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Bulls show spirit in sinking 76ers
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 15
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It was almost like Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Mark Price and Larry Bird were out there shooting for the Bulls. It was almost like Doug Moe was running the Bulls offense.
How ‘bout that offensive display, folks?
The Bulls scored a season high 94 points, though they remain the only NBA team not to score 100 in a game yet, and shot 44.9 percent, second best on the season, and overcame an early 14-point deficit to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 94-88.
OK, OK, but for this Bulls team this season that was high powered offense.
“Guys are getting good looks,” offered Luol Deng in a familiar refrain. “It’s just a matter of time. We’ve got to stay consistent. Our defense is winning games for us now.”
Deng had 19 points and nine rebounds and tied Kirk Hinrich for high scorer. Though Hinrich was perhaps more pivotal in coming off the bench with Brad Miller to combine for 33 points after the Bulls opened up jumping on the 76ers for six points in the first seven minutes of the game. Not according to plan, the 76ers had 20 by then.
“It’s the starters responsibility to handle (the beginning),” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro of the developing habit of trailing early at home. “I told them if they can’t handle that I’ve got to make changes quicker. I have a lot of confidence in Kirk and Brad and thought they played well tonight. I thought they were the big difference for us. They were the key to the game.”
This being a game against the 76ers and new coach Eddie Jordan, a team has to be accustomed to back door cuts and escapes given Jordan’s preference for the so-called Princeton offense.
Hinrich clearly studied it well as he ducked out the back door of the locker room and avoided talking to reporters about the first game all season he has shot above 50 percent.
Give Hinrich this: He generally always is around to explain bad performances, like three for 10 his last three games consecutively.
At least no one can say he’s a front runner. Though you don’t get many endorsements that way. Aw, shucks. Just a good ‘ol farm boy.
It wasn’t quite the old Celtics running the fast break against the Showtime Lakers. But the Bulls put six players in double figures with Joakim Noah another double/double of 14 points and 12 rebounds and had good shooting games from just about everyone but rookies Taj Gibson and James Johnson, who were a combined zero for eight.
As they say around the locker room when someone asks what the rookies are bringing to the game now: “More custard donuts.”
It was a yummy effort by the Bulls after that somnambulant start in which they missed nine of 11 shots. The 76ers hit their first seven with Elton Brand getting off to a nice start with five points and three rebounds as the 76ers took that 20-6 lead.
The former Bull has been the early story of the erratic 76ers as he doesn’t play in the fourth quarters and is averaging about 26 minutes per game despite saying he is fully recovered from last year’s shoulder surgery.
Brand, the team’s highest paid player, ended with 11 points and again didn’t play the fourth quarter even after his backup, Marreese Speights went out with a sprained knee early in the fourth quarter.
It seems clear 76ers coach Jordan isn’t a big fan of Brand’s in Jordan’s offense, and this figures to come to something unpleasant before long as Brand lacked the customary joie de vie we’ve become accustomed to with him.
“I feel great,” says Brand, denying there is any injury hangover. “I’m definitely confident when the minutes come around I’ll produce. I haven’t played in the fourth quarter in awhile and that’s winning time. That’s the time you get to the line, get fouls. I can get six rebounds and five points in a quarter. I’m confident it will come around, but it’s difficult when you’re losing and not playing.”
It was somewhat difficult for the Bulls Saturday, though it was an important win in going to 5-4 before the team leaves for a two week road trip. The next home game is Dec. 2 when the Bulls host Ben Gordon and the Detroit Pistons.
Gordon, by the way, is averaging 24.3 per game, eighth in the league for the also 5-4 Pistons. Yes! The rivalry is back.
But the Bulls have a tough road, figuratively and literally, before that delicious matchup.
In the six-game road trip, the only team the Bulls face with a losing record is the Utah Jazz, who play well at home. And Del Negro conceded despite the nice comeback and improved shooting, well, it isn’t exactly percolating.
Answering an observation that the offense looked repaired, Del Negro said, “I don’t know about that.
“We scored some points in the fourth quarter, which we needed to do,” said Del Negro as the Bulls scored 31 after that near shutout in Toronto Wednesday.
“Their (76ers) transition game hurt us,” noted Del Negro of Andre Iguodala with 24 and some Dr. J.-like dunks, and Lou Williams with 20. “We fought our way back in the second (quarter). We got out to a bad start in the third, but then we started playing some defense and got after it and got into the open court and were a little more aggressive in the second half.”
Though one glaring issue remains.
Derrick Rose had 14 points on seven of 12 shooting with fewer jump shots this time. But Rose also had seven turnovers as the defenses with the Bulls shooting so poorly all season have continued to crowd Rose.
“They’re like standing on me until I get the ball out of my hands,” said Rose. “I was driving and getting the ball taken away. I have to do a much better job protecting it. Teams are playing me a little bit different this year with double teams and I’m getting the ball taken away. I need to fix it.”
After the Bulls got behind 20-6, I was encouraged to see something I’ve been looking for.
There are no secrets in the NBA, and when you can’t make shots, teams sag off and dare you to make them as the 76ers flirted with some zone (though their players are generally too undisciplined to stay with them) and put extra pressure on the best scorer. That was hoped to be Rose this season and he’s been smothered in the team’s bread-and-butter high pick and roll. Which has been more than not toast.
Rose generally gets met up high with a guard and big man, and if the guard drops under the big man is trapping. I’ve been wanting to see Rose give up the ball and get to the weak side on the wing where he could get a return pass and then attack before the double.
Trailing 20-6, the Bulls did exactly that and Rose scored on a drive.
It was the first points of a 16-0 run that gave the Bulls a 22-20 lead before Iguodala threw in a 35 footer to end the first quarter. And no Bulls help on instant replay again.
Gibson got in early foul trouble, and Del Negro went with Noah and Miller extensively in the game, and as Hinrich got hot and made his first six shots, Del Negro went primarily with three guards late to counter the 76ers runners.
“We’ve got to have better energy coming in,” said Deng. “But the bench has done a good job coming in and picking up the energy.”
The Bulls spurted ahead 34-28 in the second when Hinrich hit a three and then found Rose for a jumper. But the 76ers got out running on some long rebounds and took a 41-40 lead at halftime and opened the second half with eight straight points to lead 49-40 before Del Negro took a quick timeout.
I mentioned to Del Negro these slow starts could be the product of uninspiring pregame and halftime talks, though Del Negro said being Italian his emotional nature doesn’t allow for that. It persuaded me.
Hey, the winners can make jokes.
John Salmons, who had been shooting so poorly that the word slump was a kind description, came out of that timeout with a three as he was a respectable five of 12 and, oddly, was facing his two former teams consecutively with the 76ers
and then Kings Tuesday.
Salmons smiled, but didn’t say much.
Deng then rebounded a miss of his and scored and Rose rebounded his own miss and scored and the Bulls were back into the game as the 76ers seem mostly to like the wild, one-on-one, fallaway jumper. Pete Carril had to be so mortified he might have wished he went to Harvard.
Hinrich hit still another three as the Bulls actually made three for the game (in eight attempts) and led 63-58 after three.
They kicked that up to 82-65 with 5:40 left before they thought they might be in shooting practice and bounced a bunch of long jumpers off the rim and the 76ers took off running and got within eight with two minutes left, later to five with about a minute left.
But Noah held the 76ers off with two big plays, a lefty tip in of a Hinrich miss and a rebound of a Salmons miss which led to a pair of free throws as the tornado swirled in perfectly and the Bulls hung on.
So now the Bulls make way for the circus and hope when they head west they aren’t left cleaning up behind the elephants.