Bulls with Vinny still coach dominate Pacers


Dec 30

We interrupt this discussion of Vinny Del Negro’s coaching future with the Bulls to report that, hey, the Bulls might actually have something going here.

“Derrick Rose is a very, very strong point guard,” admired Indiana Pacers fellow embattled coach Jim O’Brien after Rose led the Bulls to a 104-95 win with 28 points, 11 in the fourth quarter. “Super quick and he’s really become a very good shooter. He’s a terrific player. (Joakim) Noah and (Tyrus) Thomas, in particular, and (Taj) Gibson are so quick off their feet and quick to the rim. If you let them get their athletic step they’re going go get a piece of the ball and follows. The strength of the Bulls is they have tremendous athletes and they utilize them well.”

How about our little, troubled Bulls? Athletic? Admired? Yes, they’re now 12-17, which is not so great and one game behind where they were a year ago. But suddenly they have an actual roster and rotation with Rose putting up big numbers, up to 17.9 per game, Thomas Tuesday with 15 rebounds and three blocks, John Salmons and Brad Miller sharp off the bench combining for 11 for 17 shooting and 33 points and the Bulls posting season highs in shooting, scoring and making 22 of 24 free throws. They’re starting to score, averaging 100 points in the two wins, and even blowing all of a 19-point second quarter lead only to go back up by 17 midway through the fourth quarter.

“Kirk (Hinrich with 10 first quarter points) came out and hit some shots and got us going,” said Del Negro. “He made some nice passes and ended up with five assists. I also thought John Salmons came in and gave us a nice lift. Brad Miller played well. Derrick Rose was doing a nice job with the pick and roll. (Salmons and Miller) shot it well, they guarded well and they moved the ball well. We got a lot of positive things from them. They know they are important to our success and how we play the game. It nice to have two veteran guys like that coming off the bench. Tyrus didn’t shoot it great (two of 10), but he didn’t let his not shooting the ball as well affect his game, so that’s a good sign. Three blocks. I thought he had some big rebounds, ran the court, did good things for us.”

I know all this stuff about Vinny being fired, or not, or when or whether, is nice for media entertainment. Everyone loves a good “Fire the Coach” mystery.

And it has been one with media reports basically the last month that Del Negro would be fired any day now to after the season, whichever came first.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman finally addressed the speculation and reports before Tuesday’s game, saying “Vinny is our coach” and basically declining to get into specifics about plans.

Which probably made sense since there are a few ways you can go. Generally teams don’t specifically respond to such stories, though there has been an amazing accumulation about Del Negro. The reason teams don’t is the media trick. If you deny the story, then the next time there is a story like that and you don’t deny it, the assumption is it’s true. There also is the vote of confidence, sometimes called “the dreaded vote of confidence.” That’s to declare he is your coach and will be your coach. Lawrence Frank got one of those for the Nets a few weeks before he was fired. You know, that was then ans this is now.

Pacers general manager Larry Bird happened to express one of those for O’Brien Monday amidst local calls for his firing. The national media basically ignores Indiana, so O’Brien was safe from that.

But it was growing clear the Bulls needed to say something because you can’t just leave your coach hanging out there and not respond in some way.

“It gets to the point where it’s ridiculous to keep talking about this stuff,” Del Negro said still again before the game when asked still again about his job status. “I talk to Gar and Pax every day. When they want to come out with something they will. If they don’t, I’m just going to keep working and doing my job and helping this team get better. That’s my approach. I’m the leader of the team, and we have a young team, and setting a good example for guys and how to handle things I think is important. Be professional and do your job. That’s the approach I’m going with.”

Forman followed Del Negro to the Bulls curtain hung outside the locker room in the United Center hallway for the pregame media sessions. Forman said Vinny is the coach, that no one is happy with the record and everyone is responsible and held accountable. Forman said he wouldn’t get into specifics about internal organization discussions, but added, “As a management team, we’re exploring all options in order to get better. We expect our coaches each and every day to get this team better. And I met with the team [Monday] for a while, and we expect them to work each and every day to get better. And that’s where we’re at.”

But then the Bulls had to play the game, and who really cares about that when you can speculate about someone’s job future and livelihood and fantasize about George Karl leaning awkwardly over your scorers’ table during games.

Still, the players went out and played as well as they have all season, a 34-15 lead after one quarter as Hinrich and Luol Deng combined to shoot eight for 11, the team shot 66.7 percent, had 10 assists on 14 baskets and crushed the 9-21 Pacers on the boards 18-7.

It was something to see. Salmons hit a jumper and was cheered, Thomas stole the ball from T.J. Ford, sprinted out and hit Hinrich for a score. The movement was crisp, the shots squared up.

“Like Ben Wallace used to say,” laughed Hinrich about not getting a shot attempt after the first quarter, ‘Find me early because you won’t find me late.’ I think (we’re getting our confidence back). I don’t know if we ever completely lost our confidence, but we were struggling for a while. It was tough on the road trip and we got into a rut and kind of lost ourselves as a group. But maybe now we’re starting to get some of that back.”

Though hardly all the way back as with that big lead, like against Sacramento with that 35-point lead, the players began reverting to their school yard days. There were quick shots, little ball movement, and a surge from two Pacers removed from the starting lineup, Roy Hibbert and Earl Watson, along with little used Josh McRoberts.

That exiled group, with Hibbert scoring 13 points in the second quarter, got the Pacers within 57-53 at halftime and you were thinking, “What, they’re blowing a 19-point lead to the Pacers without Danny Granger. Hey, anyone check to see if they are firing Vinny?”

“I feel like we stop moving the ball,” said Deng. “We stop playing defense. I’m glad we got the win, but we’ve got to look at it and address it. That’s our strength when we move the ball, but we fall into these things.”

It was a rare game where Noah was outplayed, finishing with four points and five rebounds getting in foul trouble against Hibbert. Noah tried to front Hibbert and the Pacers kept going over the top with the weak side help too late. Hibbert, who is slow and gangly but bigger than Noah, also was continually backing Noah down with success.

It also was one of those games where Thomas, after a brilliant return Saturday in the win over New Orleans, was taking too many of those long jumpers and forced inside shots. But he didn’t give up this time, as he’s done in the past.

“I usually hang my head about that kind of stuff (poor shooting),” said Thomas. “But luckily for me I’m not one of those guys who does one thing for a team. I was able to affect the game in other ways and help us get the win.”

Typical of Thomas in this game was one sequence late in the second quarter when he drove, fell down and lost the ball for a turnover and didn’t run back as the Pacers scored easily with McRoberts passing to Hibbert as Noah tried to hold off both. Then Rose missed on a drive and Thomas came swooping in for a spectacular one handed slam. It seemed every time Thomas would take and miss an off balance shot, which he did several times down the stretch, he’d rise up above everyone and snatch a huge rebound the other way. And he explained it cryptically, as he often does.

“I just bring me,” Thomas said in answer to an innocuous question about what he brings to the game. “A lot of people have different opinions on what they think I am. I’m just me. That’s the motto I live by. I’m not going to change that for nobody. Whatever you feel that is or whatever you feel I bring, then I’ll let you live with that.”

People ask me about Thomas, and that would be how I would describe him.

But if he continues to contribute like this, you’d say you may have something special on your hands.

The Pacers to open the second half got three straight jumpers from someone named Solomon Jones who didn’t seem so wise to Bulls fans, and then Gibson lost Mike Dunleavy for a pair of threes and then fouled Dunleavy attempting a three and you thought the Bulls were in full meltdown as the Pacers went ahead 72-71 midway through the third quarter.

But Salmons and Deng hit consecutive threes on setups from Hinrich as the Bulls began to hold the Pacers to one bad jumper each possession and pulled ahead 87-74 after three. If you think the Bulls are a jump shooting team, watch the Pacers fire them up.

In the fourth, it was Rose, who has become a terrific midrange shooter and was going hard to the basket and made six of eight free throws.

“Derrick can take over the game whenever he wants,” said Thomas, who was, dare we say Bill Russellesque, with back to back blocks of Hibbert trying to score inside and Luther Head getting the miss and trying to drive.

And just about every time the Pacers tried to get back, Rose pulled up with an unerring jumper and the Bulls cruised to the first win in regulation all season at home in which they scored at least 100 points. Watch out Golden State. What’s next: 105?

What do you think? Leave a comment below: