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Bulls Look Great as they Get to Eight
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 7
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
Eight hasn’t been a great number for the Bulls as the longest serving players ever to wear it for the Bulls were Mickey Johnson, Bobby Weiss and Dickey Simpkins. It’s often a number associated with problems, like being behind the 8-ball, or getting a Section 8 discharge. Tradition has Jewish male children getting their circumcision on the eighth day of life. Ouch.
But it was a beautiful number for the Bulls Friday as they finally reached eighth place in the Eastern Conference, which means the final playoff spot, with a 117-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We’re not looking down anymore,” said Derrick Rose, who tied his career high with 27 points to support Ben Gordon’s game high 34. “We’re looking up.”
Maybe in more ways than one. Maybe a down season finally is beginning to look up.
For the Bulls, eight perhaps is not enough.
“This was a big game,” said Gordon, who had one of his best in a Bulls uniform with seven assists, four steals, four threes and 10 of 11 free throws to get to his 34 points. “From now on we just have to play the next 19 games like we played tonight. Hopefully it gives us some momentum that we can take into other games. We need to remember how we pushed the ball up the court, knocked down shots and made good things happen.”
It was a terrific game for the Bulls, who were about as good as they could be with a fast break offense that, effectively, won the game with 29 fast break points and a rollicking 45 free throw attempts. But we’ve got to face reality. This isn’t a great defensive Bulls team and is not about to turn into one. Not with the front line of Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas, athletic but weak as the Bucks outrebounded the Bulls 49-44 and got 17 offensive rebounds. Thomas did get his team record block in a 24th straight game, but otherwise was lost.
I’ve talked about this from the first week of the season. The Bulls are an offensive minded team without much defensive emphasis. Best when they run and open the game, and don’t get too caught up in playing a poor or porous defense. So you may as well accept it and take advantage of what you have.
I liked what Mike D’Antoni would say, and Doug Moe some years before him, both with high powered offensive teams.
Good defense is scoring more points than the other guy.
Yeah,” said Rose “Get to the basket, draw a double team, get my teammates involved and have them knock down some shots. They can’t double team when guys are knocking down shots. It really opens things up because they can’t collapse on you when those shots are going in. Also, Brad Miller is a great pick and roll guy because he is such a great shooter.”
Miller came in again off the bench after an unsteady start and did a solid job, especially after the Bucks fought back within 87-84 early in the fourth quarter.
Miller, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists off the bench, added a nice drive and pull up jumper for a score, a pop out jumper when Rose was doubled on the screen/roll and some clever back door bounce passes to Gordon as the Bulls went on a 15-6 run at that point to retake control and win going away.
But even though Noah had another solid effort with 13 rebounds, it was the perimeter players with John Salmons starting again for the injured Luol Deng with 21 and Kirk Hinrich with an inspired effort off the bench with 11 points in 19 injury shortened minutes as suffered a bruised knee and will be reevaluated.
“Their guards were (on) and we had a hard time with them,” acknowledged Bucks coach Scott Skiles. “When they turned it up we couldn’t go with them. Our No. 1 priority was to get back. We just couldn’t do it. If Ben gets in rhythm like that he then starts to make tough shots, too. I thought in pockets of the game we did a good job. Tonight, however, the most aggressive team and the one who played the hardest won the game.”
And it was the Bulls, at least on offense with a terrific uptempo attack after still another slow start and the Bucks banging inside behind Charlie Villanueva with 19 points and 12 rebounds and Richard Jefferson with 27 going ahead 26-19 before Hinrich entered the game and hit a pair of jumpers.
“It was kind of a weird game, ugly,” said Miller. “But we turned it on when Kirk got out there.”
Though there were hints until then about what was to come.
With the Bucks ahead 16-9, Rose exploded for a driving score and followed a Dan Gadzuric miss with a run out and jumper. At that point, coach Vinny Del Negro removed Rose from the game, and I was thinking, ‘What the heck is going on. Rose is just getting going.”
But Del Negro made the right call as he left Gordon in even though Gordon already had made three turnovers and had missed three of four shots.
The Bucks are in horrible shape with injuries, missing starters Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd, and Luke Ridnour got hurt again in Friday’s game. Skiles went to his depleted bench to open the second quarter leading 26-25, and the Bulls took advantage with and 18-6 run to open the quarter and effectively provided the difference in victory.
“We came out of the gate strong in that first quarter and played strong,” said Villanueva. “Then, in the second quarter, they made a run and it was just too tough to come back.”
Though what was especially impressive from the Bulls was the way they—finally, for all the talk they do about it—got out and ran, spread the court and finished strong at the basket.
Opening that second quarter was typical of the game as Salmons ran after a Jefferson turnover and Tim Thomas found him with a behind the back pass. Yes, Tim Thomas.
Then after a Ridnour miss, Rose got a three-point lay with Miller threading him a nice bounce pass off the high post. Then it was BG time: Leaner from 20 feet (it’s amazing the push he gets on off balance shots), three pointer on a pass from Hinrich, then Hinrich finding Gordon again running after a short Ridnour miss and the Bucks failing to recover in transition with their guard near the basket.
“They would get by us with the ball and put it in and then we would slap them on the wrist,” lamented Skiles about the three-point plays. “Then, their guards were on and we had a hard time with them. When ‘BG’ gets in a rhythm like that, all of a sudden he starts making difficult shots with guys hanging all over him. When they turned it up we couldn’t go with them.”
Leading 33-32, that Gordon leaner started a Bulls track meet that put the Bulls ahead 57-41 before closing the half ahead 63-52 with Gordon scoring 15 of his 21 first half points in the second quarter.
“He can shoot the (expletive) out of the ball,” offered Miller.
Skiles, who knows this Bulls team well, decided to cut off the head, as the saying goes. Wherever Rose went, the trap and double team followed. But the Bucks were no match even then as Rose just blew by Ramon Sessions or Ridnour on the perimeter and then was too quick for the help.
I liked the way the Bulls began to set the screen, going to a more vertical positioning, so instead of Rose going across court, so called east to west, he was able to dive at the basket off the screen with defenders having to react more quickly. And, as it turned out, unsuccessfully.
Rose added six of the Bulls solid 23 assists, and one particular sequence late in the second quarter was wonderful when Rose beat the trap, and pitched to Gordon who quickly wheeled the ball to Hinrich for a three.
“He was kneed in the first half and the doctors are calling it a bruise on the inside of his knee,” Del Negro said of Hinrich. “It is pretty painful for him.
He wanted to come out one time and I needed a little more time from him. He sucked it up for us.”
The Bulls defense, though, remained suspect, and Del Negro went into a zone several times, though that didn’t help on the offensive boards. And Skiles, always reluctant to zone, had to go to it in the third quarter and it helped the Bucks begin to get back into the game as it began to limit penetration.
It was the kind of game the Bulls seemed in complete control, yet all of a sudden they opened the fourth leading just 85-80 as the zone and subsequent Bucks rebounding edge slowed the Bulls transition.
Everyone knows you are at a disadvantage in rebounding when you are in a zone because you don’t have assigned man coverage. Of course, that’s assuming you would be boxing out. But Del Negro often resorts to it because Gordon and Rose have difficulty defending the perimeter. It has helped, though, to have the more aggressive Salmons.
The Bucks did get within three early in the fourth as Villanueva tipped in his own miss. But Rose spun for a layup, Gordon added a leaner, Salmons a corner jumper and a nice dive for the basket to take a bounce pass from Miller for a score. Then Gordon stayed close to a hard Miller screen with Charlie Bell trailing, pulled up and hit the 20 footer and Bell fouled him for the three-point play and 100-90 Bulls lead with 5:50 left.
A minute later Rose symbolized the night by blowing by Sessions, who was good with 20 points and 11 assists, and getting to the basket so quickly the help couldn’t even react and the Bulls led by 15 with under four minutes. Game.
“We did a great job of getting out in transition and making the right plays,” said Gordon. “Every time we got a rebound or a steal, it seemed like almost every time we converted.”
The Bulls moved to 29-34, a game ahead of the Bucks and one and one half ahead of the Nets and Bobcats. The Bulls now hold the tiebreaker against the Bucks, but Charlotte holds it against the Bulls. It is still to be decided for the Bulls against the Nets and 76ers. So there is plenty of time for change and a run by anyone.
Still, it was a joyous locker room with Lindsey Hunter, Anthony Roberson, who is a vibrant personality even if he’s not figured a long term Bulls project, and Tyrus Thomas engaged in a rare—for the usually quiet Bulls group—loud debate on their various geographies. You don’t want to know the details, which were more silly than offensive.
For the Bulls, it was all about the offense. And going to an impressive 19-11 at home. But starting Monday its three Eastern teams ahead of them on the road, Miami, Orlando and Philadelphia, the latter holding down the seventh spot and sliding of late. Though the Bulls are an ugly 10-23 on the road.
Because you want to get out of eighth if you make the playoffs. You probably don’t get a game from Boston. Cleveland? C’mon, I still don’t see it. LeBron and who, exactly? I’d take my chances if I could get that matchup.
So it’s a big week, but at least there finally are possibilities.