Bulls donate game to Warriors to open road trip


Jan 19

This Bulls team really is filled with nice guys. After all, look how nice they were Monday in losing 114-97 to the Golden State Warriors.

They could have tried to punish Corey Maggette in the post with Taj Gibson, but rarely threw the ball to Gibson, who got seven shots.

They could have doubled and blitzed Monta Ellis on the perimeter to take the ball out of his hands and get it to one of three D-league players the Warriors were using. But, nah, they let Ellis roam wherever he wanted and fire off 39 shots and score a team high 36 points.

They could have pressured and trapped the historically undermanned Warriors, who basically had only four regular NBA players available given so many injuries and dressed just eight. Perhaps tried to tire them out when every bench player had just come up from the D-league. Forget that. The Bulls backed off and let the Warriors into their offense wherever they wanted.

They could have sent Luol Deng into the post when he was being guarded by the likes of Cartier Martin and Anthony Tolliver, whomever they were, or on switches with li’l Ellis. But instead Deng mostly remained in the corner while Bulls guards dribbled around and shot, 32 combined for Derrick Rose and Jannero Pargo.

We came out flat and with no energy at all,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.

No, sorry, we’re not falling for that old cliché when every team loses. The Bulls weren’t flat and they weren’t without energy. They were without the inclination to take advantage of a team that has played most of the season with the most decimated roster in league history, the Warriors in their last game having had to take a technical foul because they had only four eligible players after a foul out.

“Well the Golden State D-Leaguers got a win,” laughed Warriors coach Don Nelson afterward, a cold mocking of the Bulls’ play.

The Bulls seemed to lack the ability or interest in identifying mismatches, tired opponents and shooters on a roll, and themselves fell into the Warriors defensive trap where Golden State players pretty much escort drivers to the basket. They play well off, basically asking opponents to shoot. So they Bulls continued to fire off jumpers without much of any ball movement and early in the clock, and it’s not like John Salmons, who did have 25 points and kept the Bulls in for a time with his shooting, or Pargo, are going to the three-point shooting contest. Rose had a spotty effort shooting seven of 19, and, it turned out, without Kirk Hinrich, missing the game with the flu, the ball movement pretty much stopped. But the Bulls were in no position to complain about injuries with half the Golden State players not even likely to make the Bulls roster.

The one under Tim Floyd.

Was Salmons trying to win back his starting job with a big game?

Was Pargo trying to reclaim more playing time?

Whatever, it was mostly a selfish, sad effort against a team that remains surprised to win.

And the Warriors didn’t even play that well, shooting 44.2 percent and 21 of 32 on free throws. Andris Biedrins was one of seven with an awful line drive shot that the Bulls finally got around to fouling him on purpose with about five minutes left, though it was too late by then.

“I know that I came out sluggish and I need to pick it up on the rest of this road trip,” said Rose. “It’s too late to talk about how we could have beat them, but now we must focus on the Los Angeles Clippers (Wednesday). We have to pick it up because we have a long road trip.”

It’s nice of Rose to take the blame, but that, perhaps, was the only thing the Bulls should have shared.

“We scored 97 points which should be enough, but we didn’t play any defense,” said Del Negro. “We gave up too many points and we didn’t get any stops when we needed to get them. Our defense and our energy wasn’t up to par, and you can’t win many games, especially on the road if you play like we played tonight.”

The Bulls fell to 18-21 after having won four straight. They’re now 4-14 on the road in what should have been the easiest road game in a stretch with eight of the next nine on the road. It may signal a crossroads for the season. Going 0-7 on this Western Conference portion could doom the team and perhaps lead to salary savings deals aimed at the summer. Though that risks a season collapse and making the team less attractive to free agents.

It was bad for the Bulls from the beginning despite the Warriors opening with a mini lineup of Ellis and Stephen Curry and Corey Maggette at power forward. Maggette has been telling friends he’d love to come home and play for his hometown Bulls as pretty much everyone among the Warriors wants to get away from Nelson. Though Maggette’s wish seems unlikely with a contract that has three seasons after this one at about $10 million per year.

The Bulls opened the game going to Gibson, so they saw the mismatch. But the players seemed distracted when Gibson missed his first two shot, and four of the next five shots were long jumpers. It was 9-4 Warriors by then, and credit Nelson because he does know how to coach, at least his way.

Seeing Gibson trying to guard Maggette, Nelson kept going to Maggette, who was terrific in his Bulls audition, finishing with 32 points on an efficient 11 of 14 shooting and 10 of 11 free throws. Maggette attacked off the dribble or stepped back for short jumpers, and was almost unerring. It was his third game of at last 30 in the last four.

It was edge Nelson. Del Negro isn’t as practiced as Nelson, and tends not to milk hot players or matchups that much. But the Bulls players generally do play hard and compete, and Del Negro has to get some credit for that. After all, if players compete for a veteran coach, the veteran usually gets credit for that.

Not taking advantage of Gibson’s size and him having difficulty following Maggette outside, the Bulls went to Tyrus Thomas, who fancies himself a small forward and has talked to the staff about playing him more there. Bad idea.

But Maggette just blew by Thomas, who is no match in quickness to the veteran moves, and on offense Thomas continued the annoying practice of going up softly in traffic, missing two point blank attempts with the Bulls trailing 25-15.

The Warriors, given they don’t much care about defense, anyway, and are so small, they switch most everything. So you get these crazy mismatches all the time off pick and rolls with Ellis often on Deng. Yet Deng would rarely ever see the ball in those situations. You are sitting there shouting, “Go to Deng.” At least to yourself. Deng did get 20 points, but you could see on at least two occasions he took contested jumpers after going long stretches without seeing the ball despite mismatches.

Yes, the Bulls shot 36.5 percent against a team which doesn’t defend.

Go to the basket! They’re playing little people!

Ellis is fast and he was killing the Bulls on a high pick and roll or dribble handoff, generally blowing by the defender going under.

“Not many other Warriors other than Wilt [Chamberlain] probably have shot 39 times in an NBA game,” noted Nelson.

Actually Rick Barry was the last in 1975 when the Warriors swept the Bullets for the NBA title by coming back after trailing the Bulls 3-2 in the conference finals.

And that’s where Michael Jordan broke his foot, too.

I kept telling everyone to trade for Ellis a year ago when the Warriors wanted to suspend him for that moped accident. Maybe you couldn’t have gotten him, but imagine what he’d be like in the backcourt with Rose, even if they might be a tad defense challenged?

“He went to work tonight,” said an admiring Del Negro. “He was able to get basically any shot that he wanted. He was aggressive and was able to make big shots. I keep hearing how fast he is. But to see it first hand is amazing. He had a bunch of fast break points. Their backcourt played great together, and they were able to get a bunch of buckets.”

I’d have trapped that pick and roll or blitzed the handoff because, after all, how many choices did Ellis have to throw to? And maybe go at him or Curry or Maggette as there were no substitutes. Maybe you drive the ball and get them in foul trouble.

They had to do great program sales at the game, though. Who were those guys?

I kept asking myself that and looking up names with Martin in early for the also ailing Devean George (who even knew he still was in the league?) along with Tolliver and then Chris Hunter. Some remember Hunter from Michigan before he played in Poland and Belgium. Geez, he couldn’t even get to the big European leagues? Tolliver was from Creighton and Martin from Kansas State, all previously in the D-league.

“Tolliver and Cartier, they were a big hit tonight,” said Nelson. “They made some big plays and being his first game with us he had a big game (Tolliver). He played terrific to me, rebounded, ran the floor and got loose balls. Cartier Martin, too. They made big plays at the end of the game, and we needed that and they came in a gave us a great lift.”

I’d say Nelson never expected to utter those sentences in his long career.

Hey! There’s Tyrus in the middle on a three-on-one after a turnover. Ooops. He lets Curry break up the play with a bounce pass behind Rose.

Amazingly, the Bulls still were within 33-25 after one quarter.

Curry, the rookie who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and really isn’t a point guard, outplayed Rose, who will lose his chance for the All Star game if the trip continues this way. Curry opened the second with a three, but the Bulls eased back into the game as the Warriors finally started missing.

Thomas got a nice tip rebound of a Pargo shot and Salmons converted on a drive. And as the Warriors went cold with what seemed rubbery legs with their main guys generally playing more than 45 minutes per game, the Bulls pulled within 54-53 at halftime.

OK, you played poorly and you were right back in the game. That’s how you beat bad teams, right?

The Warriors remained cold to open the third, but they don’t stop firing. The Bulls obliged with a series of their own bad jumpers while Biedrins was giving Noah a heck of a time. Biedrins had a huge defensive effort with 19 rebounds and eight blocks, though the Warriors’ idea of defense mainly is steals for fast breaks and blocks now that Biedrins is back from a long term groin injury.

“He hasn’t been a dominant player until tonight,” said Nelson, rubbing it in, if unintentionally, even more.

Noah had several stints as well on Hunter and Tolliver, and Noah did finish with 16 rebounds. Though just four points on two of 10 shooting. It wasn’t Noah’s kind of game where you cannot go to him in a mismatch because his offensive moves are so limited. He has to play off a more structured game with ball movement. Throwing it into him on isolations got the Bulls nothing.

I hate to keep picking on Thomas, who had four points and nine rebounds in fouling out early in the fourth on a wild drive for an offensive foul. Because he had some good moments Monday. But the way he wanders around on defense seeking out weak side blocks and leaving his man alone was crushing the Bulls, who were outrebounded 57-53 after moving into the league lead in rebounding. In one possession, the Warriors got two offensive rebounds and then found Tolliver open for a layup with no one within 10 feet of him as Thomas went out to guard someone above the free throw line even though he was playing Tolliver.

Salmons, actually, kept the Bulls in it with three three pointers in the third. Too bad his number isn’t 33. Thomas had a block on Hunter and Deng ran out and was fouled, Curry missed a quick jumper and Deng finally got the ball against Ellis and scored and was fouled, and it looked like the crisis had passed as the Bulls took a 77-74 lead. But after Deng hit Thomas for a lob dunk, Curry and Ellis hit and Pargo missed three straight, enabling the Warriors to take an 83-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

“Here we are limited with seven and a half players but we found a way to win,” said Nelson. “We usually have pretty good first halves and then the third quarter has been a problem for us. But tonight we won the third quarter.”

The Bulls went dead to open the fourth as Brad Miller was blocked and missed a shot, James Johnson was stripped of the ball and Tyrus committed that offensive foul. Del Negro rushed Rose back in quicker than usual as Maggette scored a pair and Martin hit a three to give the Warriors a 92-84 lead.

Rose hit a jumper and Noah rolled nicely for a score on a Salmons pass. But Biedrins blocked another Noah shot as Ellis scored first on a drive and then a pullup three before Martin, again, drove for a score—who are those guys?—sending the Bulls into a timeout trailing 103-90 with just over four minutes left. And that was pretty much it as the Bulls couldn’t stop much of anything. It’s raining in California. Bulls tears?

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