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Heck no, Kirk Doesn't Want to Go as Bulls beat Bucks
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 19
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Kirk Hinrich never asked the Bulls to trade him.
He just showed them Wednesday in Milwaukee why they shouldn’t.
Hinrich played perhaps the best game of his career, and not only because he scored a season high 31 points with five threes in a 113-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks that moved the Bulls within a game and a half of the injury-decimated Bucks for the East’s final playoff spot.
Hinrich’s 14 fourth quarter points, including a stretch of seven straight midway through the fourth quarter that broke open a close game that had 14 lead changes and seven ties until then, had elements of Michael Jordan. Though it was hardly as artistic and with the controlled fury of Jordan. It was more Jerry Sloan with a fiery Hinrich sneaking up on Ramon Sessions for a steal with the Bulls hanging on to an 89-86 lead and streaking down for a layup.
Hinrich then waded in with the big guys and took the ball from Charlie Villanueva and ran out and hit a three off a Ben Gordon pass for a 94-86 Bulls lead with 6:16 remaining.
Hinrich then stripped Eddie Gill of the ball and got into a jawing session with Gill and Richard Jefferson, who bumped into Hinrich in a form of intimidation, though Hinrich was having none of it. It was Bulls gone wild as coach Vinny Del Negro earned a technical foul in the middle of it all after Bucks coach Scott Skiles got one a few minutes earlier as no one was happy with the officiating in a very hands on game.
Anyway, after Hinrich ran Gill into a wild miss, Hinrich blew by Gill with an ankle busting crossover and pulled up for a jumper to give the Bulls a 10-point lead with under five minutes remaining.
“Sometimes you play best when you’re a little upset, when you’re angry,” Hinrich said.
“Kirk had a great game, obviously shooting the ball and scoring,” said Skiles. “He just took our guards and made us look pretty silly on several occasions because he was playing so hard.”
Hinrich’s superb play came on the eve of the 2008-09 season trading deadline amidst rumors that Hinrich might be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for some expiring salary detritus. The Bulls weren’t interested, and with an excellent chance to make the playoffs now with the acquisition of former Bull Brad Miller and swingman John Salmons for Drew Gooden and Andres Nocioni, it seems highly unlikely the Bulls will make a move with Hinrich.
“Tomorrow’s the last day,” said Hinrich. “I’m just trying not to think about it. I can’t sit here and be worked up and worried about something I can’t control. I’m trying to focus on being here and doing whatever I can to help this team to play better and get in the playoff picture.”
And that’s suddenly coming into sharper focus despite a 24-30 record for the Bulls.
The Bulls are done with their Western Conference trips with only an overnighter in Oklahoma City. And they close the season with eight of their last 11 at home and seven of those against teams with losing records. Plus, among the teams currently ahead of them, the Bucks likely will be without Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd for the season. Heck. It’s so bad for the Bucks that Bango the mascot tore his ACL in the mascot competition at All Star weekend. The Pistons are just two over .500 and staggering. Andre Miller was hurt Wednesday in a 76ers loss. The Heat already lost with the famed malaise that Jermaine O’Neal brings to teams. The Nets, Knicks, Bobcats. Why not?
“It was a big game,” said Luol Deng, who scored 10 of the Bulls first 23 points and 21 for the game in something of a tribute to his best friend on the team, Nocioni. “We knew no matter what we had to come out and play hard. Whoever is in the locker room has to play hard. It’s tough. You become friends with those guys and become very close. It’s sad that we’re not working together anymore but at the same time you have to understand you have to get the job done when things happen.”
The Bulls did that against a spirited Bucks team that had won three straight and has been competing as hard any team despite three starters out with Luke Ridnour also sidelined. But in a physical game with plenty of no calls, the Bulls withstood the intimidation efforts without Nocioni, generally their toughest guy, and held the Bucks to 39.3 percent shooting and forced 22 turnovers for 33 points.
“We could see three minutes into the game that we didn’t have the intensity we had last night or the past few games,” said Skiles. “Tonight we were pretty uninspired and got exactly what we deserved.”
Though this time it was the Bulls who took some of that out of them despite 32 points from Richard Jefferson.
“Anytime Chicago plays against coach Skiles they’re a little more involved,” said Jefferson. “After the trade they were probably playing real relaxed with nothing to lose and we just couldn’t get it done tonight. We normally have more energy. We played hard but we just didn’t play smart.”
Deng came out firing in fitting memory of his buddy Noce, who rarely found a long jumper he didn’t like. It’s tough for the fans to see Nocioni go given his hustle and hard work, and even more difficult for his teammates given Noconi’s crackling wit and good humor. Plus, the Bulls know they’ll now have to play him and get hammered across the arm if they ever try for a three-point play.
Charlie Bell came off the bench late in the first for a pair of threes to give the Bucks a 20-19 lead after one as Tyrus Thomas got into quick foul trouble, giving Aaron Gray a chance later and Gray got a good run in with seven rebounds in 19 minutes trying to fight off the Bucks’ size advantage. With Gooden and Nocioni traded and Larry Hughes almost dealt to the Knicks and not at the game, the Bulls had just nine players with Lindsey Hunter not getting in.
Though it was clear from the start the Bulls with a nice rest since last Thursday were contesting shots better than they often do, though they’ve pretty much abandoned their man to man principles and mostly switch all the pick and rolls now. It causes numerous mismatches and often leaves a small man near the basket, in part accounting for the Bucks 50-38 rebounding edge with Charlie Villanueva getting 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“They were just making shots,” noted Villanueva, whom Skiles has playing perhaps the first real defense of his career. “Hinrich played well coming off the bench and they just wanted it more than us. They came out with a lot of energy and we couldn’t match it.. They came ready to play and we didn’t answer the call. We have to beat teams that are behind us.”
Though perhaps not for long.
Thabo Sefolosha, while again passing up a few too many shots, was all over on defense and though he was credited with only two steals, he was in the middle of disrupting more than a half dozen Bucks sets as Milwaukee continually had difficulty finding good shots.
The Bucks led 51-49 at halftime, and they looked like they’d take the game opening the second half forcing Deng and Ben Gordon into bad misses and getting three layups for a 59-49 lead.
Del Negro called a quick time out, and though Gordon, hounded effectively all game by Luc Mbah a Moute, committed a turnover, Mbah a Moute ran out and was stripped by Thomas. Gordon, who had 18 along with Derrick Rose, then pulled up for a three, Deng slipped in a corner jumper and Gordon drove and scored and the Bulls were back within one.
“We tried to catch balls with one hand and were just way to casual, even just inbounding the ball,” lamented Skiles. “We were getting into areas where normally we have been making good decisions and tonight we just we just had trouble hanging on to the ball.”
Thomas and Deng quickly drew their fourth fouls soon thereafter, but Sefolosha continued to be big on defense and Hinrich overcome a pair of turnovers to close the third with a three and 79-75 Bulls lead. Hinrich’s threes Wednesday also put him past Scottie Pippen and No. 2 on the team’s alltime list of three
s behind only Gordon.
“Kirk was the difference,” said Del Negro. “It was just a gutsy win for us. We have a lot of areas to improve, especially the rebounding and getting bodies on people. We have to handle the basketball better. We were fortunate tonight with Kirk getting hot at the right time.”
That was especially down the stretch as Hinrich opened the Bulls fourth quarter scoring with a three after the Bucks had tied the game again, and then Hinrich propelled the team to that 10-point lead with that fired up run midway through the fourth.
Joakim Noah needlessly fouled Jefferson on a three for a four-point play right after that. But Thomas finished off the Bucks with a follow slam on a Deng miss and another on a nifty pass from Rose, who ripped the ball away from two Bucks in a scramble under the basket. The Bucks were then left to foul away the game and the Bulls didn’t miss.
One more day to make trades, and my guess is the Bulls probably are done unless they can pawn off Larry Hughes on someone. I’d guess Miller eventually moves in as a starter to give the Bulls front court some scoring balance since Noah rarely is guarded. Salmons figures to come off the bench behind Gordon and Deng and in competition with Sefolosha for minutes.
Though since Del Negro has played mostly seven or at most eight players of late, you’d think there’s plenty of opportunity for another spot in the rotation. And it seems the Bulls have a reasonably solid one now.