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Bulls Hang on for a Bonus Victory in Washington
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 24
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Whew! That was a relief. It’s good the Bulls won’t have to play the Washington Wizards in the playoffs. I know, I know. If, if, if the Bulls make the playoffs.
The Bulls took another uncertain step toward that small goal Monday by outlasting the undermanned and going nowhere Wizards, 101-99.
“A win is a win,” decided Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 21 points, all in the second half and seven in the only three minutes he played to end the game in the fourth. “Obviously we didn’t play well. But we played well enough to win. We have another game tomorrow and we are going to try to play better at home.”
That one should be fun as it’s on national TNT cable against the free falling Detroit Pistons, now just two games ahead of the 33-38 Bulls. And it was a relief Monday for the Bulls to escape with the win after losing in Washington by 23 last month in one of President Barack Obama’s toughest days in office as he had come to the game to root for the Bulls.
In many ways, with the likes of Dominic McGuire, JaVale McGee and Oleksiy Pecherov, we all wondered who were those guys.
“We came out kind of sluggish at the beginning of the game,” said Derrick Rose, whose combination Steve Nash/Curley Neal ball handling drill with 29 seconds left set up Kirk Hinrich’s game clinching layup with eight seconds left. “We were able to keep our effort up throughout the whole game. Luckily we won and now we have to keep it moving. The coaches wanted me to make plays and that’s what I did.”
And so now it’s back home, which has been kind to the Bulls for a chance to put the Pistons in the race with Charlotte, New Jersey and Milwaukee and make it a run for two spots instead of just eighth.
Playoff fever! Catch it!
It’s easy to make light now of Monday’s game, which was an uneven and unnecessarily difficult struggle for the Bulls against a team without high scorer Caron Butler, Darius Songaila and Juan Dixon, and which spent the day answering questions about some more obscure comments by Gilbert Arenas, suggesting he may play Saturday unless he doesn’t.
“The story continues,” said Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott, who did the Bulls a potentially big favor with his own rookie mistake, being left without a timeout with 2.6 seconds left when Gordon missed the second of two free throws, and all Antawn Jamison could do was heave the ball full court as the game ended.
With that much time and a two point deficit, the Wizards, 16-56, should have had plenty of time for a potential winning three. The Bulls know this drill well as young coaches have a tendency to take too many time outs to stop runs. It’s hurt the Bulls several times this season, though coach Vinny Del Negro has been improving on that and becoming somewhat more restrained with the unnecessary stoppages. Generally the veterans, like Phil Jackson, will save their timeouts, never losing the great advantages they provide late in games.
And the Bulls did need some help from their friends despite what should have been a comfortable 88-77 lead with less than five minutes left. Yes, Jamison was terrific with 34 points and 15 in the fourth quarter. But it was almost like a summer league game with Javaris Crittenton, with a season high 18 points, Mike James, JaVale McGee and Dominic McGuire on the floor for Washington.
So you figure you’ve got one guy to worry about, Jamison. Right?
But the Bulls continually lost him as Tyrus Thomas was playing him soft, generally laying back to block shots and not fighting through the screens. So Jamison had Brad Miller switched onto him several times, and after a Mike James miss, Jamison snuck in for one of his short armed floaters to make it 88-79.
The Wizards were committed to trapping Rose, who finished with 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Rose, by the way, is a truly remarkable rebounder for his size and situation. Sometimes it’s over exuberance, like when he inadvertently knocked a key potential offensive rebound away from Miller with the Bulls grasping a four-point lead with less than a minute left. The kid really fights and does everything to make a play. Rose held his head in his hands for a few seconds when he realized what he’d done.
Still, he continues to do those little things you love. When the Bulls got that 88-77 lead, it was with two free throws from John Salmons, who had 19 points. He got those two free throws when Miller hit him from the high post with a bounce pass and was fouled from behind by Nick Young. Young had to do that because it was Rose who set the inside back screen that freed Salmons at the basket.
With the Bulls still ahead 88-79, the Wizards trapped Rose into the left baseline, which was a mistake on his part to be caught so close to that so called extra defender. Rose tried a cross court pass, which Jamison picked off. He ran out and scored and was fouled for a three point play. And then when Tyrus Thomas missed a 17 footer from the baseline, Jamison again took advantage and ran out as Thomas was supposed to be guarding him.
Thomas sprinted back, but, as is his tendency, ran toward the rim. Jamison pulled up at the three point line as Thomas passed him and took a pass for an open three with Miller reaching for air. And suddenly the Bulls were ahead 88-85 with 3:57 left.
Joakim Noah then replaced Thomas and Gordon finally entered the game. Gordon also had sat out the entire second quarter after a scoreless first quarter. And Gordon would be huge, and effectively, save the Bulls down the stretch.
While this season and the playoff chase is all that matters for now, it remains a constant question of Gordon’s future now that Salmons has established himself. It seems, as we’ve figured, that Luol Deng may not play again this season. The longer he’s been out, just getting back into shape would have been an issue, anyway. But Del Negro told reporters at his pregame media briefing that Deng could be done for the season.
“It could be,” Del Negro said. “You just don’t know how it’s going to react. We don’t want him to come back and really seriously injure himself. He’s got some discomfort, some pain. Until he gets that worked out, he’ll be on the sidelines. It’s a stress fracture. Luol wants to be out there as much as anybody, but injuries happen.”
The Bulls also could be without Tim Thomas, who returned to the rotation after not playing by coach’s decision against the Lakers. Tim Thomas had nine points and did a good job of swinging he ball on the perimeter early as the Bulls had a solid 22 assists on 38 baskets. But he was last seen being stretched on the sidelines in the fourth quarter with back problems.
As for Gordon, a game like Monday’s only seemed to reinforce the notion he is the perfect sixth man. The Bulls often get off to slow starts, and though Gordon has had a few quick starts, he usually moves the ball more early, and, thus, is less effective. Gordon needs to come in shooting, which he does best. He generally scores his points in bunches, though not as obvious as Monday’s. But he clearly is most effective with that mindset.
“I was frustrated after not playing the whole second quarter, so I wanted to come out and play well in the third quarter,” said Gordon, who had 14 in the third.
After the Wizards got within 88-85, Miller drove and was fouled and made both. But Crittenton beat Gordon for a score with Salmons now switching onto Jamison.
And then it was Ben to the rescue.
He pulled up over a tight Miller screen with a hand in his face for a 20 footer, then did a good job bodying Crittenton into a driving miss. Rose ran out and found Salmons cutting from the wing for a score, James missed a long three, and then Gordon curled over another Miller screen for a jumper and 96-87 Bulls lead with 2:11 left.
It should have been enough. But noooooo.
Jamison drew a foul against Salmons, and then Gordon did a beautiful stop and go hesitation on the run and put in a 10 footer over a helping Jamison. Bulls again by nine with 1:43 left.
But James hit a three, Gordon missed, Jamison was fouled and made two and Hinrich missed a three with a good, open look. Noah then lost McGee on some nice Washington motion, and McGee’s slam dunk brought the Wizards back within 98-96 with 29.1 seconds left.
Rose held the ball until about 15 seconds remained and dribbled right across the court, taking Crittenton and McGee with him. He then turned the corner on McGee. Jamison was in the right corner staying with Gordon. Rose veered back toward the paint and McGuire stepped out on him. As he did, Salmons stayed on top above the three point line with Hinrich standing in the left corner.
Jamison came off Gordon as Rose passed him, but James made the fatal mistake of moving toward Salmons on top and leaving Hinrich alone as the Bulls had four guards in for the offensive possession. There now were four Washington defenders in a line next to Rose and Hinrich dashing toward the rim. Rose found Hinrich like a wide open receiver, and Hinrich laid it in with 8.9 seconds left for the 100-96 lead.
“Derrick did a good job of playing poised against the pressure,” said Gordon. “They were after him pretty hard. He was patient, got all the way in the lane and got a layup for Kirk.”
So who says the kid doesn’t pass?
But it’s never over until… someone makes a coaching mistake.
Nick Young threw in to James, who handed back to Young with the Bulls switching. Young was about 26 feet out with Salmons in his face. But Young’s high archer fell right in and it was 100-99 with 3.6 seconds left.
Miller picked off Young to get Gordon open for the intentional foul. Gordon missed the second, but Washington had no timeouts to make a last play and the Bulls escaped.
“I liked our perseverance in the fourth quarter,” said Del Negro.
It was a game for that since these are the tough ones, the ones you should win and kick yourself if you don’t. A team like the Bulls competes against the Lakers and hopes. You need to beat the bottom feeders, even if it’s on the road, were the Bulls have been awful.
Again, they came out somewhat distracted and trailed 27-19 after one quarter. The offense was stagnant in missing 10 of the first 14 shots, though I did like Rose lobbing to Noah for a score. Noah has been playing much more consistently, even cleverly. He had nine points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, one against McGee when McGee tried a baseline move. Noah wouldn’t give him much space and when McGee had to reach back toward the basket it was an easy block. Noah’s positioning and reaction has been better, though he still needs to finish stronger as his touch on layups wouldn’t suggest he will be doing any surgery.
The Wizards held onto a 47-41 lead at halftime as we saw the best and worst of Tyrus Thomas.
I loved it when Thomas saw Crittenton with the ball and the clock winding down to around five with Washington ahead 42-37. Thomas left his man knowing Crittenton was in trouble and about to force the shot, and Thomas got there for the block. It was good recognition of the time and situation. Then the very next Wizards possession, Crittenton ran Rose into a screen and Thomas just stood and watched Crittenton go by for an easy layup and Rose apparently asking Thomas where the help or rotation was.
You can understand why coaches often become exasperated, at once seeing Thomas make wonderful basketball plays that few will make and then failing to react to the most obvious situations.
The second quarter was capped by almost the play of the week as Rose split a double by James and Andray Blatche above the free throw line and then began to take off just inside the line to dunk over Pecherov. Rose came up a bit short, which included a clear punch in the head from Pecherov and no call.
Would it be that kind of game again?
The Bulls turned it around in the third quarter as Gordon made no secret of his plan, coming out with the first shot. Tyrus again became the Good Tyrus with a vicious slam dunk off a Gordon pass and then gave the Bulls a 57-55 lead with one of those 18 footers in which you are yelling, “No!… Good shot.”
Gordon scored on a drive and then pulled up as if to shoot and actually hit Salmons running in for a slam dunk as the Bulls seemed to take control and headed into the fourth quarter leading 74-67. But this isn’t a Bulls team about to make it easy.
“We would like to close games out better than we did,” said Salmons. “We hung in there and got the win. We will take it any way we can get it. It was definitely a big win for us. It came down to who wanted it the most and who executed the best at the end.”