Bulls succumb to bright lights of Indy


Feb 22

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I know we’re talking about the Bulls and Pacers, but did you happen to see how the Toronto Raptors Sunday turned around a 30-point loss to the Knicks the other night and won by 11? It’s one of the inside secrets of the NBA.

Have you ever noticed why some teams, like the Knicks and Toronto, play so many of those early Sunday games? Teams get to request choices of dates and times when they submit their availabilities for the schedule. New York and Toronto put in for a lot of early Sunday games because, for players, those cities are regarded around the NBA for having the best night life and activities.

So since a team has to arrive the night before for all games, well, a late night in Toronto or New York can leave for some very tired opposing players on Sunday morning.

But in Indianapolis?

Though I will tell you from personal experience the downtown Steak ‘n Shake makes a heck of a vanilla malted, assuming, of course, you’re not bothered by some homeless guy strolling in and sleeping in the booth next to you.

The Bulls welcomed several new guys leaving their homes Sunday, and it turned out somewhat uncomfortably in a 98-91 loss to the Pacers.

What seemed most clear-and hardly unexpected as it often occurs after midseason trades-is coach Vinny Del Negro acted predictably like the kid with a pile of toys on Christmas morning.

He didn’t know which one to try out first.

So it was a helter skelter mix of rotations in the fourth quarter as the Bulls gave up an early fourth quarter lead to the Pacers, playing without injured Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, and watched T.J. Ford take the game away in the deciding stretch with nine points in a two and a half minutes stretch that took the Pacers from leading 84-82 to 95-88 with 1:08 left.

Hinrich had replaced Derrick Rose, ostensibly for defensive reasons, and Hinrich is the better overall defender. But Ford blew by Hinrich twice and scored with the Bulls unable to sort out assignments on the screen/roll all game with so many personnel changes. This was after the Bulls had pulled within 89-88 on a ridiculous, off balanced, fallaway Ben Gordon jumper against a triple team.

But the Bulls at that point concentrated on going just to Gordon, who led them with 28, though he didn’t get a shot until about a minute left in the third after that hot first half. Gordon then fired off a wild shot from deep before Ford hit a running bank for a 93-88 lead with 1:08 left. And then John Salmons, who had a nice debut with 12 off the bench, had his pass back to Gordon picked off by Ford, who ran in alone and dunked.

Gordon then missed a long three, and the Bulls were pretty much left to foul their way to the end as Troy Murphy added to his season high 27 points to go along with 14 rebounds.

“I thought our guys played hard, not real smart at times,” said Del Negro. “Offensive rebounds were the difference. We weren’t able to control T.J.’s penetration. We had opportunities but didn’t seem to capitalize on them. We had good looks. We weren’t able to knock them down. We weren’t able to handle penetration or offensive rebounds. I thought our guys played hard but I felt we didn’t have a sense of urgency.”

The bigger story for the Bulls, of course, was the new players who came in trade, Salmons, Brad Miller and Tim Thomas, all of whom had some good moments.

“I was excited to be out there,” said Miller. “I hadn’t actually played in a game in a while. It was pretty basic in terms of what we were trying to do offensively, so it wasn’t too hard to mesh with my teammates. We’re a bunch of veterans and that’s the good thing. It shouldn’t take us too long to get adjusted.”

Thomas hit his first shot, a three and had five points in a bit under eight minutes while Miller didn’t shoot well, but had 10 rebounds in just under 20 minutes.

Though maybe there was more to do in Indianapolis than I remembered since the Pacers clearly outworked and outhustled the Bulls, getting 17 offensive rebounds and dominating in the paint, 30-14.

It shouldn’t have been that way with All Star Granger out as the Pacers went with three guards much of the way with Marquis Daniels starting at small forward and scrambling the game with smaller lineups. Though the Pacers are 4-1 without Granger and Dunleavy and do hustle more with their smaller lineup.

“I think teams look at that and come into the game seeing we’re missing Mike and Danny, they might take us a little lightly,” Murphy said. “So I think that has a lot to do with it. They overlook us.”

Small should be the Bulls kind of game. But they couldn’t take advantage, and even fell behind 69-55 midway through the third quarter as they sleepwalked out of the halftime locker room.

The first quarter was pretty much an All-Star like setting with little defense and a 27-27 tie. Joakim Noah, with 12 rebounds, was able to have some success with the Pacers going small, though, like Gordon, he did most of his damage early with 10 of his rebounds in the first half.

Yes, those wild Indy nights.

There also was a curious sequence for Indiana when they actually went into Roy Hibbert several times in a row. To say Hibbert is awkward with the ball is giving him praise. He makes Noah look like Walt Frazier.

Salmons had a nice run in the second quarter as he opened with a pair of jumpers and closed with a nice drive and pitchout to Gordon for a three as Gordon closed the half with 22 points.

“His first half was strong, making everything,” said Del Negro. “He got us back in the game.”

That’s right: If you think you’re getting my starting job…

“I had a lot of nervous energy,” said Salmons. “It felt like everything was going at 100 miles per hour. But after a while, it turned into a regular basketball game. I started to get comfortable after I ran up and down the court a couple of times and was able to settle down and play some basketball and try to help my team out. After the beginning of the game, I felt that we got pretty comfortable. I was feeling my way and just trying to play my role. Then in the third quarter, we got back in the game because we got stops. They were killing us on the pick and roll. But in that quarter, we did a great job on defending it.”

The Bulls trailed 52-51 at halftime, but then stumbled with that early Rose substitution and Hibbert actually stumbled into some fouls and hit three free throws and the Pacers took that biggest 14-point lead when Maceo Boston (that’s right Bulls second rounder in 1998) put in a loose ball for that 69-55 lead with 5:46 left in the third.

The Bulls did get themselves back in it shortly thereafter when Salmons, Tim Thomas and then Hinrich made consecutive threes to get within 75-74 after three quarters. Though it was fool’s gold, as Gregg Popovich always likes to say about a mirage.

The Bulls were falling into the trap of shooting perimeter jumpers. So they were unable to take the game away, as they should have at that point with the Pacers going more than 11 minutes—until a Murphy momentum changing three to tie it at 80 with 6:43 left—without making a field goal.

I thought part of the problem was the Bulls had gotten away from pushing the ball as Del Negro took Rose out of the game just over two minutes into the third quarter after Rose was beaten by Ford twice to open the second half.

Rose returned late in the third in time for the Bulls to begin that comeback into the game, and then went out again in the fourth with the Bulls behind 84-82 and didn’t return until there was just over a minute left and the Bulls were behind by five.

Yes, Rose was having a poor shooting game, going just one of nine for three points with eight assists in 28 minutes.

But without him the Bulls weren’t getting as much movement or penetration with the ball mostly settling with someone on the perimeter for a shot. The Bulls shot two free throws in the last 7:43 of the game.

The fourth quarter then became difficult to keep track of with players being shuttled back and forth and the Bulls scoring just 17 points with only Deng and Gordon with field goals in the last five minutes.

And just when it seemed Del Negro had finally settled on a rotation. This may take a bit of time to sort itself out.

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