Playoffs now hang on Sunday as Bulls lose to Nets


Apr 10

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It now comes down, as we probably always figured, to Sunday in Toronto.

With the Bulls’ heartbreaking 127-116 double overtime loss to the New Jersey Nets Friday in which they blew a seven-point lead with 1:09 left in the first overtime, the Bulls head for Toronto at 38-41 tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Raptors.

The Raptors own the tiebreaker no matter who wins Sunday. So the Bulls need to win Sunday. If they do not, the only way the Bulls can make the playoffs is if they sweep their last two over Boston and Charlotte and the Raptors lose both to the Pistons and Knicks.

“We had it in hand,” sighed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “(Now) we’ve got a huge game against Toronto Sunday. You can’t hang your head. You don’t have time. There are no excuses. No one will feel sorry for you. We should have made some plays and didn’t and now we’ve got to go to Toronto and battle.

“All these (final) games, your season is on the line,” acknowledged Del Negro. “That’s the way it is set up. That’s the position you are in. Usually, you get what you deserve. We turned it over and didn’t make free throws. If we handled it a little bit better it would have been a different story. Now, we’ve got to stick together and get the energy back and go at it Sunday.”

This has been a resilient Bulls team, but this one will be tough to come off the floor after as the Bulls appeared to have the game after a furious fourth quarter comeback when Brook Lopez slammed back a Courtney Lee miss that looked like offensive interference with one tenth of second left.

“I thought it was a goal tend,” said Derrick Rose, watching underneath. “I thought it was going to hit the rim one more time. But they called it in.”

Del Negro said he asked for a replay review with the game at the end, but he said the officials told him the ball had come off the rim and there was no need for a review. The referees were asked later whether they could review that kind of situation and sent back word to reporters that it was not a reviewable situation.

The Bulls felt they got the short end of the whistle several times, including a curious flagrant foul call against Rose trying to go over a screen early in the fourth quarter that led to a four-point play and the Nets gaining momentum and going out to a 90-78 lead before the Bulls fought back behind Brad Miller with a dozen in the fourth quarter and 27 points and 10 rebounds for the game.

Miller was so upset and frustrated after the game at the failure to call basket interference and a late seemingly bad possession call against the Bulls, he blew out of the dressing room and onto the team bus before reporters could enter the locker room.

It was a quiet, stunned Bulls team slowly dressing after the game, including a dazed looking Rose, who had his arm obviously grabbed and held down as he drove with the Bulls leading 112-108 with 50 seconds left in the first overtime.

The ball then went out of bounds, called off Rose.

The referees actually stopped to review that call as possession plays are reviewable in overtime. But they upheld the call because they cannot change to a foul call even though it seemed obvious Rose’s arm was hammered down.

But with the NBA so sensitive about criticism of referees and fines so heavy, the Bulls were being cautious about saying much.

“I guess they made the right call,” said Rose. “I definitely (felt contact). But it’s not my decision to make that call. It’s up to the refs. I was just trying to get to the hole. I guess he said he hit it off me. I guess it was last in my hand from pulling on my arm.”

And then there was Joakim Noah, who was not on the floor at the end of regulation when Lopez had his put back and played just 12 seconds in the two overtimes combined.

Noah has been on an increasing minutes limit since he returned from his plantar fasciitis issues and Del Negro said that 35 minutes limit was reached late in regulation and he had to pull Noah.

“He is at a 35-minute limit and he was at 35:50 or something in there and I had to get him out of the game,” said Del Negro. “And that’s what I needed to do.”

After Del Negro made his remarks, reporters asked general manager Gar Forman about the situation. Forman said assistant Lindsey Hunter asked Forman after regulation about playing Noah in the overtimes. Forman said he and executive vice president John Paxson consulted and determined Noah could play and relayed word back to the bench.

So it wasn’t clear whether Del Negro remained concerned about Noah’s health or didn’t get the message communicated correctly or chose to leave out Noah.

Management and Del Negro have had issues in several games since Noah’s return about minutes with heated discussions after the Bulls beat Portland in overtime in February and at the end of March against the Suns, both times when Noah was allowed to exceed his minutes limit.

Noah, also, was unavailable for comment after the game.

“You’ve got to make your own breaks,” said Kirk Hinrich. “It felt like early in the game we let them hang around and were sloppy with the ball, and when you do that stuff it can cost you at the end and unfortunately it did.

“They hit shots (in the first overtime) and we went two or three possessions without getting a bucket,” said Hinrich. “We had our chances. You cannot blame it on the officiating. It’s a game we should have won. Now the season is on the line. It’s win or go home. We need this win and hopefully we’ll have one of our better performances. We needed to get some buckets to put the game away and we couldn’t do it.”

So perhaps it is coming down to the way it should.

Something of a play in game for two teams playing like they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. The Raptors are losing every game with Chris Bosh gone for the season and the Bulls lost to the Bucks at home without Andrew Bogut, hung on to beat the Cavs without LeBron James and lost to the now 12-67 Nets, thus losing the season series to New Jersey.

Miller was terrific in 43 minutes, his best effort of the season. Rose had 25 points and some tough driving scores down the stretch, but seemed often to lose concentration with the defense relentlessly attacking him and committed seven turnovers and missed another crucial free throw, this one with three seconds left in the first overtime right before Lopez’ follow.

“If anything, I’m mad about losing this game. Turnovers,” Rose offered, mumbling the word. “I think I had 500 of them. It felt like that.”

Rose did have a big chance for redemption, though he again made huge driving plays when everyone else was running away from shots.

After bolting out with seven straight for a 110-103 lead in the first overtime and still leading 112-105 with 1:09 left after Rose made two free throws, the Nets got a three from Lee, a pair of Devin Harris free throws on a drive and Lopez rebounding his own miss and getting fouled and making both free throws with 12.8 seconds left.

That was sandwiched around Rose dribbling off his foot out of bounds coming up court and that drive and questionable out of bounds when Rose seemed hacked. Still, the Bulls had the shot for the win.

With 12.8 seconds left in the first overtime, they went to Rose, who tried the middle, which I would have done as I thought the refs owed Rose a call after they had to see on the replay how badly they missed calling that foul and blew the play.

Rose probed, found the middle too clogged, but liked his chances from the left elbow, his favorite jumper position. 

“They clogged the lane and I usually shoot that step back shot. I shoot it every day (in practice),” said Rose. “That was a shot I was willing to take.”

But it went wide hitting the side of the rim and bounced away for overtime No. 2.

The Bulls were fried, scrambled and done by then on the back to back.

The Nets scored the first nine points and the Bulls didn’t score until 1:20 was left, and it was over as Terrence Williams  rubbed it in going for his triple double. The Bulls missed with 20 seconds left trailing by 10 and Williams rebounded. He admitted fans were yelling he needed one more assist for triple double and he acknowledged he was looking for it.

Players usually hold the ball to end the game there. But Williams threw down court to Lopez for a dunk for a 12-point lead as Williams ended with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

Yes, the Nets were rubbing it in, and perhaps the Bulls deserved it.

Miller, you could see, was furious, and all the Bulls streamed off the court right afterward instead of the usual mingling that goes on after games.

Williams, known as something of a knucklehead, was saying after the game he’d gotten a number of text messages from friends on the Raptors thanking him for the win. And maybe the humiliation.

“There is only a few games (left),” noted Rose. “There is no room for error now. We laid an egg. This cannot continue to happen or we’ll be on vacation somewhere.”

It was supposed to be something like that in the penultimate game in the Meadowlands before the Nets move to Newark next season and perhaps Brooklyn in two years. After all, this was the Nets challenging the worst record ever all season.

But in the end they outrebounded the Bulls 55-51, caused 17 turnovers for a whopping 28 points, held a 64-44 margin in the paint as the Bulls fell in love early with the jump shot and outran the Bulls, 21-11 on fast breaks.

Frankly, the way the Bulls handled the game they were about to steal one they didn’t deserve.

They opened up well enough with a 28-24 first quarter lead on 59 percent shooting, though Hinrich erred late as he did hit a three but left too much time and Williams banked in a three at the first quarter buzzer. How many times has that happened?

The Bulls then began to hit some threes and fell too much in love with the jumper. After Luol Deng with 19 points hit a pair of threes and Hinrich with 13 followed with another, the Bulls led 47-36. But they then missed another two threes while the Nets got inside and left the Bulls leading 53-52 at halftime.

The Nets took a 75-69 lead after three as the Bulls with Flip Murray zero for six in the quarter began bricking jumpers and Del Negro began pulling in his rotation as Hakim Warrick again would get just four minutes.

Then early in the fourth came the beginning of the calls that all seemed to go against the Bulls. Those of you who read me regularly know I defend the NBA refs as the world’s best. But this was not a good night for this crew, at least for the Bulls.

Rose had just missed both free throws after a nice back door pass from Miller when he was called for a foul trying to get around a Kris Humphries screen.

The Nets repeated the play and Rose went hard into Humphries and was called, amazingly, for a flagrant foul.

I can’t remember Rose ever being close to one. In fact, he’s rarely close to his man. As great as he is and has been, he has not been a good defender. One of his biggest issues is going way under screens, and you can understand as teams target him. I noticed the other night when the Bulls played Charlotte, Larry Brown had on the grease board in the locker room where the game keys are written to put Rose in every screen roll. The reasons are he isn’t good at them and opponents want to beat him up with screens to wear him down.

So Rose actually tries to go over the screen and is called for a flagrant foul?

Rose was still stupefied after the game.

“How can you get a flagrant over that?” Rose asked. “Is that a flagrant? It’s just (a) foul, right?  I was just making a tough play, trying to fight over the screen. The first time he held my hand so the second time I just tried to be aggressive over it. His body was square into my shoulder and that’s why we hit.”

The resulting four-point  play gave the Nets a nine point lead and they stretched it to 90-78 with 7:40 left on a Lee three. It looked over  for the Bulls with 4:43 left on a Yi Jianlian jumper for a 96-86 lead after Rose kept the Bulls in with a pair of no-way-you’re-stopping-me drives as he was still seething from the flagrant.

“At that time I didn’t want to talk to them (referees), so I stayed away,” said Rose.

Miller then got pop out passes from Rose as the Nets were by now picking him up higher and Miller made a pair of threes and suddenly the Bulls were breathing again.

“Brad was great,” said Del Negro. “He was giving it everything he had.”

Rose got a score on another strong drive, fending off the defense and hanging onto the ball as few guards can. Miller then scored on a backdoor cut on a Hinrich pass and overplayed Williams and stole the ball and raced in for a dramatic score to bring the Bulls within 99-98 with 1:22 left.

“The guys played hard,” said Del Negro. “And we got some good defensive stops when we had to.”

After Williams missed, Rose drove and Noah in basically his last action of the game tipped in the miss and pumped his fist for a 100-99 lead with 48.1 seconds left.

Could the Bulls have stolen this one? It was the Nets.

Yi then missed a 20 footer and Rose went up between everyone for the rebound. The Nets curiously fouled Miller at the end of the shot clock with 9.1 seconds left and he made both for a 102-99 lead. Devin Harris then ran a curl out of bounds for  a layup to bring the Nets within one with 4.6 seconds left.

The Bulls called timeout, but Hinrich couldn’t get the ball to Miller. He passed to Rose, who was fouled and made just one of two, seven of 12 overall after missing those two late against the Cavs Thursday.

“Turnovers, missed free throws, we had our chances,” lamented Del Negro. “We battled back.”

And then came Lee’s drive, Lopez’ follow, a blown first overtime lead and perhaps a blown season.

“I hope this is going to make us stronger,” said Rose. “Playing this game, hopefully, is getting us prepared for the future, and the playoffs. The next one is important and we need it. We’ve got to be ready.”

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