Bulls win, Bulls win, the Buuuuuuullss win!


Dec 12

Could our long local nightmare finally be over?

Perhaps not with the Celtics and Lakers next in the United Center. But Friday the Bulls finally won the game they had to win, 96-91 over the Golden State Warriors in overtime, the team’s second win in the last 11 games.

“We needed a win,” said Luol Deng, who prospered through 52 minutes, getting 21 points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks in a terrific effort that included the two big scores in overtime. “You start losing your confidence, stop believing in yourself and you just want to put an end to that as soon as you can. Even if it’s overtime, we got a win. The way we’ve been playing you feel like you’re letting your teammates down, coaches down, your fans, and we don’t like that feeling.”

Nobody liked that feeling, likely least of all coach Vinny Del Negro, who was been buffeted and strafed with questions about his job situation, the coaching version of the Genghis Khan “death by a thousand cuts” torture.

It must feel that way for the patient Del Negro, who is now cruelly asked every day how he feels about his job security.

“Whenever you win you feel good about it,” Del Negro said about the win to push the Bulls to 8-13.  “Golden State is a difficult team because they have good shooters like Stephen Curry and the list goes on.  It was not a conventional game.  We did a tremendous job on the glass and that was the difference in the game.  We had too many turnovers against the best transition team in the league.  We were able to grind it out.  We had not been able to play that way all the time, I was proud of that.”

But you also understood how desperate everyone was as Joakim Noah, with 18 points and 14 rebounds, John Salmons and Derrick Rose all played more than 43 minutes as Del Negro basically went with seven players and a brief cameo from James Johnson.

With the Celtics, Lakers, rejuvenated Knicks and Hawks coming into Chicago starting Saturday, and coming off seven blowout losses in the last 10 games and a loss to then one-win New Jersey, suddenly the Warriors looked like the must win of the season not only for Del Negro but a reeling group of players.

They Bulls got that win, though not easily as they botched multiple plays down the stretch in regulation. They got it thanks to a fast start from Brad Miller with 12 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter, Noah’s relentless play on the boards against the smaller Warriors and Deng taking over the game late like he’s done few times in his career with better finishers around, namely Ben Gordon.

“It was a big win for us and hopefully this will get us back on track playing good basketball,” said Kirk Hinrich, still missing badly with his shot as he returns from injury, but with a good late effort defensively on Monta Ellis, who led the Warriors with 27 points.

It was a hustling, motivated scene from the Bulls on defense for a change as the high scoring Warriors were held to 87 points in regulation and 38.1 percent shooting. The Bulls controlled the boards 58-44 and they were the ones scoring inside with a 56-22 in the paint margin. Yet, the Bulls still were seconds away from a loss when Rose and Hinrich messed up an inbounds play with 29.9 seconds left in a tie game. But Hinrich did a good job staying in front of a driving Ellis, and Noah came over to provide terrific help and force Ellis into a miss.
The Bulls then had a chance to win it, but Rose’s pullup came up short at the buzzer as he was crowded.

“I’m learning,” said Rose.  “It was a clean shot.  I just got to focus a little bit more and make that shot.”

But the Bulls took charge in overtime, the key plays a hard drive by Deng to the basket for a score, more the aggressive play we’d want to see from Rose, and then Hinrich almost losing the ball again, but shoveling it to Rose for a short jumper and 93-89 lead with 2:54 left in overtime.

Anthony Morrow then missed a three as by this time the Warriors pretty much had reverted to their three-point shooting contest mentality, and Deng then bottomed out a fallaway out of a strong postup move, and the Bulls could begin to relax for perhaps the first time in about three weeks.

“Our effort, energy and focus were the difference in the game,” said Del Negro.

Vinny’s clearly been under siege with this losing streak and the one sided losses, though he cannot say too much in such a position of weakness. He alluded to this the other day when he said he hasn’t always been treated fairly during all this, and a close friend of his told me what that meant.

He said–and while emphasizing it didn’t come from Vinnie–that a quarter of the way into the season with his point guard and supposedly top player missing all of training camp, his starting power forward out with a broken arm, his sixth man out with a finger injury and having lost his top scorer from last season without any replacement and two rookies supposed to be in the rotation, how can you judge someone now.

It’s a reasonable point, though such issues don’t get decided on reason all the time but emotion and results. When the results are poor, the coach generally is the first to answer. No gm’s or owners have been fired this season, but two coaches have been. Of course, the coaches also generally make about four times more money per season then their bosses, the gm’s, which is another oddity in all this.

They are the only ones who tell you they are hired to be fired.

It comes with the territory and all that. I think Vinny understands as he’s been around the NBA long enough, and there doesn’t seem any strong indication from management, anyway, that anything is about to change now.

And perhaps it’s everyone’s fault for overrating this Bulls team after that fabulous playoff series last spring. After all, I didn’t see anyone not picking the Bulls to at least make the playoffs. Not that they are out of it being three games out of fifth in the East.

Still, it’s how you get there, as Rose noted.

“We’ve just got to go out there and compete and if we lose we’ve got to lose the right way, playing good basketball,” said Rose.

Maybe Larry Brown will pick that one up: Losing the right way.

Actually, Rose concerns me a bit though I think he’ll be fine in the long run.

I never expected him to be an All Star this season, and he had 15 points and five assists Friday, though shooting seven of 22.

It’s just that he still seems somewhat uncertain, especially on offense, which came so naturally to him.

I thought he had numerous chances Friday to take the ball to the basket and finish or draw contact against a Warriors team that is not physical at all and doesn’t even have its starting center playing. But Rose continues to pull up for those floaters, which have a much higher degree of difficulty. And don’t get you to the line.

Rose was one of two on free throws, and we can’t complain this season he isn’t getting the calls. He’s not attacking the rim and seeking out contact, which scorers must do, especially a player with his upper body strength and quickness. Rose isn’t getting free throws because he doesn’t deserve them.

Del Negro was asked about that after the game and said, “He is comfortable with that (floater/teardrop) shot and he is good with it.  We would like to see him get to the line more.  As he matures more as a player he will learn that when his shot is not falling, he can still have a good line with free throws, learning how to draw the foul and controlling the tempo.  He is a great kid, he is all about the right stuff.”

I agree he’s a great kid, but Vinny needs to demand this more. Vinny’s right.  He needs to be more forceful. Look, Rose just played for one of the biggest mouths in coaching, John Calipari. I’m sure Rose has heard it before. He can take it.

I also don’t know if it’s the offense, but there was a break Friday in the thurd quarter when Rose got out fast with the Warriors defense back peddling. Rose pulled up to wait for his teammates and that high screen roll. Rose spends way too much time, as the coaches say, going east to west instead of north to south, the latter meaning at the basket.

He’s trying, I’m sure. But the next time he pulls up like that I’d call time out and yank him and explain to him he’s stronger and faster than the other guards and is tougher than most big guys. You can see Rose playing through minor injuries in every game and not saying a word. With no real three point shooting to spread the floor—the Bulls were a disastrous one of 13 on threes Friday—Rose has got to get deeper to open up even the mid range shooters and slashers the Bulls have.

There’s been this idea that the players have quit, which is the biggest indictment of a coach.

I didn’t see any quit in the Bulls Friday. I saw guys a bit tight trying to guide in threes realizing the necessity of winning this supposedly winnable game. I saw enough balls fumbled for a good football follies feature. But I also saw guys like Noah and Deng and Taj Gibson throwing their bodies at the backboards to keep balls alive and get 15 offensive rebounds and just enough to points to retain their basketball dignity for another day.

Though Miller was a revelation to open the game in his best effort since moving into the starting lineup for Gibson, it didn’t start well for the Bulls as they were down 28-26 after one. Way too many points for a Golden State team that runs on momentum and scoring bursts.

I liked the way Gibson again came off the bench fighting, taking two offensive rebounds and putting them back for scores.

John Salmons, who had another poor shooting game and missed six of seven threes overall as most were wide open, did have a strong second quarter as it looked the Warriors might blow the game open. They got up seven midway through the second, but the Bulls hung in to trail by just that seven, 51-44 at halftime.

Salmons had two terrific baseline reverse drives, which has been proving his most effective scoring spot this season while Hinrich continued to struggle with his shot and even his balance as he tripped like we’d see Gordon do a lot, seemingly over an invisible line, and lost the ball for the first of a few times in the game. On one possession with the Warriors up five they got three offensive rebounds but couldn’t score, reminiscent of recent blowouts.

“Kirk is a tough guy,” said Del Negro, happy to have him back.  “He is not 100 percent, but he is going to battle.  He has not shot the ball well since he came back, but you can see he gives the team a lift with the thrust that he plays with and the confidence he gives the rest of the guys.”

And Hinrich was a key part of a second half defensive resurgence that was reminiscent of the play before the Western Conference trip when the team seemed to lose its edge.

“We just sharpened things up,” said Hinrich.  “We came in at halftime and felt like our game plan was solid.  We just needed to come out and execute in the second half and I thought we did.”

Noah was huge in the quarter on the boards and Deng hit all five shots as the duo carried the team the rest of the way. It was encouraging to see from Deng, who generally has been overlooked as a big play player.

Rose and Deng shared four jumpers late in the period to give the Bulls a 67-58 lead in what briefly appeared their chance to run away from someone. But the Warriors quickly shot themselves back into it as it seems this all is going to come the hard way for the Bulls.

The Warriors still led 70-69 going into the fourth quarter, which began with Gibson grabbing another pair of offensive rebounds as he ended with 11 rebounds in just 17 minutes played because of foul trouble. Along with Noah they controlled the inside as the Warriors hung in with threes. With the scored tied at 83, the Bulls passive rotations were a thing of the past as they drew the Warriors into a 24-second violation as the Warriors hunted in vain for an open shooter and the Bulls benched exploded with support at the call.

The Bulls did miss several chances down the stretch to put the game away as they blew easy chances, though their defense stayed strong and alert with Noah causing a jump ball to save a possession and Hinrich getting up on the explosive Ellis.

“I stayed in front of him,” said Hinrich.  “I also probably tried to press up on him a little bit more.  I gave him some space early in the fourth and he knocked down some shots so I really had to get up into him. “

Noah also was terrific providing weakside help and the Warriors weren’t very alert at taking advantage of the rotations as some other teams had recently.

It looked bad when Hinrich and Rose botched that inbounds in the last half minute, but the Bulls survived, and for now that was enough.

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