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Bulls can't buck their losing ways
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 1
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Well, at least it wasn’t a blowout this time. And nobody got hurt. And the post game pizza was still hot and it was Milwaukee and it wasn’t snowing. So there were some positives Monday.
But the Bulls came home—to the Midwest, at least—but lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 99-97 when Brad Miller’s 18 footer with less than a second came up short.
“That’s a shot I’ve shot a lot,” said Miller. “It just came up short. We had one play called and when (Charlie Bell) missed the first (free throw with 7.1 seconds left), we switched to a pick and roll. It’s well in my range. I felt comfortable. Just didn’t make it. Now we’ve got to take advantage of these home games coming up and get back on the winnings ways.”
So the Bulls finish their so called “circus” trip 1-5 and now 6-9 on the season and getting into dangerous territory of falling too far back in the Eastern Conference.
“You read my mind,” said Derrick Rose, who had 17 of his 19 points after halftime and won the matchup with Bucks prized rookie Brandon Jennings. “I know how hard it is from last year to get back to .500. We’ve got to take advantage. This was a game we were supposed to win and we let it slip.”
The Bulls let it get away falling behind by a dozen in the first half as they failed to control Bucks center Andrew Bogut, who finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.
“I have to do a better job of guarding my player,” said Joakim Noah, who had 16 points and 17 rebounds. “I feel the bigs are getting their way offensively with us. I have to play better post defense. My post defense is suspect right now.”
I’d have to disagree with Noah as I thought his post defense and overall play was good. But in the Bulls defensive schemes he was constantly rotating to the wings and the weak side help wasn’t there with the Bulls playing small and unable to stay with Bogut when he dove to the basket.
It was a bit curious with Tyrus Thomas still out and now Kirk Hinrich out likely a week or two with a sprained thumb for the Bulls to go small so much with Lindsey Hunter playing big minutes and Luol Deng at power forward.
Deng was terrific in pounding the boards for 22 points and 14 rebounds and a key offensive rebound and foul shots with the team trailing 95-90 with 57 seconds left to even give the Bulls a chance to steal a victory.
And, overall, the Bulls did outrebound the Bucks, who are a surprising 9-7.
But the Bucks defense came up big down the stretch forcing the ball into the hand of Hunter, who’d played 25 minutes all season, for a 20 footer that missed with 17 seconds left coming out of a timeout. Hunter alertly fought for the miss and shoved it back to John Salmons, who led the Bulls with 23 and hit a three to bring the Bulls within 96-95 with 14.7 seconds left.
“The play was for Derrick, but he got hit in the eye,” said Hunter. “Somehow I got it. I thought, ‘Attack the basket.’ I figured (then), ‘Offensive rebound,’ which I never do. I looked up and saw John open and hit him.”
The Bulls then had to foul and Jennings, who finished with 15 points on five of 15 shooting and eight assists, made both for a 98-95 lead with 13.2 seconds left.
The Bulls subbed in Miller, who hadn’t played yet in the fourth quarter, and he ended with the final shot when the Bucks walled off Rose on the way to the basket.
And so it was a fifth straight loss with the Pistons and Ben Gordon, assuming he is recovered from his ankle sprain, in the United Center Wednesday.
“The guys fought,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “The guys worked hard. You can live with that. I’m not pleased with the result. We had our opportunities down the stretch. We didn’t convert on a couple, but I like the way the guys battled
“The guys are going to play some extended minutes with the bodies we have,” said Del Negro of Rose, Salmons and Deng all playing more than 43 minutes. “This is a game we could have won, but we didn’t so we have to move on.
“I don’t get into all that mental stuff you (media) guys get into. The games are scheduled and you have to play them like anybody else,” Del Negro said. “Whether it’s the circus trip or any trip you want to call it you have to find ways to win on the road and get some guys healthy and hopefully the home court will give us an advantage to get over the hump.”
I agree with Del Negro on that. No cheap excuses. The constant talk of the so called difficulty of the road trip when the circus is in the United Center is a bogus excuse and weak short cut for some reporters. The Spurs are generally out longer when the rodeo is in their building and have little trouble. The champion Bulls rarely lost more than one or two on the trip. Just about all teams have five and six game road trips during the season. The Bulls didn’t even have a back to back and played Monday after three off days.
The larger issue, to me, has been this passive offense that comes out exploring too many soft, side to side pick and rolls on top of the floor where the defense can easily set up and deny Rose. Rose, first of all, is likely much better without screeners bringing big men to him, and now that he seems healthy I get the sense he’s getting fed up standing around waiting for things to happen.
His alert second half seemed like a sign, including three straight scores early in the fourth quarter to give the Bulls a lead for the first time since the first minute of the game.
“I have to step it up (earlier), find a way,” said Rose, who my sense is has been put in a position this season to be passive more than he prefers. “Being a point guard you try to get the feel for the game. That’s the way I play. Then I step it up. Now I’ve got to step it up from the beginning. We let them get momentum too early
“It was a flashback,” Rose said about the second half. “I was like an old (Derrick) again. This was a game you were supposed to go from the beginning of the game. But we didn’t start that way. I see now I’m just going to start out.”
Run Derrick run.
See Derrick run
It’s been clear what teams have done this season, and the Bucks with coach Scott Skiles went right at it. They formed a defensive wall anywhere Rose went, which was helped with the big man going out on the pick and staying with him. With the Bulls perimeter shooting soft (they were two of eight on threes and zero for four in the first half), the defenses have collapsed.
The Bulls inadvertantly help that by not isolating Rose on top and allowing him to beat his man off the dribble and then make a play.
The Bulls also struggled again with making quicker decisions as teams switched.
The Bucks go with Luke Rudnour often in the backcourt to take the pressure off Jennings, who has been trapped more with his hot start.
Skiles got a good laugh when someone asked him how he was reigning in expectations for Jennings after that 55-point game and Skiles, drolly as usual, responded Jennings has been doing a good job of that on his own with 32 percent shooting the last six games, including Monday. We miss the guy. Tyrus, too? Not sure about that.
Though Jennings did hit a pair of big threes in the second half, the later one after the Bulls had climbed all the way back for an 84-82 lead with 8:22 left.
Rose followed with a pull up 20 footer for nine of the Bulls first 14 points of the quarter. The Bulls led once more, 89-87 with 4:31 left when Deng hustled out on an Ersan Ilyasova miss and Rose found him for a layup.
But Jennings then slithered inside for a score going to his right, Deng traveled and Salmons missed while Bogut scored when Noah came out to help on a drive and then Bell blew by Hunter for a layup to make it 93-89 Bucks with 2:29 left.
Staying aggressive Rose got in deep and got the ball to Noah, who was fouled and made one of two, though he was eight of 10 for the game and helped the Bulls get back in it in the third quarter with his aggressive inside play and free throws.
Deng then got stopped by Bogut at the basket trying to dunk and Deng was called for a questionable goaltending the other way when it appeared Bogut had shot an air ball.
“That was not a goal tend,” insisted Deng. “I went for the block thinking I wouldn’t block it because the ball was so short. I thought the ref could see it. I guess he had a bad angle.”
That made it 95-90 Bucks, and Deng crashed in for those two free throws when Bogut blocked Rose’s shot to give the Bulls a chance. But the Bucks forced the ball to Hunter and Miller to close and the Bulls fell just short.
It was an improved effort from the four losses out west in which the Bulls trailed by at least 24 in every game.
Though Rose is hardly controversial and complimentary of all his opponents, he came out particularly aggressive on Jennings, fighting over screens, which he often doesn’t do, and shutting out Jennings in the first quarter.
The Bucks took a 22-17 first quarter lead and then got 14 second quarter points from Bogut in his first game back from a leg strain. The Bulls seem to be a welcome sight as Pau Gasol returned fropm injury when they played the Lakers and Chris Andersen when they played the Nuggets. Have the Bulls been that inoffensive this season guys are waiting for them?
I’d doubt it as the defense has mostly been good, though teams generally feel the Bulls pick and roll defense remains suspect.
There was a surge from all the players in street clothes on the bench when Miller rolled for a dunk early in the second quarter, though Bogut and Ridnour throttled the Bulls’ pick and roll in the second quarter to get up 37-25 with four straight Bogut scores as the rotations were poor. The Bulls also tend this season to double from the baseline behind the post player, which is difficult but also should be used sparingly and more as a surprise in late game situations, it would seem.
The Bulls also have a reputation for not always sorting out the right players in mismatches and transition, and early with Ridnour in the game the Bucks had to put Bell on Deng and the Bulls repeatedly missed Deng inside on Bell. They picked it up better later in the second quarter and Skiles had to rush back Carlos Delfino.
The Bucks looked in control in the first half but missed 11 of 13 threes, most wide open as the Bulls escaped a potential blowout. The Bucks began hitting them to open the third with three straight to take a 70-56 lead with 5:38 left in the third when Jennings hit the team’s fifth three of the quarter.
The Bulls pounded inside and made 14 of 15 free throws in the quarter to pull within 77-72 after three with Noah hitting six of six free throws in the quarter. The Bulls would get a lead, but only a better loss this time.
“We did some things well in the second half,” said Noah. “It still stings. Losing is tough. We played with better effort than the last games, but a loss is a loss and we’ve got to find a way.”