Raptors shoot down misfiring Bulls


Nov 12

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So when exactly does a shooting slump become just bad shooters?

Not yet, assures Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, despite another shockingly poor night of jump shooting as the Toronto Raptors Wednesday beat the Bulls 99-89.

And talk about your firing of blanks.

The Bulls accumulated (I can’t use a verb like scored the way they played) 28 second half points. They missed their last 15 shots and were three of 21 shooting in the fourth quarter. Their last field goal of the game was with 9:21 left. They also committed five turnovers and missed three of their last four free throws in being outscored 22-11 in the fourth quarter. The Bulls guards were three of 18 after halftime.

“It’s still early in the season,” said Del Negro as the Bulls fell to 4-4.  “We got good looks, but we just didn’t knock them down.  We have got to find some guys to step up and make some shots when we need to. But we are relying on our defense a lot, (putting) a lot of pressure on that.  We had our opportunities in the fourth quarter. They took control by making shots. We had open looks. There is no good answer for that other than just look at the film, make adjustments and try to make plays.  We are getting good looks it’s a matter of knocking them down.”

Yes, we’ve heard that for most of eight games, and given where the Bulls are in the league statistics it’s a minor miracle they are .500 and could have been 5-3 if Brad Miller’s desperation throw had counted against the Nuggets Tuesday night.

But the Bulls are 28th in the NBA in scoring with a season high game of 93 points. Twenty-five teams in the league are averaging at least 93 points. The Bulls are 26th in shooting percentage and 30th and last in three point shooting at 25 percent.

“Just keep working at it, getting shots up after practice and before practice,” said John Salmons, who was one of 11 and is now shooting 30 percent on the season. “I am working on it and eventually it will come.”

But it is reaching seemingly dangerous levels as almost none of the guards are breaking these shooting slumps.

Kirk Hinrich was three of 10 and is shooting 34 percent on the season and Jannero Pargo was two of four to lift his season percentage to 35 percent.

Whenever this happens there will be mention of Ben Gordon, the Bulls top shooter from recent seasons and best closer. The Bulls have had a run of these late game expirations, even in wins. And you wonder if the pressure of having to step into Gordon’s shoes is too much pressure for now for longtime supporting shooters like Salmons, Hinrich and Pargo. Given Gordon’s huge salary from the Pistons, it would have been almost impossible to sign him and also have room to pursue a free agent next summer. And you ask yourself how good the Bulls could be in the future with Gordon but without that potential free agent. Still, it seems his successors are forcing things a bit much and trying too hard to be that guy to fill Gordon’s Nike’s.

No matter how much players deny it, there is a certain psychology about being the player to finish the game and be depended upon by your teammates. Shooters have to be a bit selfish, and to be a good one you can’t have much conscience. You get the sense Salmons and Hinrich do. Del Negro worried about this going into the season, and you only hope it takes time instead of someone else.

So then after the Bulls led Wednesday 60-53 in maybe their best half of the season, the Raptors sort of figured it out. OK, let’s see you make some jump shots.

“We switched our coverage a little bit, not drastically,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano. “We just did a much better job of keeping guys in front and forcing them to take tough shots. I think they wore down a little bit, too. Shots they were making earlier they started missing. Whether it was the result of a back-to-back or Jose (Calderon) and Jarrett (Jack) doing a nice job of picking up full court and making them work to get the ball up the court. They just seemed to run out of juice.”

Toronto also began to switch the Bulls constant pick and rolls, which is a limited way of playing a zone defense. The result was pushing the Bulls into several mismatches against taller players as the Raptors play big men Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani together. But the Raptors mostly stayed back in the lane.

“There wasn’t any room to drive,” said Derrick Rose, who had 14 points and was six of 14 shooting. “They made it real clear that they wanted us shooting jump shots, so they were really forcing us and baiting us to come and drive.”

The Bulls needed to. They need to attack more. That being the thrust Del Negro often talks about. But they continue to run those high and side pick and rolls, which mostly produce side to side action. It isn’t all bad when you can make shots, and the Bulls were sharp in the first half against a passive Toronto defense.

Bosh had 28 points and 11 rebounds to lead all scorers, but he clearly exerts almost all his energy on the offensive side. Whether he doesn’t want to get into foul trouble or waste energy, Bosh tends to sit back in the lane and rarely challenge penetration. Sure, he’s a major free agent for this summer, and you’d like to have him. But you also have to wonder what kind of team you can have with him given the way he rarely commits on defense.

That couldn’t be said of Joakim Noah, who is becoming the Bulls most valuable player, and Taj Gibson, who punished Bosh for Gibson’s career high of 18 points to equal Luol Deng as Bulls high scorer. 

“I think we were just missing shots, but that the energy is right where it needs to be,” said Noah with another double/double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. “We just need to keep competing every night and I think that we are going to be all right.”

Noah continues to be terrific?, and was throttling and frustrating Bosh throughout the first half. Bosh doesn’t especially like taller defenders, and Noah stayed in his face. Bosh got going in the second half with Noah having some foul trouble and Del Negro trying to give Noah rest as Brad Miller had an unusually frustrating game. Apparently thinking Bosh could rest on defense, the Raptors had Bosh defend Gibson, who went right at Bosh for his 18 points.

The Bulls closed the first quarter trailing 27-25 when Hinrich hit a three. The shot came with Hinrich standing still and you wonder if he needs to be put in that position more instead of shooting on the run as he’s mostly done this season.

The Bulls got the lead midway through the second quarter after Hinrich took the ball hard to the basket twice for two free throws and a layup past a retreating Bosh. The Bulls then surged at the end of the first half with a three from Salmons (the shots do look OK), a hard working tip in by Deng on a Salmons miss, a Noah dunk and a Deng jumper to close the first half leading 60-53 after another Noah offensive rebound.

Yes, it was the Bulls with 60 first half points, which didn’t seem unusual against a Toronto team that had given up more than 120 points in three of the last five games.

It really was a good effort by the Bulls led by Noah, Gibson and Deng, and it looked like the Bulls were headed to a road victory leading 70-59 almost five minutes into the third quarter following a pair of Deng baskets. The crowd was beginning to boo the home team, which seemed to have little life or interest. It was a chance to bury them.

But Rose took a tough jumper circling right at the top of the key, after which Bosh scored. Deng was blocked from behind on a post move. The Bulls got the ball back, but Salmons fired up a quick jumper. Bargnani missed, but then Deng was called out of bounds trying to save a wild pass from Salmons after a drive too deep. That was the window of opportunity as the Raptors looked ready to give in.

Gibson looked like he’d saved the run with a highlight block of his college teammate DeMar DeRozan’s dunk attempt with Rose then hitting a 20 footer with 5:17 left in the third. The Bulls made one  field goal the rest of the quarter and four more for the game over the last 17 plus minutes.

“We just couldn’t make any shots and that was it,” said Rose. “We were up seven or eight points or something like that and then we couldn’t make shots towards the end. It is real frustrating knowing that we had the game. We started off well, played defense and to have to lose by not making shots towards the end kind of hurt.”

The Bulls actually still led 86-83 with under seven minutes left in the game after a pair of Deng jumpers (he can shoot) and another hard drive by Deng which got him a pair of free throws.

The Raptors finally took the lead with 5:27 left on a Jose Calderon drive, and the Bulls collapsed from there: Deng inbounded to Noah. The ball was stolen and Noah fouled from behind for a clear path violation which became a four-point play. Rose missed a jumper. Bosh hit. Gibson missed a pair of free throws and Calderon ran out after a Hinrich miss and no one got back to cover. The Bulls were outscored 14-1 the last six minutes of a game that could have been. Oh, shoot.

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