Bulls Trying to Figure out How to Come Back


Apr 24

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I’m always looking for more in these playoff series, the game behind the game.  Even if it’s not there.

I’ve come to enjoy a bit of give and take with Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. So I was wondering Friday after the Bulls practiced and Del Negro met reporters whether Vinny really had a master plan in all this, now for Sunday’s Game 4 of the first round playoff series with the Celtics ahead 2-1.

The Bulls were at their best and the Celtics were at their worst in Game 1 when the Celtics and about everyone else were looking at the Bulls as little more than road kill on the way to a Celtics-Cavs conference finals. So the Celts were relaxed and somewhat unaggressive, and the Bulls and Derrick Rose were brilliant in startling the basketball world with an overtime win.

So could it be after the Celtics staggered into a Game 2 win with a miracle Ray Allen finish and then got serious and blew out the Bulls in Game 3 Thursday that this was the Bulls plan all along? Now, after Thursday’s 107-86 humiliation, the Bulls are given almost no chance nationally of winning this series. The Celtics took Friday off from practicing, perhaps ever more overconfident, though they are somewhat broken down.

Could this be the Bulls plan to now jump on an overconfident Boston in Game 4 Sunday?

I didn’t exactly like the look Vinny gave me.

It spoke of a need for me to get some help.

“I think our guys have enough to worry about than all that stuff,” said Del Negro. “I think they have to just relax, go out and play and do the things they are capable of doing and all the other stuff usually works out for itself.”

I’m not sure what that means. But I do know what the Bulls have to do in order to give themselves a chance to even the series and go back to Boston Tuesday tied.

After the score more points bad joke, there are a few things.

Del Negro said he knew, also, but was not inclined to share. So I’m on my own on this.

The Celtics woke up on defense and offense in Game 3. The Bulls shot 37.5 percent in never being in the game. But Boston also was better with the ball. Geez, Glen Davis had six steals and Rajon Rondo five. Your offense plays into your defense for any good team, and obviously the Bulls 22 turnovers for 24 Boston points opened the game up and gave Boston the transition opportunities that took the Bulls and the crowd out of the game.

But there was less traffic getting out of the parking lots with most everyone leaving after the third quarter.

“Our turnovers are getting him (Rajon Rondo) in the open court where he’s making plays,” said Del Negro. “We’ve got to do a better job moving the ball, sharing the basketball, being more efficient to keep him out of the open court.”

Rondo has been brilliant, the best player in the series. He was helped off the court Thursday, so we’ll see if there are lingering issues from his ankle sprain in Game 2. He insisted after the game there weren’t.

Rondo is as quick as Derrick Rose, but in a different way. Rondo has long arms, which has helped him rebound, which starts his own break. He seems quicker from a start, though not as fast and strong to the basket as Rose. The Bulls perimeter players tend to leak out and they’ll have to do a better job of staying back, even if it means forgoing some fast break opportunities.

“Derrick has to guard Rondo better,” Del Negro said. “He’s got to attack offensively. He’s got to run the team. He’s got to make good decisions with the ball, not make turnovers. He knows that. It’s one game, one loss. Hopefully we’ll get better from it.

“All these experiences will make us better,” said Del Negro. “Are we going to fold up (Sunday) and compromise to the adversity or are we going to show our character and go out and believe and do the things we are capable of? I think we’ll bounce back well. We’re playing a team that’s experienced and hungry and everyone is saying can’t do anything because Kevin (Garnett) is out. But when you’ve got Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and Rondo and big guys up front good things can happen. Maybe the moment was a little big for the guys.”

The Celtics’ defense isn’t as good with Garnett because that shot blocker and intimidator in the back isn’t there. But the Celtics still have a good system.

Their big men are active, despite their size and lack of speed, generally working in conjunction with the guards on the baseline screens and screen/roll plays. Their big guys pushed Gordon and Rose out with aggressive traps, and the Bulls didn’t respond, either moving the ball or the big men rolling off their screens toward the basket.

“It’s on us to find the slips and open places on the court because they are trapping D-Rose and if we can get that pass across, then we have a two-on-one on the weak side,” said Joakim Noah. “We can make plays.”

An aside about Noah. He is fighting hard and averaging almost 12 rebounds in the series. He’s getting pushed around a lot, but not backing off like he used to. With reporters as well.

Noah, who came from the U. of Florida with a reputation as a playful flake, couldn’t have been more unfriendly and uncooperative last season. That’s changed, as evidenced by his regular media sessions in these playoffs.

The players generally don’t like to do them. But the NBA requires the coach and some players to meet with reporters daily. How else do the fans find out what their players are saying? Of course, with Twitter this could be outdated soon as well.

The routine at Bulls practice is the reporters wait outside the practice floor in a small press room for practice to end. Most do some work, though the highlight Friday was my buddy David Schuster from WSCR radio loudly trying to correct host Mike Murphy in a live interview. It’s a never ending job.

The players watch a game tape first and then go to the basketball floor. It went a bit long Friday and some of the TV cameraman went outside to play baseball with a basketball in the parking lot on the 80-degree day. I know. TV! Yes, we all want to be on, though.

The Bulls regulars for talking after practice generally are Rose, Ben Gordon and John Salmons. Now, Noah has taken to it and while he isn’t quite the story teller, he’s been cooperative, accessible and generous with his time. Good for him.

Reporters are admitted about 10 minutes before the end of practice with players generally shooting free throws. Del Negro comes first to the side to speak in front of a team sign followed by a few players. While that is going on, some of the reserves generally are working with a coach on shooting.

Not as glamorous as you probably thought.

It’s rarely particularly enlightening with a big group with a lot of questions about momentum and how things felt.

They didn’t seem to feel good about Thursday’s bummer loss.

“I learned (watching the game tape from Thursday) which I already knew: We played really bad,” said Del Negro. “There’s nothing positive on that tape. They outworked us. Their energy was better. We didn’t move the basketball. Our defense wasn’t there. They were mentally, physically tougher. They beat us up in a lot of areas. Their ball movement was good. We couldn’t control Rondo at all. Pierce got going. Ray got going. Not real happy.”

The Celtics have scored more than 100 in each game and are averaging 109.3 points per game.

The Bulls generally play under the screens, especially with Rondo. But they have been much too soft. I’d also like to see the Bulls take on the screens more aggressively, going over with the big men helping out aggressively to blitz and attack the Boston scorers, especially Rondo.

With all the talk about ball movement and rolling on the traps, for the Bulls it’s going to come down to Rose and Gordon.

Each had a career game and the Bulls were in the series.

Neither played well Thursday and the Bulls were blown out.

“It starts with our guard play, Derrick, myself, John,” said Gordon. “We’ve got to set the tempo.

“The first few games me and John were able to attack and put them off balance,” said Gordon. “Sometimes your best defense is your offense, being able to go at guys and making them play the other end of the floor. Last night they got off the first punch and we weren’t able to respond. It seemed we were relaxed coming home and we di

dn’t have that edge.”

Actually, what I’d do is go back to the kid.

Rose had 10 points in Game 2 and nine in Game 3.

I’d put him on top of the floor and open the court and spread things out and let him create and attack, like the Bulls did often earlier this season.

It might put the Bulls more in half court situations. But I also want to get the ball out of Rondo’s hands and slow them down. I‘d trust Rose to make the decisions and then fight them as much as possible.

“Who’s intimidated?” asked a piqued Noah. “They play physical, but who’s intimidated? Because they won by a lot of points, we’re intimidated? I don’t feel like we’ve been intimidated by them.”

We’ll see Sunday.

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