Bulls can't come up Roses in loss to Bobcats


Jan 6

And in the end, there was no one again to close the deal. It’s really the ultimate in sports, the guy who can step up and win the game for you.

But as the Bulls were losing Tuesday to the Charlotte Bobcats 113-108, there was Kirk Hinrich, first with an open look for a three to take a lead with 90 seconds left and a dead on 18 footer for a tie with 25.9 seconds left. Both missed front rim.

“I thought the first one was going in,” said Hinrich, who finished four of 13. “The second one came off the wrong way and I felt like my feet weren’t really set and I just came up short.”?

Then there was John Salmons driving with a chance to tie the game with 51.4 seconds left, only to dribble the ball off his leg for a turnover. Salmons did convert on a three-point play with 18.1 seconds left to bring the Bulls within one. But there was Salmons with a wide open look at a three to tie with 3.5 seconds left only to miss short.

The Bobcats, playing small, pressuring, and running out at every opportunity seemed to have finally taken the legs from the Bulls shooters down the stretch in a fast paced game Yes, after tying the game at 105 with a jump stop leaner with 2:07 left, Derrick Rose, the Bulls high scorer and most explosive player, got just two field goal attempts the rest of the way, one a hurried three after Salmons got caught up in the air and passed off in desperation. Rose had seven turnovers. But he also led the Bulls with 24 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter to keep the Bulls in it, along with nine assists. But at the end, he was inbounding to Hinrich for that 18 footer and trying to set up someone.

No, you can’t ask Rose to do everything, and he made his share of mistakes against the Bobcats. But he’s the best weapon you have at those times.

“It is frustrating to lose, but at the same time, at least we fought back,” said Rose of the Bulls recovering from 13 down in the second quarter and 11 behind late in the third. “Two or three weeks ago, we would have let that game slip. But we fought back, played hard, and it is going to work out for us. We had too many turnovers. But there were other plays early in the game that we should have made to be closer in the end. We didn’t make them, so we had to fight our way back.”

And the Bulls never quite got there in a game they trailed almost throughout. Their record fell to 14-19, a game behind Charlotte. The Bulls are 3-12 on the road and 0-7 in the second of back to backs.

Though he’d never say that, it seemed that Hall of Fame Charlotte coach Larry Brown understood this odd lead footed propensity for the young Bulls on back to backs. There’s really no excuse for not being able to play at a high level ?for consecutive games, especially with so many young players and now with two days off this week before the Bulls go to Milwaukee Friday.

But the Bobcats, who went with three guards and small forward Gerald Wallace often, dominated the Bulls in fast break points by a 21-6 margin in shooting 51 percent. It was a gamble for the Bobcats given the Bulls edge in size and interior quickness, and the Bulls led in points in the paint and rebounding 40-30. Thus, the Bulls also shot 51 percent, but the Bobcats continually had the Bulls defense out of position and shot 11 more free throws.

The Bulls didn’t help themselves missing seven of their 22 from the line, and the Bulls, not a team that usually complains much about fouls, were up and arguing often, including when Tyrus Thomas was called for an unusual technical foul for inadvertently touching the net on defense and the Bobcats getting a four point play. Also, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro got a rare technical foul early in the second half when he exploded off the bench on a stomping fit when there was no call on a seemingly obvious foul against Joakim Noah.

And then there was the Bulls leaving Ray Felton unattended at midcourt to bank in a there at the third quarter buzzer.

“We had some looks at the end and couldn’t knock anything down,” said Del Negro. “That’s how it goes. We had some solid performances, but were not making enough plays down the stretch and not making the open shots we needed to make. The three at the end of the third. Sometimes things happen out of your control. Three points there, a couple of technicals add up when you have a close game.”

And so ended the feel good four wins from last week culminating with the victory over Orlando. Salmons had 19 points and seven rebounds and Luol Deng had 18 points and nine rebounds. But the Bulls couldn’t overcome 32 points from Gerald Wallace and 25 each from Stephen Jackson and Flip Murray off the bench.

“We know that we can find ways to win,” said Charlotte’s Jackson. “We’re learning every day how to finish games. At the end of the game, we were confident that we could make plays because we have so many guys that can make big shots, especially with Flip in the game. That makes us more of a threat.”

In the end, it was the difference, though the Bobcats mostly held off the Bulls by attacking, getting fouled and making those free throws down the stretch.

You wish the Bulls would have done some of the same, especially with Rose and especially since the Bobcats didn’t have any shot blockers in the game.

“I liked the way Derrick was attacking the first quarter and we had some solid performances overall,” said Del Negro. “We just didn’t make the plays that we needed to make down the stretch offensively.”

Yes, we’re hearing a lot of that with the Bulls.

You could see the Bobcats plan from the beginning as they had three fast break baskets in the first five minutes, leaking out when their man was missing a shot and the Bulls flatfooted in transition. Which was a bad sign to start for a team that needs to run to score. The Bulls would score, but mostly because Charlotte kept up a quicker pace. The theory behind such a tactic is to get the benefit of a big miss or two down the stretch, and it seemed to work.

Charlotte led 31-28 after one quarter as Deng and Rose had six points each. You watch Deng averaging about 18 points and figure he’s back to where he was. But you also wonder how much more he can do. Playing for Scott Skiles, who was no favorite of Deng’s from what I recall, Deng would get at least three baskets a game on those dive cuts to the basket for layups or dunks. You rarely see that anymore, though you have to credit Deng for his hustle in getting to so many loose balls for opportunity baskets.

The problem for him in the Bulls scheme is he is left in the corner. The main play is a screen/roll on top with the power forward stepping to the elbow after a roll. That blocks Deng from diving to the basket, so he usually has to follow a shot from there. I’d like to see some cuts run for him diving to the basket as he probably does that best on the team.

Plus, since Deng doesn’t shoot threes, he doesn’t get defended much in the corner with the defense laying off him. The result, which you saw a lot Tuesday in Charlotte, was with Rose driving the court gets crowded with poor spacing. Bulls offensive players don’t fan out because they are not comfortable shooting threes, so the defense sucks in. Rose is so quick he can still get to the basket, but it also enables the defense to get help to him more quickly, and he’ll still give up the ball as a result.

And given that he still scored 24 points and had 19 shots Tuesday.

Tyrus Thomas had a good first quarter recovering from that poor game against the Thunder Monday. He had a nice handoff to Noah for a score, finished a lob from Hinrich and downed an 18 foot pullup.

But he was quiet the rest of the game and relatively passive on defense again, finishing with just five rebounds, though he did get a pair of blocks.

The bench was better as Salmons shot well, and James Johnson did have one good sequence late in the third quarter when he made a nice steal, dribbled cross court and found Salmons for a three and then added one of his own in three straight possessions. But the Bobcats went at him every time as Brown is terrific spotting mismatches or weak defenders immediately and gearing his offense that way.

Brown had the taller Jackson taking Hinrich deep constantly early and then having Murray lose the Bulls guards on pick and rolls. Rose still goes under way too often instead of fighting over the screens, and Murray and Felton took advantage and were five of seven on threes.

“The first half I didn’t think our defense was sharp. We cut some corners,” said Del Negro. “The second half we got after it.”

Charlotte began to pull away with that unusual four point play as Hinrich grabbed Murray on a fast break. But in trying to block the ball Thomas hit the netting. He got a technical for that, the basket was scored a goal tend and Hinrich got a personal for grabbing Murray to stop the layup.

That gave Charlotte a 42-35 lead . D.J. Augustin then burned Rose on a three. Hinrich answered with back to back threes to keep the Bulls close. And while Hinrich has worked well starting with Rose in moving the ball better as he added seven assists, there was one of those moments Hinrich often has. He was getting ready to run out on a fast break when he pitched just ahead to Noah in the middle, who isn’t your ideal middle man on a fast break. So Noah had to stop and pull the ball out. That sort of decision making always has been an issue with Hinrich to leave many wondering whether he is more shooting guard than point guard.

The Bobcats took a 59-52 lead at halftime. The Bulls closed with a little spurt after that Del Negro technical early in the third as Noah had a nice runner blowing past Nazr Mohammed for a three point play before the Bobcats went small again. That’s when Felton, Murray and Wallace hit consecutive threes and Charlotte took an 87-80 lead after three on that 44 foot banker.

But the Bulls got right in it in the fourth with a Salmons three and one of those brilliant Rose sequences when he slipped a Noah screen and went by everyone down the lane, abused Augustin on another drive and score and blew into the middle on a Noah brush screen. That sent Charlotte into a timeout with 6:18 left and the Bulls trailing 97-95.

But Rose came out with consecutive turnovers, one on a highly questionable offensive foul since Rose actually avoids contact most of the time on drives. But Noah hit a free throw line jumper on a pass from Rose as the defense flooded Rose’s path and then Rose threw in a baseline floater to get the Bulls within 101-99 with 4:25 left.

Of the Bulls next 10 shots up to that last gasp three by Salmons for the tie, Rose got three shots.

“We had opportunities, good looks,” said Del Negro. “It did not happen.”

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