Bulls don't flop this time and beat Rockets 98-88


Mar 23

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Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro storming onto the court and ejected for the first time in his coaching career. Derrick Rose furious at an offensive foul call and slicing the air with disgust. Taj Gibson battling three Rockets while getting two offensive rebounds and dunking the second, getting fouled and letting out a scream of accomplishment. Kirk Hinrich with the big, clinching three down the stretch worthy of a Neil Funk “ka, ka, ka, ka boom!”

The Bulls are back? Well, at least breathing again and in a race of for the playoffs with their second straight win and exuberant defensive effort, 98-88 over the Houston Rockets.

“Every game has to be like our last game and we have to steal a game along the line,” said Del Negro, who was chased by referee Bob Delaney, a former undercover state trooper, late in the third quarter. “We’ve got a difficult task ahead of us. We know it, but guys are working and getting a little healthier, which is positive. There are no easy games for us. We cannot afford a lapse. Hopefully, we’ll stay focused.

“There’s enough basketball to be played,” said Del Negro. “We play Charlotte (twice), Milwaukee, at Toronto. We have to go one at a time. Miami (on TNT) Thursday is a big game. You’ve got to focus on what you can control and get out and perform, play defense like we did tonight and usually good things happen.”

So the Bulls moved to 33-37, though still two and a half games behind eighth place Toronto. But they finally are showing life after that hideous 10-game losing streak. They outrebounded an opponent, and a good one with the Rockets now 36-33, for the first time in eight games. They held Houston to 33.7 percent shooting, low for an opponent in ending a five-game home losing streak.

Rose was brilliant again with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds playing 47 minutes. Hinrich added 17 points in making four of four threes. Flip Murray came off the bench with 18 points and was the only one who could make big free throws down the stretch while Taj Gibson channeled old pal Norm Van Lier and played his heart out every minute he was on the court for 10 points and 12 rebounds in using all his fouls.

Luol Deng remained out, but said he plans to be back the last week or 10 days and Joakim Noah said he’s feeling better than he has for months. He played 12 minutes and had four points and six rebounds, but a particularly impressive stretch in the second quarter when he energized the team with his hustle and defense.

“I’m feeling good,” said Noah. “We’ve won two games in a row. I’m just happy our team is definitely on a high right now. We’ve got to keep getting better and understanding what’s at stake.”

The Bulls are being extra cautious with Noah given the recurrence of his plantar fasciitis in late February. He was limited to 12 minutes Monday and is scheduled for about 15 minutes against Miami Thursday, and if he continues to improve the team said his minutes will increase. The hope is it isn’t too late by the time he’s ready to give all he’s got.

Though no one is giving up—and the Bulls are competing the best they have in a month—the task remains difficult with Toronto with the tiebreaker and starting to win some games.

“Right now we’re just focused on us. We can’t control anybody else,” said Hinrich. “We play a few of the teams ahead of us in the standings. I think we should look at every night as an opportunity to possibly get a game. But no one is backing up. The other teams kind of hold the cards now. You’d definitely like to be in a fight for positioning than a fight to get in. Pretty much in the East all the games are important. I can’t say I like being in this position. It is what it is and we have to try to take care of business.”

The Bulls did do what they had to, as the cliché goes, in an embarrassment of a game for the NBA.

Anyone who regularly reads me knows I believe the officiating in the NBA is the best in the world and above reproach. But the epidemic Monday of flopping to draw fouls—and the officials falling for it—made me only think of what Arnold Schwarzenegger would call the culprits, girlie men.

It’s not basketball to fall down and pretend to be run into. Heck, Luis Scola, whom I admire as a clever player who had 22 points and 10 rebounds without ever jumping once, was falling down about every time he tried a jump shot. Houston guards would shoot and fall down without anyone near them.

I kept calling security and reporting snipers in the balcony. There must have been. No self respecting pro would do that himself, though I could swear I heard the tune for “ring around the rosey” being sung in the Rockets’ locker room before the game.

Rockets’ players were constantly jumping across the lane and diving like there was small arms fire. I know drawing a charge is a part of defense, though I prefer to believe a real charge is when you stay in front of your man and are run over.

But leaping in front of someone has become accepted good defense. The Bulls are not big on it, which perhaps they should work on. Though I am proud of the way guys like Noah and Gibson try to block shots and keep their feet moving for position rather than diving for cover like Scola, whom you’d swear at times was imitating a sea bass in a fishing boat.

The Bulls pushed the ball well with 28 fast break points to 15 for Houston and got off to a 31-29 first quarter lead. The Rockets went at James Johnson early with success, though Johnson had a nice sequence midway through the second but drew his third foul and was taken out.

I hate when coaches do that, especially with someone like Johnson who isn’t about to finish the game, anyway. So what if he fouls out in the third quarter? Ride him when he’s doing something. He only played 13 minutes, anyway. Houston took a 53-48 halftime lead. But the Bulls, with Rose and Hinrich harassing Houston’s guards well, threw pretty much the basketball version of a shutout in the third quarter leading up to Del Negro’s ejection.

The Bulls had just completed a terrific all around sequence with the Rockets three of 22 in the third quarter and the Bulls scoring on seven straight possessions with Rose, Hinrich and Murray all converting threes and Rose a beautiful twisting reverse layup for a 72-59 lead.

The Rockets had been flopping about all game like wounded cranes and drawing the charges, so Rose tried and it was a pretty good one getting in front of an out of control Kyle Lowry.

Rose was called for the block foul.

“I rarely take one so they got to give me one,” Rose said. “I was mad at that one.”

So then as events would have it on the very next possession, Gibson went in from the left baseline and was called for a charge on Jared Jeffries even through Jeffries was standing inside the circle to determine whether it even can be a charge.

That’s when Vinny lost it, charging out onto the court and gesticulating enthusiastically as Delaney began looking for his handcuffs. Del Negro was retrained by assistant Bernie Bickerstaff, who would take over the rest of the game.

“I just wanted to get their attention,” said Del Negro with a smile afterward. “So I wanted to make sure I was far enough onto the court. There were too many (flops) to make any sense of it. I have to do a better job staying in the game, but sometimes you have to get your team going and let them know the importance of this stuff. I thought I got tossed pretty quick. I felt we needed to get a littler bit of a fair shake.”

You hate to have to resort to the same whining and complaining and false histrionics that is so repugnant, yet is practiced by the top stars of the game. So Rose has begun yelling back and Vinny walking out.

“I’m trying to talk up a little more, make them call calls they are supposed to call. We needed (the ejection), need that more often,” said Rose. “We’ve go to be known in this league, they’re not going to keep doing that.”

So much for innocence. The Bulls led 72-62 with about a minute left in the third when Del Negro was ejected. It was 72-66 Bulls after three, and the Bulls would stretch it out to 83-70 with about six minutes left with Rose hitting a second three after missing his first five, Rose again with a hanging drive for his oooh and aaah moment, and Hinrich with a step in 20 footer.

Del Negro, trying to resist temptation to play Noah too much, has settled for now playing him the last six or seven minutes of each half. It also was a way to save Noah for the end of the game. So Noah went back in.

But the Rockets had gone small to catch up and Noah kept getting caught in bad matchups. Aaron Brooks finally hit a pair of jumpers in a three of 17 nightmare and the Bulls began to melt with Rose missing Noah on a roll, Noah throwing a bad inside pass for another turnover, Brad Miller missing both free throws and Houston drawing another questionable flop call on Hinrich.

Suddenly, it was 85-81 Bulls with 2:16 left, plenty of time to blow this one with Toronto winning.

But the Bulls came out of a timeout isolating Rose on top and he walked into a 17 footer. He then held the ball on top, dribbling as Noah came up for a screen and dropped off and the defense backed up. Rose then went to nearly the same spot and got a kind bounce and the ball went down. The Rockets matched both scores. But Rose then beat the trap that was coming every time off the screen, penetrated and casually pitched to Hinrich who made the huge three for the 92-86 lead with 56.2 seconds left.

Yes, the kid is a big time closer. No fear.

It would be nice to have another, but you don’t necessarily need one. Rose can make the plays.

“I’m just trying be aggressive,” said Rose. “Teams are blitzing me, so that leaves people open. I drove. Kirk shoots those shots every day (in practice). He was wide open. Why not pass him the ball?”

The kid’s a point guard. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. He’s just one who can do pretty much everything else when he needs to.

“I can make the shot,” Rose said when asked about his new found fondness for shooting threes, which critics said he couldn’t. “I work on that every day. My team trusts me to take those shots, so I’m going to shoot them. I’m not afraid.”

And then in a bit of poetic justice, the Bulls clinched the game when Kevin Martin beat Murray off the wing. But Hinrich was under the basket guarding Lowry. Hinrich stepped up and was run over by Martin for a charging foul and the Bulls made enough free throws (17 of 26 for the game) to keep Houston away.

“Derrick’s been doing a good job making plays,” said Hinrich. “It’s the rest of our jobs to knock down shots when we get the opportunity.”

Every one is big now.

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