-it was important for Rose to learn in those situations and he would continue to use Rose that way.
Yet, the Bulls had two non scorers on the court in Noah and Tyrus Thomas and Sefolsoha inbounding. It’s common on those plays to pass inbounds and then go back to the inbounder for a shot. But Sefolosha isn’t a shooter, and he had been out of the game for so long. Hinrich also was on the court. But he ran way up top well beyond the three point line. The play to Gordon seemed virtually given away, especially with Sefolosha leaning in and falling off balance and having to throw the ball quickly.
“Thabo has thrown the ball in at different situations,” said Del Negro. “It was a tough position to put him in. We had a couple of guys open and were not able to convert the play. We had plenty of time to get a couple of dribbles and get off a shot but were not able to execute.”
But how could Rose not be in the game when an attack at the basket seemed the best option?
My guess is Del Negro simply forgot. He had been taking Rose out for defense and didn’t play him as the Bulls came back in the fourth quarter to get within two with Rose on the bench the first seven minutes. And Del Negro had taken Rose out for the bigger Luol Deng with six seconds left with Marion inbounding that first time when Hinrich stole the ball.
“Kirk was playing well,” said Del Negro. “You had Ben open in the corner but Dwayne made a nice play. Kirk had been playing really well and I just wanted to go that way.”
So now after the Wade steal the Heat set up for the same play again, the one Wade bobbled to Hinrich a few seconds earlier.
But they apparently noticed something on that play.
Thomas had been playing a sort of free safety and turning his back on Marion the first time. So with the chance to try the play again, Wade set up under the basket again. But this time he ran out toward the three point line and Thomas was suckered into following him, never turning to see where Marion was. Marion simply threw the ball to Wade, who dropped a nice bounce pass to a cutting Marion as Noah and Sefolosha from the far side were too late to get to a dunking Marion. The Bulls even had a foul to give, but no one was even close enough to Marion to do so.
Bye, fellas. Enjoy your All-Star break vacation.
“We lost track of our man there,” said Del Negro. “We gave a lot of attention to Dwayne and Shawn snuck in behind. Dwayne was underneath the basket with Kirk on him and we thought he was going to get a lob so Tyrus stepped back there to help Kirk. When Dwayne came back up, Tyrus lost his vision with Shawn who back cut him with the inbounds pass. Shawn is quick and finished it quick. Dwayne made a nice pass and it was unfortunate.”
And so there is now one game left, in Milwaukee Wednesday, before the Bulls have to decide if they want to make major changes to their roster with a trade. Same with Miami, which is said to be in competition with the Bulls for Suns star Amare Stoudemire.
The Bulls fell to 23-30 with the loss, another close game and competitive effort, it not always well played.
The Bulls committed 19 turnovers for 22 Miami points, and from the usual suspects, six from Thomas (lazy passes), four from Noah (bringing the ball down and getting stripped) and three from Gordon (generally unforced on dribbles). And they allowed Miami to shoot 48.7 percent with Gordon repeatedly getting lost on Wade, who is a tough cover for anyone, and Thomas cheating over to get blocks, and he and Noah got a pair each.
Thomas was relatively productive again with 15 points and eight rebounds and Noah had 11 rebounds. The Bulls got to the line 35 times to Miami’s 13 with Gordon getting 16 free throws as the Heat pushed up on him to try to get him out of his shooting stroke. It is the opposite strategy teams use on Wade, whom they like to lay off so he cannot drive. But the Bulls have so much difficulty playing through screens, they had to often go into a zone or just switch every screen, which puts them in constant mismatches with their small lineup and helped Michael Beasley come off the bench for 21 points.
“Michael was great tonight,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a coach of the year candidate with the Heat 28-24. “Yesterday I had a talk with our three young guys before practice. I talked especially to Michael since he has gotten a lot of criticism lately. We knew there would be ups and downs for every rookie. He has been very efficient as a scorer, especially as a rookie. He has been really tough and showed it tonight.”
And though Cook made some bonehead plays, he hit a huge three with 5:54 left after the Bulls had pulled within 80-78 with a 13-2 run to open the fourth with two nice Hinrich drives and some pressure on Wade.
Though as much of an improvement as Hinrich was on Wade, Wade is having an MVP season in carrying this relatively weak Miami team into playoff position.
“I struggled early,” said Wade. “However, that meant I just had to be aggressive if we were going to win. I made three big shots coming down to the end. This was just great to get the win here. We have lost six of eight and a lot of those losses were like this game. We play three good quarters and one bad one then lose.”
The Bulls actually took an 86-85 lead with 3:16 left as Rose, with 18 points on seven of 14 shooting, split a double as the Heat constantly trapped him and blew by Udonis Haslem for a layup.
But then Rose got beat by Mario Chalmers for a score as Miami took the lead back, and after Rose was blocked by Marion in a drive, Wade put a beautiful spin move on Hinrich for a score. Then Wade got Noah on a switch and hit a bank shot as Noah jumped out too quickly. Rose then found Noah on a pick and roll but Noah lost the ball going in and Wade came back with a jumper over Rose on another switch for that 93-86 lead with 1:01 left. It seemed over.
It seemed over earlier when Miami led 50-39 at halftime, though Thomas had a highlight slam over Beasley and Rose had the highlight drive of the game beating Wade, Beasley and Haslem and twisting at the basket for a score, though the Bulls would trail 76-65 after three. Wade did suggest to the Bulls he’d be around with a poster slam after that fancy Rose drive.
“Rose is very explosive,” said Wade. “He is like lightening with his quickness. They got a good one in him as we did with Michael. Tonight they both put on a great show for (TNT national) TV.”
Though the Bulls would come back again, Rose driving and getting fouled to cut the deficit to five with a minute left. Then the Bulls finally put a hard double on Wade and he dropped the ball to Cook, whose layup attempt was blocked. Thomas then drove for a slam to pull within 93-90, and the Bulls got that stop to give them a chance when Wade shot an 18 footer short. Then Cook fouled Gordon on that three, and heartbreak and exhilaration became each team’s companions.
“All we had to do was get the ball inbounds,” said Gordon. “We had our chances.”