Bucks hold off Bulls 70s style


Jan 9

It’s never much fun to lose, and the Bulls weren’t smiling very much after coming back from a 17-point deficit Friday only to lose to the Milwaukee Bucks 96-93.

But it was a heck of a game from both teams, not necessarily artful with both teams shooting below 41 percent though with some cheap shots, a bit of a pushing and shoving four-technical sideshow, some takedowns at the basket and plenty of shouting at the officials.

You could close your eyes and see Van Lier, Sloan and Walker and Kareem, Oscar and Dandridge in one of the best, if underplayed, rivalries of the 1970s, the Bulls and Bucks battles for the best in the then west.

They’re no longer competing for much but perhaps a final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs as the Bucks snuck ahead at 15-18 while the Bulls fell to 14-20.

But they at least put on a good show, if less satisfying for the Bulls.

“Toward the end of the game you’ve got to be able to make big shots,” said Kirk Hinrich, who took offense to a cheap forearm from Hakim Warrick and went back at Warrick in the fourth quarter with players pushing and holding one another off. “We got a couple of calls not go our way. A couple of big plays didn’t work out for us. We allowed over 30 points in the fourth quarter. It put too much pressure on us.”

Actually, the Bulls had put that pressure on the Bucks after walking foggily into the game and falling behind 29-12 after 10 minutes.

But the Bulls came back behind Derrick Rose with 25 points and nine assists, though on way too many shots, 25, and a tough effort off the bench by Brad Miller on Andrew Bogut, who was dominating Joakim Noah despite 10 points and 18 rebounds from Noah.

Miller, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, did a better job holding off Bogut, who had 27 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. Miller also made Bogut work on defense, which Noah couldn’t do, with some of those slow motion ball fake drives that had you wondering whether they had TV in Australia.

“I was even thinking of dunking one,” Miller said.

Miller added a three with a minute left to bring the Bulls within 93-91, and they got the defensive stop they needed in forcing the Bucks into a turnover. But Rose was called for a second questionable offensive foul on a seemingly flopping Bogut with 33.4 seconds left.

“I thought he was moving on the last one,” said Rose. “We’ve got to go with what the ref said it is. He said it was a charge and that’s what it was.”

You can’t say much in the NBA anymore, especially with commissioner David Stern angry with the suspension of the Wizards Gilbert Arenas and further damage to the reputation of the NBA. No one wants to bring on the wrath of Stern now.

But it was a tough finish in the Bulls eyes with Rose called for an offensive foul a few minutes earlier while the Bulls were ahead 79-78 after the Bucks were screaming for a call off the Bulls. It certainly looked like one of those classic makeup calls.

“It was an intense game,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. “You could tell even in the beginning both teams realized the importance of this game (for playoff tiebreakers).”

Redd, who looked good with 24 points on eight of 16 shooting, hit  a big jumper with 1:07 left to give the Bucks a 93-88 lead just before that Miller three when Redd appeared to push off Hinrich in one of those Jordan/Bryon Russell moves. So Bulls fans might stop complaining. They got the big one from Jordan. That’s often the way it is, or the way it seems. The guys who are playing more aggressively and taking advantage of opportunities get the calls.

“When the skirmish happened it gave us some energy,” said Noah. “I thought we were focused and playing well, and then Redd hit some tough shots and we gave up some offensive rebounds and we missed a couple of free throws. Winning and losing is so small. That charge at the end of the game on Derrick was crazy. That’s the difference on winning and losing.”

The Bucks attacked more down the stretch with the Bulls settling for jumpers at times even though the Bucks were in the penalty five minutes into the quarter.

The Bulls also got caught a bit when the Bucks went small with Redd moving to small forward and Charlie Bell, who didn’t even play in the first half, going to guard with Brandon Jennings.

That group was too quick for the Bulls with Luol Deng at small forward as Hakim Warrick went to power forward. With that group in before the Bulls matched three guards with John Salmons replacing Tyrus Thomas and Deng moving to power forward, the Bucks went from trailing 79-73 with 6:15 left to leading 88-81 with 2:52 left. It was the main part of a 17-4 run that doomed the Bulls.

“We fought our way back and Derrick got called for that charge,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “It looked like Bogut was moving a little bit. So that was a tough call on us. We didn’t shoot particularly well, but we had 25 assists (on 33 baskets). Our turnovers were down (nine). We just didn’t get enough stops.

“Redd got loose a little bit,” said Del Negro. “Bogut and Redd hurt us all night. A couple of second chance opportunities. Warrick got a dunk after we have had a nice trap on the sideline (to make it 95-91 with 10.1 seconds left). They didn’t really slow us down. We really didn’t slow them down in the fourth quarter and they made a few more free throws than we did.

“We’ve had close games and overtimes games,” said Del Negro. “You’ve got to keep battling and make plays at the end.”

And once again, it just wasn’t enough as the Bulls had one last gasp chance at a tie.

Rose came out of that timeout with 10.1 seconds left with a drive off a screen for a score. The Bulls fouled Redd, who made one of two to give the Bulls a chance to tie with eight seconds left.

Needing a three, which is the Bulls weakest area although they were a rare six of 12 on threes Friday, Salmons slipped to the top and was covered. He got a pass across to Deng, who missed as time expired.

“John passed to Lu. He had a nice look and wasn’t able to knock it down,” Del Negro said with a shrug.

And so they move on.

It was one those games where you could point so many places. Deng, an 81 percent shooter, missed his first four free throw attempts. The Bucks came out attacking Taj Gibson with Ersan Ilyasova, and Gibson never really got into the game. It also exposed a weakness Skiles understood. Ilyasova is a power forward who can step out and shoot the three, which is becoming vogue the way the game is played in the NBA now. On screens you can have a big man now replace and step out and Ilyasova kept spacing out and had 13 points and 11 rebounds with three of seven threes.

Otherwise, no one hurt the Bulls much. But they did a poor job on Bogut, especially in the first half. Bogut is strongest going to his natural left hand, but the Bulls didn’t front or quarter and played in back and allowed Bogut to get deep position and then spin left. Later they helped more off the top and occasionally baseline and used Miller to fight him off more. So Bogut was four of 10 after halftime after seven of 13 in the first half when he was again dominating the Bulls interior.

It enabled the Bucks to take control early with way more aggressiveness, though the Bulls hung in with the last seven points in the quarter. In that stretch Tyrus Thomas, who had just four points on one of four shooting and five rebounds, made two nice inside out passes for scores and was at least aggressive on offense in setting hard screens.

The Bulls climbed back into the game in the second quarter as Rose began attacking better. The Bulls did adjust their screen for him to open things up. They moved the screen down and angled it better with the screener moving into position and Rose was able to get deeper.

Gibson had a tough follow for a slam of his own miss late in the first half and Salmons closed with a three and the Bulls were within 47-41 at halftime.

Del Negro continues to try to get James Johnson some time, but I’d rather have seen Jannero Pargo out there, if only for the ability to put him out on the floor at the end in situations like they had needing a three. It would have been hard to do that Friday after not playing him all game.

The Bulls defense was terrific after halftime shutting off Bogut and Jennings as Hinrich continued to help move the ball well and hit the occasional three and Deng got in the offense a bit. Though I know Rose has the best chance to score, I’d like to see way more shots for Deng, who can make those mid range shots and had been getting few opportunities.

Still, the Bulls took their first lead since the opening seconds, 59-57, but were tied at 64 after three when Luke Ridnour hit a half court three at the buzzer, the second straight game that’s happened to the Bulls at the end of the third. Better practice that one.

The fourth quarter turned retro Bulls-Bucks 1970s.

Hinrich and Salmons opened with threes and the Bulls looked in control, and then Hinrich and Ridnour, not your classic tough guys, got into it, drawing double fouls. Hinrich suckered Ridnour into an offensive. Hinrich then drove and was fouled from behind by Ridnour and as Hinrich pulled up Warrick hit Hinrich with a forearm. Hinrich went at Warrick and Bogut grabbed Hinrich and Thomas grabbed Bogut.

“I was going to the lane and Warrick gave me like a forearm like three seconds after the whistle,” said Hinrich.

Offsetting technicals were called. Miller then drove and was slammed down by Bogut and it appeared the Bucks were losing it and Rose followed with a driving hook to make it 74-68 Bulls with 9:34 left in the game. Miller rumbled in again on the oblivious Bogut and with 8:35 left the Bulls led 76-69.

“We battled our way back,” said Hinrich. “I felt like we competed really hard in the second half. I felt like the intensity was there for us most of the second half. But they scored a lot of points on us in the fourth quarter.”

Especially Redd, the former All Star returning from knee surgery.

“Redd was finding a way to get to the line,” said Rose. “I don’t know what happened to tell you the truth.”

Redd beat Deng on a reverse, got Salmons on a backdoor on a switch, got four free throws on drives and then three more when Noah picked up a technical foul on a call for Redd. In all, it was 12 straight points for Redd to put the Bucks ahead 80-79.

We were tougher,” said Redd. “That’s what it comes down to against Chicago. They’ll always battle and be tough. We had to out toughen them.”

And with 4:27 left the Bulls went cold again, going almost seven minutes in a stretch without a field goal.

There was a force by Deng with the shot clock expiring, three misses inside on one possession before that first Rose offensive on a handoff outside, a rare call, Hinrich missing a three and Noah the follow and a pair of free throw misses from Rose.

“It hurts,” said Rose. “I want to be that guy at the line. I went up and missed both. It hurts. I know I’m going to have many more opportunities to go up there and I know I’ll make them.”

And then there was not enough to hold off a Bell three and Bogut drive.

“We did enough to win this game but we found a way to lose it with our free throws and not getting a couple of stops when we needed to,” said Del Negro of a familiar story. “Not all bad, but we just couldn’t find a way to pull it out.”

Just like Sloan and those guys sounded in the 70s never able to get past Kareem despite the fight.

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