Bulls Can't Beat the Raps This Time


Mar 29

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I suppose you could look at Sunday’s Bulls tough 134-129 overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors this way: They probably had no business being even close, trailing by 18 points in the fourth quarter, playing their usual short rotation in a second straight early afternoon game, defending like they were trying out for the bullfights and in a city known for its vibrant night life that has left many a better player torpid for the early afternoon game.

But thanks to a heck of a run by Ben Gordon, with 17 fourth quarter points and an improbable 22 footer over Chris Bosh to send the game into overtime at the buzzer, the Bulls did their half of an entertaining show.

“I’m happy the way the guys fought and stayed in the game,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “They could have packed it in. “But our guys are fighters. They kept working and found a good rhythm there and Ben got it to the basket.”

A word about Gordon—OK, maybe a paragraph or three—before I get to that what itfs and what could have beens, like where was John Salmons the last 17 minutes and what’s with Derrick Rose on Shawn Marion late, in a shootout in which the Raptors set a franchise record for points and the Bulls had season highs in points and shots.

One of the quiet subplots of the game was the possibilities regarding whether the Bulls, and any number of other teams, can trade for Bosh this summer given his coming free agent status. Bosh finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds and a crucial overtime three-point play over Joakim Noah in a play remarkably similar to one in January when Noah stuffed Bosh and the Bulls pulled out a win in Toronto.

This time Bosh backed Noah deep and scored and was fouled to give Toronto a 129-127 lead with 14.8 seconds left, and when Derrick Rose was stripped while triple teamed on the next possession, the Bulls were back in eighth in the East at 36-39 and a nervous two games ahead of Charlotte.

So, yes, every game makes a big difference now as the Bulls head for Indiana Tuesday and then close with five of their last six at home. But you still have to play them, and almost being blown out by 14th place Toronto suggests there are no easy games.

Which is why it’s nice to have a guy like Gordon around.

He finished with 37 points, 28 in the second half.

There is likely to be two big postseason debates for the Bulls: Whether they can put together a package to acquire Bosh, which is a longshot given his value to the Raptors, and whether they can, will want to or will be able to resign Gordon.

“I thought we did a good job at getting some stops, but it seemed like they were hitting (shots) every single time down,” said Gordon in somewhat of a contradiction. “We were able to get some stops and get some baskets in the overtime, but they kind of just hit their stride in overtime and we couldn’t keep up with them. I think our guys are a little tired but we fought really hard. I think we definitely left everything on the floor and it came down to the very end.”

It came down to that very end because of Gordon, and because he keeps playing.

Yes, not always like you’d want on defense, and not always with the greatest shot selection or movement of the ball. But like former Bulls coach Scott Skiles used to say, Gordon may be one of the most unusual players in the history of the game with his quick shot and shot making. He’s the classic mold of the sixth man, though he starts, and is perhaps more Ricky Pierce and Eddie Johnson than the classics who started that role like John Havlicek and Frank Ramsey. Gordon often gets compared with Detroit’s sixth man, Microwave Vinny Johnson. But Gordon is far superior to Johnson with Gordon’s ability for immediate production an amazing toughness.

We sometimes take him for granted, though one of the keys to Gordon is his amazing lower body control. Sure, you’d like to see it occasionally in a defensive stance. But Gordon is unusual in the way he’s able to remain so low in an offensive position then explode, effectively pushing off like a power pitcher like Tom Seaver.

There was one sequence early in Sunday’s game when Gordon was down as play continued the other way, something you rarely see because Gordon is like the Rocky Marciano of basketball. You almost can’t knock the guy down. He took one of the hardest screens I’ve seen lately against the Pacers Saturday from Jeff Foster, but barely budged.

So there were the Bulls Sunday, effectively done, trailing 98-80 with 10 minutes left. Second of a back to back, though, more importantly, in Toronto. It’s regarded by NBA players as perhaps the best nightlife city in the NBA, and it’s no coincidence the Raptors request so many early Sunday games since teams get to make various requests for the schedule makeup before the season. It helped the Raptors immeasurably when they were a better team.

Having won seven of eight and four straight coming in, you figured it was a game to let go for the Bulls.

But Gordon shoots. So what the heck.

The Bulls still were down 105-90 with seven minutes left after a Jose Calderon jumper. Calderon was killing the Bulls guards on the way to a brutally efficient 22 points and 19 assists, taking just 11 shots.

“Can you play much better?” marveled Toronto coach Jay Triano.

But Tyrus Thomas took a lob from Rose for a score and then Gordon ran out and was fouled after a turnover. Bosh was fouled and made a pair of free throws. But then Gordon turned the corner on a Brad Miller screen and hit a 20 footer to bring the Bulls within 107-95 with six minutes left. Hmmmm. There’s really an art to this as Gordon is terrific at not leaving much space between he and the screener so it’s more difficult for a trailing defender to get over.

Thomas, who had an off shooting game as the Raptors laid off him in the overtime and he missed both jumpers and was scoreless, blocked Bosh. Rose got the ball and went all the way for the score.

No, this wasn’t a game where anyone was stepping up, or stepping in, to make a defensive play as both teams shot over 54 percent, the Bulls 55.3. And lost!

Calderon unloaded a three with Kirk Hinrich on him as the Bulls, curiously, stayed with Hinrich, Gordon and Rose throughout the fourth quarter and overtime with all three playing all 17 minutes and Salmons never getting back into the game even after his fourth quarter heroics against Indiana Saturday.

Salmons had been having a minor groin problem of late, though he had averaged more than 40 minutes throughout March. Del Negro said it was tight and he didn’t want to risk putting Salmons back into the game after a slow start. The Bulls expect Salmons to play Tuesday. Tyrus Thomas then helped force the Raptors into a 24-second violation as they went in to Marion again.

Del Negro likes to go with the old who brung ‘em, as it were: The guys who got you there. Which was why he said he rarely went back to Noah after Noah had a dozen in the first half and was aggressive offensively. But that small lineup just wasn’t up to defending the much bigger Raptors without a breather. And it was when the Bulls started the fourth quarter trying to protect that group in a zone that Toronto went on an 8-3 run for that 18-point lead 90 seconds into the fourth.

Tyrus did hit an open jumper then, and the Bulls did get some pressure from Hinrich, who forced Calderon into a turnover. Hinrich did have some impressive defensive moments late, even one pushing Bosh into a bad miss. But the three guards just were too small for too long.

Hinrich them forced a pulling up Andrea Barnani into a miss and Rose ran out and was fouled. After Bargnani, who had 28 points, missed, Rose hit a pull up. Bargnani committed a three second trying to post Hinrich inside. Gordon then split Anthony Parker and Calderon for a layup and foul, and suddenly the Bulls trailed 110-106 with 3:13 left as the Bulls reserves erupted on the bench.

Hey, while we’re here, maybe we should try to win the game.

Bosh got fouled slipping a screen and made both free throws. But Rose saved a loose ball on a scramble and coolly found Hinrich alone for a three to bring the Bulls within 112-109 with 2:20 left.

Rose was making terrific plays, though he’d eventually, unnecessarily, blame himself for the loss.

With the size differences, Rose was caught on Shawn Marion. Which was the kind of gamble I don’t often oppose. Let a team try to get it to a guy who’s not accustomed to posting up, like Marion. It worked often enough for Toronto to eventually abandon it late in the overtime. But Marion got deep as Rose didn’t push him out enough and put in a half hook. Rose then took a pass from Miller and took hard contact from Calderon and held the ball and laid it in to get the Bulls back within 114-111 with 1:48 left.

Equally unappreciated about Rose is how strong he is and routinely takes the hard hit at the basket and scores. If it were LeBron James or Dwyane Wade they probably would have screamed and gotten a foul call, too. Rose just may be more classy. Though the team would like the foul call.

After Marion missed in the paint, Gordon got Bosh on a screen, dribbled between his legs several times as he couldn’t beat Bosh, and threw in a rainbow to get the Bulls within 114-113 with 1:16 left. Bosh, by the way, gets down in a heck of a defensive stance and can play good defense even against guards. Yes, get that guy if you can. Is it worth giving up Gordon and other pieces? And would Toronto even bite? To be continued.

Tyrus Thomas continued to lay off Bargnani, and Bargnani faked and stepped by him for a pull up. But Miller scored inside to on a nice pass from Tyrus Thomas to keep it at one with 51 seconds left.

Hinrich, with Rose helping, then made that heck of a defensive play on a Bosh baseline jumper with the shot clock running down, and then Rose missed the easiest big shot of his life.

The play out of a timeout with the Bulls down 116-115 was for Gordon on top. He missed a 22 footer, but the ball bounced long and Hinrich cutting across the paint grabbed it and dropped it off to Rose cutting for the basket alone. Inexplicably, the layup for the one-point lead with 12 seconds left went off the backboard just like in layup lines, but hit the rim and came out. Tyrus then grabbed it, but was blocked by Marion in a frenzied possession.


“Never, never (missed one like that),” Rose said afterward. “It’s disappointing and that’s why I’ll put this game on me tonight. Real tough. Especially where we are at now, trying to make a push for the playoffs. My teammates are playing hard, it seemed like I let them down tonight.”

No, but magnanimous of him to say.

Trailing 116-115, the Bulls fouled Calderon, the league’s best free throw shooter at an amazing 97.8 percent, and he made both. The Raptors didn’t want to risk the tying three. They fouled Rose and he made both with 6.6 seconds left. The Bulls fouled Parker, who made one of two.

A chance.

Rose ran the ball up without a timeout left and handed to Gordon coming around from the left corner. Bosh took the switch and Gordon rose up with Bosh’s hand practically in his nostrils and netted a 20 footer for the shocking tie.

It was such a terrific moment even veteran assistant Del Harris leaped off the bench pumping his fist. And even without a defibrillator that close.

Yes, this one was getting hearts racing.

“We just had five or six seconds left and I just wanted to be aggressive,” said Gordon. “My intentions were to get all the way to the basket. But Chris Bosh did a pretty good job of not letting me turn the corner, so I just had to pull up and I was able to connect.”

The Bulls took their first lead of the game to open the overtime, and you figured that would be too much for Toronto.

The Bulls went ahead 125-121 on a pair of Rose drives. But Marion then got Rose deep and scored, a key turnaround as you figured a stop there and a Bulls basket would have been enough. Tyrus Thomas then missed a straight on 18 footer, and the next time Toronto went into Marion, the Bulls came to help and Toronto swung the ball on top and Tyrus Thomas was late getting back to Bargnani, who hit a three for the 126-125 lead with 1:47 left in overtime. After Miller stepped out on Calderon and forced a turnover, Rose sprinted out and gave the Bulls the 127-126 lead with 28.9 seconds left when he barreled into Bargnani, took the hit and scored.

Right, no three point chance. We know. He never gets those calls. I generally defend the refereeing, and it’s the best in the world. If you watched the NCAA’s you should understand. But this rookie hazing thing does go a bit far sometimes.

Especially right after that when the Raptors finally gave up on the Marion-Rose matchup strategy.

“We got caught up trying to get the ball to Shawn because Derrick Rose was guarding him and we became stagnant,” said Traino. “The shot clock violation and then a bad shot. I just said. ‘You know what, forget this, Chris Bosh is our guy, let’s go back to him.’ I know he wanted a piece of Noah, because Noah had him for the last shot last time we played in this building.”

That was in January in one of Noah’s highlights of his pro career, not biting on Bosh’s pump fake and then blocking Bosh’s shot to prevent overtime.

I remember Bosh after that game and what he said: “I made a mistake. Joakim Noah played good defense and I need to keep my dribble next time. It won’t be the last time that we’re in a situation like that or I’m in a situation like that. You learn from it and keep going.”

The Bulls went back to Noah, who’d had a terrific first half but barely played afterward. Noah pushed out on Bosh, forcing him to get the ball high on the right wing. But Bosh turned left, dribbled hard with a move past Noah. The shot hit the rim and bounced off, and Bosh tipped it back in with 14.8 seconds left with a cheap foul called on Rose behind Bosh.

“It was the same situation I was in,” Bosh said. “I was thinking about it right when the situation occurred. Coach was drawing up the play. I looked at the play, looked at the score and I was like this is the same exact situation except on the other side of the court. I just wanted to be aggressive, I wanted to get the ball first off and be aggressive. I got to the hole, I missed the shot but I was able to tip it in.”

Bosh made the free throw for a 129-127 lead, and then Rose took the ball in deep and had it deflected as Tyrus Thomas flashed open underneath.

“I thought I had an opening to pass the ball to Tyrus,” said Rose, who overall was terrific with 23 points and nine assists on 9 of 13 shooting. “One of their guys tipped the ball and I lost it.”

And the game, finally, was lost as the Raptors closed it with free throws.

It wasn’t a wonderful visit.

The Bulls were lethargic and almost indifferent to start, falling behind 28-15 minutes into the game. Someone named Pops Mensah-Bonsu did a fast break dunking drill on them for 13 points, most on poster dunks over slack jawed Bulls. Del Negro gave Linton Johnson a look for a few minutes and got Tim Thomas on the court for 13 minutes, though with uncertainty about Salmons and not using Noah down the stretch, basically went with five guys in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The Bulls trailed 55-44 at halftime and 90-77 after three. But, somewhat unexpectedly, they gave it a go after that. But the minutes are piling up, and it was a struggle to take out Indiana at home. Making the playoffs is hardly a lock. They’re going to have to play their way in. And it won’t be easy.

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