Bulls make Pistons see red on Red Kerr night


Feb 11

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Break up the Bulls.

Well, on second thought, maybe they are having second thoughts about breaking up this Bulls team after Tuesday’s thrilling 107-102 comeback win over the Detroit Pistons in which the Bulls overcame a 15-point deficit in the last eight minutes.

“Our Achilles heel all season has been trying to get a ‘W’ when the game is on the line,” said Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 24 points and, effectively, hit the game winning three pointer with 16.7 seconds left. “To come back like we did against a team like the Pistons should give us a lot of confidence.”

And perhaps give management some pause in the rumored attempts to trade for Phoenix Suns star Amare Stoudemire.

The hottest talk around the NBA these days is the apparent availability of Stoudemire and that the Bulls are one of the principal teams involved in the discussions, which certainly would involve trading Tyrus Thomas among other players.

But Thomas Tuesday had another monster game with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth consecutive double/double and sixth in the past seven games. Thomas is now averaging over the last eight games 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals. Plus he’s had double figure rebounds in six of the last seven games, and a lack of rebounding has been one of the major criticisms of Stoudemire’s career. Is this a fluke for Thomas, or does almost three solid weeks of play suggest the light finally has gone on for the talented 22-year-old?

“Tyrus has been playing huge for us,” said Joakim Noah, who had 12 points and 16 rebounds and combined with Thomas for 14 offensive rebounds, to Pistons coach Michael Curry the biggest difference in the game. “Tyrus has been big on the glass. It feels good. I think we’re starting to know eachother as a team and playing better basketball. We’re getting the opportunity to play minutes and play through mistakes. We’re both young players and I feel like I’ve learned a lot in my year and a half and I think Tyrus has learned a lot, too. We’re hungry players and want to prove to people we’re capable of playing good basketball.”

And suddenly the Bulls have been, inching up to 23-29 with Tuesday’s win, but coming off a 4-3 road trip, the last big long one of the season, with two one-point overtime losses in which the Bulls had the ball and a chance to win at the end of regulation. And misses each time by Derrick Rose.

Time to trade for a closer?

So it was almost the same situation again, the Bulls trailing 102-101 with 28.7 seconds left and coming out of a timeout.

Rose again?

You betcha.

“I feel with Derrick’s ability, the quicker he learns in those situations,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, who went to the wiz kid again. “We’ve lost some games, but we’ve gotten good shots. In Minnesota, he got a decent look, Dallas a really good look. If we can open it up for Derrick off the dribble, Noce (Andres Nocioni) can stretch the defense and Ben can and we have some good options and tonight we were able to do it.”

Though not exactly as planned.

“It was a little helter skelter out there,” observed Gordon.

Del Negro went to Rose, who finished with 23 points and had just split three Pistons for a spectacular driving layup and the possession before that had pulled up for a 20 footer with Thomas driving in and passing back and blocking out two Pistons like a pulling guard.

“Just like we did it at Memphis,” said Rose.

So the kid had it going.

Rose drove down the left side and was met as he got to the basket by Rasheed Wallace, who blocked the shot. But Rose, tougher and stronger than he looks heck, tougher and stronger than Dwight Howard looks grabbed the ball, hesitated and then threw to Gordon, who was signaling in the far right baseline corner.

Gordon was open as Rodney Stuckey, who had burned the Bulls for 40 the last time the teams played but was a stumbling mess much of the game, had mistakenly drifted toward the middle and Rose.

“Derrick missed the shot, got his own rebound and saw me in the corner,” said Gordon. “I saw the defender’s (Stuckey) back turned and knew I had to get it up quick. I got a glimpse at the rim and was able to knock it down and get fouled. I just looked up at the scoreboard because I didn’t see anything after I got fouled. I did see the three go up on the scoreboard so I knew I had made it. I haven’t hit a shot like that in a while. It felt good to hit a big shot. I was open for a couple of seconds, so I was just hoping he saw me. I was waiting and ready.”

Gordon then made the free throw for a 105-102 Bulls lead. Still, plenty of time?

Not for this self destructing Pistons team, playing without a flu ridden Allen Iverson.

“I don’t know, I can’t explain it,” said Tayshaun Prince.

“It’s really hard to point out right now because it hurts so much,” said Richard Hamilton, who led the Pistons with 30 off the bench.

Just before Rose’s driving basket to get within one, Wallace, who seemed to put the Bulls away with a 15-point ball-don’t-lie third quarter in which he was calling and hitting bank shots, committed the blunder of the night when he lost count on the clock and with 14 seconds on the 24-second clock hurled up a wild three from the corner with 33.9 seconds left.

“Got nothin’ to say,” said Wallace afterward.

So now down three with 16.7 seconds left, Stuckey ran the baseline trying to get open with Rose following him and Antonio McDyess stepped out to set a pick and Rose and caught Rose flush in the head. Staggered Rose, went to the bench literally in tears of pain.

“I’ve never (had pain like that),” Rose said later. “I’ve still got a headache, but I’m fine. Things happen.”

Hamilton then drove to the basket, but Thomas appeared strong from the weak side, forcing Hamilton to alter his pass and it went out of bounds as he tried to get it to McDyess. Nocioni then was fouled and made two free throws to clinch the game, though the Pistons couldn’t resist adding another turnover.

And so the new standings board that is on the wall near Rose’s locker stall showed the Bulls just a game out of a playoff spot and coming on and facing a stumbling Miami team at the United Center Thursday before the All-Star break.

“I’ve got a little headache, but no problem,” said Rose. “We’re closer to the playoffs, so I think this was our biggest win.”

It surely was the team’s biggest night of the season with longtime broadcaster and NBA legend Johnny Kerr being honored in an unprecedented halftime ceremony that featured speeches by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and a video tribute from President Barack Obama. The Bulls wore their red uniforms as a tribute to Kerr, unveiled a statue of Kerr to be displayed on the United Center concourse and Jerry Colangelo presented Kerr with the lifetime achievement award from the Basketball Hall of Fame.

A transcript of the comments from the ceremony are posted in an earlier blog posting I did, but a few of us caught up with Scottie Pippen later and he added a further tribute.

“Johnny has been a great guy to spend my career traveling with,” said Pippen. “The way he called the game showed the passion we shared for the game. Winning and going back on the plane all those times, everyone knew I stole all the beer and I always (saved one) for Johnny. Hearing his voice on some of the greatest shots made in this franchise history… you hear the great announcers with the Celtics or Lakers in their championship era and there was nothing better than Johnny Kerr. Johnny was one of those guys no matter he always had a joke and kept things loose. Even tonight he had the same humor. You hate to see him like that (in a wheelchair suffering from prostate cancer), but he knows how to deal with individuals and that’s what makes a great coach and he was able to explain the game as well as anyone and why he was a great coach and a great announcer. He wasn’t one of those announcers who criticized us, and if he did it was constructive to try to help us learn. You look at that statue and say, ‘That’s Red and what he stood for.’ I hope he is around a long time to enjoy it. It’s well deserved and it’s a first class organization that bent over backward to do what’s right.”

Of course, with the trading deadline now just over a week away, the larger question for the team now is what is right for this team, a stay the course as these kids finally seem to be growing into players. Or cash in some of the chips and take a risk on a potential big score?

It looked early in the game Tuesday that was the way to go as the game plan teams use against the Bulls was working.

You go at the perimeter guards because they are small and don’t defend well, and Hamilton was blitzing Gordon after the Bulls took a 30-22 first quarter lead and led at halftime 51-50. The Bulls, like they do against most teams, try to push the pace and avoid being pummeled inside, which worked in the first quarter as Gordon and Nocioni got loose for late threes and that eight-point lead.

The Bulls had been switching the pick and roll, and it got them in trouble in the second quarter with big mismatches as Prince and Hamilton took advantage. The Bulls went back to their man defense midway through the second, but the guards got caught going under the screens or stuck in them and the Pistons opened up for jumpers. It got worse in the third quarter as Wallace, with 20 points and 10 rebounds, blitzed Thomas and Noah with an array of jumpers and Detroit led 85-71 after three.

The Bulls had been trying to front Wallace’s postups, but didn’t have much luck as they haven’t done much of that this season, and then Wallace just faded away and actually was hitting. Usually you hope he does because then he gets carried away and takes more of those instead of using his size inside, and it would haunt the Pistons at the end with that wild three during the Pistons last lead.

The Pistons did take out Luol Deng, who was one for seven, playing him tight and forcing him into more dribbling. But the Bulls became the aggressors, finally, after falling behind 94-79 with 7:30 left with Thomas starting it with a terrific sequence of offensive rebounds and drives and Rose finishing as the Bulls adjusted their pick and roll more to the top to give Rose a better chance for an open lane when the Pistons trapped with their big guy. The Bulls would have 37 free throws to 21 for Detroit as they closed the game with a 17-2 run.

“It was perfect out there,” said Rose. “Knowing they (Jordan, Pippen, Kerr) were watching and talking about us. We were happy to get the win for them.”

Though you wonder if they were talking about seeing this team a week or so from now or one that might look somewhat different.

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