Bulls have little spirit and lose to 76ers in overtime


Feb 4

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The Bulls Wednesday went back, officially, to being a losing team after a 106-103 overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers left the Bulls 23-24 on the season.

Unofficially, the Bulls just as quickly became a team in trouble with their energy depleted with the continuing foot problems of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, despite going for 30 points and nine assists, being asked to do way too much.

“We got in a little bit of a hole and had an opportunity on the first half to get a better lead,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We weren’t able to do that. In the third quarter, we got a little stagnant offensively until the beginning of the fourth quarter. But you have to give Philadelphia credit. They made some shots at the end of the shot clock. They had a few more plays than we did and we weren’t sharp enough offensively attacking the high screen and role. We just didn’t make enough plays, bottom line.”

The Bulls haven’t quite hit bottom. But after that wonderful five-game road winning streak out west, losses to the Clippers at home and the dysfunctional 76ers in Philadelphia not only wasted a chance for the Bulls to make a serious run in the Eastern Conference but again raised serious questions of where the season is headed.

With Noah slowing even more because of nagging plantar fasciitis, the Bulls have become more of a walk-it-up team, which is not the way they have to score. And their once threatening defense around the basket is most welcoming.

They were outscored by the 76ers 13-4 on fast breaks and again gave up better than 50 percent shooting.

With Rose you never should end up with four fast break points.

One play was most indicative in overtime with the Bulls trailing 98-96. Rose got a rebound as the 76ers shot an air ball at the 24 second clock. Rose took off on what should have been a four-on-two break. But Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons pulled up at the three point line and Rose had to pull the ball back. Eventually, Rose got the ball back with the defense set, got tied up by Lou Williams and lost the tip.

“There wasn’t any fatigue issues,” insisted Del Negro. “Our guys minutes were balanced with a few guys playing a little more. There was plenty of timeouts and their players played as much as our guys. I don’t think fatigue had anything to do with us not attacking.”

I’d disagree. Hinrich clearly was exhausted working on 44 minutes, and the rotation again was excessively tightened, in part because of injuries.

Del Negro is trying newly acquired Devin Brown, but he had one of those anything-that-can-go-wrong-will games. He was a walking airball/turnover combination with three misses, two fouls and two turnovers in 10 minutes.

We know Del Negro, like Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan before him, has gotten worn out with Tyrus Thomas. But it not only was a game Thomas was playing well and actually much engaged, it was a game where he was the better matchup.

Elton Brand, who led the 76ers with 26 points, was dominating an ineffective Gibson, scoreless in 16 minutes and also with his own plantar fasciitis issues. He didn’t play after the third quarter.

Also, with Noah struggling, he ended up playing just 13 seconds in the overtime and 1:42 in the fourth quarter, and there were just too many layups the 76ers made without any real protection at the basket with Noah and Gibson out and Del Negro reluctant to play Thomas.

I know the Bulls are trying to hold onto their last bit of cap room for flexibility for a potential trade if they have to take on more money. But they are getting to the point where they need a big body to give them some minutes. Maybe they can get the Warriors D-league list and bring up someone. Noah and Gibson are dragging to the All Star break finish line.

The book on Brand is you have to play him with size.

The Bulls apparently lost that book, or, at least, those pages.

Brand attacked the lighter Gibson at every opportunity to open the game. Later, the Bulls switched Noah onto Brand when Brad Miller came in. But when Miller went out they went back to Gibson. Given his foot problems and matchup issues, it would have been the game to go extensively with Thomas on Brand given Thomas’ length and jumping ability.

Thomas had 12 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes, and it wasn’t garbage time stuff like a lot of his points against the Clippers Tuesday. Thomas had two good runs, one early in the second quarter when he slammed in a loose ball and finished nicely on a pass from Miller, and late in the third when he slammed a lob from Hinrich and got fouled on an alley oop. He had the occasional quick jumper and over dribbling, but he’s not the only one who does. But his past misdemeanors gives him a shorter leash than most, and he sat out the last 15 minutes of the game.

I’ve been no big fan of Thomas’ moody play. But he could have helped Wednesday, and I assume the Bulls are going to have to play him more now given the condition of their worm out and aching big men. I’d probably even give him a start the next game in a bygones be bygones moment.

They need one another with Thomas a free agent.

It’s never to late to say I’m sorry, even without the words.

Rose did all he could, and perhaps too much in the overtime as everyone around him looked spent. I thought those screen rolls were hurting him again as the defense was not peeling off and forcing the ball out of his hands too much. Right, and he still scored 30.

The 76ers took a 96-94 lead in the overtime after the Bulls botched their first two possessions. Rose then finally got an isolation and blew by Willie Green for an easy layup and 96-96 tie with 3:40 left.

But Hinrich got caught on Samuel Dalembert on a switch with the Bulls playing small without Noah and with Luol Deng at power forward and ground bound Brad Miller at center. Dalembert easily took a Brand miss over Hinrich’s head and put it back in for a 98-96 Philly lead with 3:12 left.

I know Bulls fans had to be screaming over this next possession. The 76ers trapped Rose as the Bulls went back to the high pick and roll. Miller took the pass and gave to Hinrich on the right wing. Hinrich made a nice move to get past Lou Williams, and seemed to be taken down at the basket by Brand, who got a block. Deng recovered the ball as his hustle was keeping the Bulls in. He was the team’s leading rebounder with 11. Deng went up and clearly was hammered by Andre Iguodala, though no foul call was made. Deng rarely complains openly and angrily fired his arm down toward veteran referee Bennett Salvadore to show his displeasure.

Still, overall, the Bulls shot 25 free throws to 19 for the 76ers in Philadelphia, so the Bulls weren’t getting the benefit of the doubt down the stretch.

But there was now just a second left on the shot block and Salmons missed a heave at the buzzer. But the 76ers would continue to give the Bulls chances, and they had plenty as the 76ers missed 11 of 19 free throws, including one that could have given them a win at the end of regulation.

The 76ers then committed that 24-second violation that gave the Bulls the runout when they stopped running and they would lose the ball when Rose was tied up and lost the tip. But Brand then committed an offensive foul on a screen, and the Bulls came back to tie on two Rose free throws at 98 with 1:41 left after Rose got a foul call at the basket.

But the Bulls got burned the next possession with their basic defensive principle. They’ve become a good defensive help team. Brand started backing down Miller and Deng went to help, leaving Iguodala on top. Iguodala hit a high arcing three (all his shots are so high you wonder how many even go in) for a 101-98 lead with 1:19 left.

It’s hard to blame the Bulls for that one because you figure you’d take an Iguodala three at that point as he shoots 31.9 percent on threes.

But it went, and Rose took off again, though he might have passed on that one.

With the screen, he got a double on top. But he split it on a behind the back dribble between Willie Green and Dalembert. He drove and Iguodala and Brand came at him with four players in the paint as Rose got there and went up. Miller was alone in the left corner, Deng in the right and Hinrich on the right wing, all above the three point line.

Brand blocked Rose’s shot, and then Green hit a tough give and go runner for a 103-98 lead with 49.8 seconds left.

The Bulls ran a nice inbounds play on a Salmons dive cut for a quick score. But Iguodala got Deng on a switch and blew past him for a layup as Iguodala beat the help for a 105-100 lead with 27.9 seconds left. And no big at the rim.

The Bulls tried the same inbounds play again, but Hinirich’s pass skipped out of bounds off Deng’s knee, and that was about it as Iguodala, doing everything down the stretch and finishing with 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, stripped Salmons for a turnover.

It was a game the Bulls had plenty of chances, though they rarely seemed to play with much urgency, either out of some studied indifference, fatigue or simply the lack of contagious energy and enthusiasm supplied by a healthy Noah.

And it was the kind of game you could get with a sparse home crowd, Allen Iverson missing the game for family reasons and the 76ers in controversy with Iguodala the subject of trade rumors, Brand having fought much of the season with coach Eddie Jordan and newly benched Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young non too happy with their status.

But the Bulls never could shake them. The teams ping ponged the lead throughout the fourth quarter, but then tied it at 90 with 2:25 left as Miller rolled in and scored on a Rose pass as the 76ers trapped Rose.

Williams then made one of two free throws, leaving Rose a chance to give the Bulls a 92-91 lead with 1:59 left on a hanging bank shot.

Iguodala hit a tough fallaway after posting Salmons for a 93-92 Philly lead and then with Rose walled off after Noah set the pick, Rose hit Deng in the corner and he missed short. But with under 90 seconds left, Brand missed short and the Bulls had another chance. The 76ers squeezed Rose and he passed crosscourt to Hinrich, who hit Deng in the right corner. But instead of shooting, Deng drove. He missed, but fought for the rebound and got the putback for a 94-93 Bulls lead with 54.9 seconds left.

Iguodala took a tough fallaway that missed. Noah got the rebound and it looked like the Bulls would steal it. Bu Iguodala took Rose for the first time on defense and forced him into a tough, hanging banker which came up short with 26.4 seconds left. Iguodala drove and beat Deng again and was fouled by Salmons.

Iguodala made the first to tie, but missed the second. It popped to Brand, who gave Noah a nice, veteran, subtle shove in the back. Brand shot it back in and out, and the Bulls rebounded at 94-94 with 1.5 seconds left, but could only get a wild heave from the corner falling away by Rose.

Overall, it was another slow defensive effort by the Bulls as the 76ers shot 52.3 percent, again indicative of Noah’s absent fury. Shots changed became shots made.

The Bulls trailed 26-25 after the first quarter as Brand started strong against Gibson with 10 points. Again, the Bulls gave up a big play at the end of the quarter, a lob dunk for a score as they would just before the half with runner. They seem to lose concentration as quarters conclude.

They seemed like they were going to take control with Thomas playing to open the second quarter, going ahead 40-33 on Salmons and Hinrich threes. They would lead 51-43 just before Green’s prayer to end the first half.

“We should have put this game away when we had a chance,” Rose said.

But the Bulls opened the second half with some quick shots and lazy passes and the 76ers tied it right away at 51-51, and it was a grinder until late in the fourth when both teams began to make plays.

The 76ers led 71-70 after three as there would, in the end, be 16 lead changes and 12 ties.

The Bulls fell behind 77-72 in the fourth. But Rose got calls for four straight free throws and then Hirrich for two to pull within 78-77 with seven minutes left. Salmons tied it at 81 with a three, one of four he made for 17 points to equal Deng behind Rose’s 30. Iguodala then untied it with a three, Salmons tied it again with a three, and then Rose had a bigtime crossover on Green and two handed tomahawk dunk to tie again at 88 with 3:42 left. Rose had 13 points after the third quarter and was doing what he could.

Maybe when he hit that hanging bank for that 92-91, you thought it might be enough. But it would not be.

“I’m out there trying to help the team the best way I can. It’s frustrating because I know that I am trying but I am in pain,” said Noah, who had six points and eight rebounds.

Asked if he might take time off now until after the All Star break, Noah was pensive: “I don’t know. We don’t have a lot of depth at the center position besides me and Brad and Brad is playing hurt, also. Whatever the coaches want at the end of the day will happen. I am going to go out there and suit up until they tell me that I am hurting the team. I want to be out there and help the team as much as possible so I am not going to be the one who is going to say I am going to sit out a game.”

The Bulls certainly need Noah. Not necessarily this Noah. But there is no other.

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