Bulls not so OK against Thunder in opener


Oct 28

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And so the Bulls’ 2010-11 season begins with a loss, not so surprisingly against a tough Oklahoma City Thunder team, 106-95. It would have been something of an upset to win given the road circumstances and playing without Carlos Boozer, though the Bulls were right there, trailing just 93-91 with just over three minutes remaining.

“I thought we played good until the end of the fourth quarter,” said Derrick Rose, who led the Bulls with 28 points, but was in foul trouble in playing just 31 minutes and shot 12 of 31.

Yes, that’s a lot of shots–a way, way lot of shots–though after a brilliant start in which Rose kept the Bulls competitive with 20 points in the first half, the Thunder began to overplay him even more and the Bulls pretty much sputtered their way to a late defeat.

“I thought we had a good pace for three quarters,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, still winless in his NBA head coaching career. “We slowed down. We’ve got to cut harder, screen better, make quicker decisions.

“We committed too many fouls,” said Thibodeau of a shocking 47-22 Thunder edge in free throws attempted. “Now you’re going against a set defense all the time. We can’t gift them points, reaching, we want to move our feet and play good body position defense. We want to play better defense and we will. We held onto the ball and were standing too much. Then it was harder for us to score.”

The game turned, at least in the end, in a pair of key sequences.

The first was with the Bulls leading 87-86 on a Rose tear drop with about eight minutes left. Kyle Korver, who played more than half his 15 minutes in the fourth quarter but failed to get many clean shots, blocked a Russell Westbrook attempt and Taj Gibson, in his sharpest play yet after a poor preseason, went inside and was fouled but missed both free throws.

Kevin Durant, who led Oklahoma City with 30 points but on nine of 24 shooting, missed short and the Bulls got a runout to Ronnie Brewer, who again went in soft in going zero for six and missed. Then Luol Deng was called for goal tending on what seemed like a good block on Serge Ibaka.

The resulting nearly three minutes still left the Bulls down 90-89 with six minutes left when they could have stretched out a lead. Then they lost the game after a wild sequence with four and a half minutes left when they got three offensive rebounds and couldn’t score and called a timeout with 11 seconds on the shot clock.

Rose came out going baseline and passed to Korver, whom the Thunder smothered late with Thabo Sefolosha. Korver is an excellent shooter, but needs space and isn’t quick. He’s better playing off the weak side after the defense is drawn or after multiple options. But with the pass from Rose he couldn’t get his shot off in trying a move and it was a shot clock violation.

Deng, who was good defensively on Durant but who had 13 points and just two rebounds, got a Westbrook miss on a run out, but former Bull Sefolosha caught him and made a brilliant block and the ball went off Deng. Rose hit one more jumper to bring the Bulls within 93-91 with 3:26 left. But then it fell apart for the Bulls as Westbrook, with 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his matchup with USA Basketball team buddy Rose, got out for a fast break dunk and three-point play after a Rose miss and after a Gibson miss, Durant spun past Deng for a driving dunk and the runaway was on.

“We were outscored 24-13 in the fourth quarter,” noted Thibodeau of the Bulls six of 24 fourth quarter. “That’s got to be the best quarter. In the fourth quarter you’ve got to recognize things and execute better.”

And there was a lot of confusion among the Bulls with occasional finger pointing on who should be where. Though there are eight new players and a new coach, four of the five starters played together last season, so it should not have been that much an issue.

For all the Bulls emphasis on defense, the Thunder’s was much better down the stretch, and why not as they basically bring back their entire team.

I thought what they did well and what the Bulls didn’t respond to as well was the way they switched on defense in the fourth quarter, and which I thought confused the Bulls. That’s why you often saw Durant on Rose, which, really, is no problem. But what wasn’t happening was Noah getting into the play on the pick and roll. The Thunder wasn’t switching their center, but Noah, who came on strong late for 18 points and 19 rebounds, was working the offensive boards. The Bulls had been running an excellent side pick and roll with Rose and Gibson earlier, but down the stretch the switching seemed to befuddle the Bulls and they went stagnant, pretty much standing around and watching Rose take jumpers late in the clock when the movement failed.

Typically, Rose blamed himself.

“We were blowing sets, all of us, not being in the right spot or taking time,” said Rose. “I never want to be in that situation where the shot clock is down and we’re forcing shots or getting turnovers. That’s something we can easily fix. I wasn’t taking time telling people where to go. I definitely have to speak up and put people in the right place. That just comes with playing with each other.”

And while games are, especially in the NBA, won and lost down the stretch, the Bulls lost momentum early when Rose had to go out with two fouls with 4:13 left in the first with the Bulls ahead 21-18 after Rose had scored four straight times on some amazing drives.

By the time he returned, the Thunder was up 39-31 in the second.

“How many free throws did they shoot?” asked Rose. “Take half of those away and we could’ve easily been up double digits. Every time we went up three or four, they found a way to get to the line. I haven’t been in foul trouble like that since my rookie year against Andre Miller. I never want to get in that trouble again where I have to sit for a long period of time and watch my teammates ball.”

The Bulls got it within 59-54 at halftime in a weak defensive first half in which they failed to force turnovers and were battered in second chance points, basically outhustled with Noah starting slowly, 17-6. The foul differential was also creeping up with a 24-10 deficit at halftime as Rose again was wondering what it took for him to get some calls as he had just four free throws all game with more drives and defensive attention than anyone.

Rose picked up two more fouls less than five minutes into the third quarter with the Bulls back within 63-62, and this time held on to keep the game at 82-82 through three quarters despite a brutal stretch with no one basically able to run the offense. Deng and Keith Bogans made lazy cross court passes that led to fast breaks and C.J. Watson, who shot well, got caught in corners and on the sideline and was forced into throwing the ball away.

“I thought we competed and played hard,” said Deng. “A lot of teams could have come here and been out of the game early. Myself, I’ve got to do a better job rebounding. I was trying to lock in guarding Durant and make it tough on him. We’ve got guys who compete and the last few years I haven’t always seen that. To have a group that competes like this is going to be really great.”

Yes, Rose took 31 shots and hit 12, and Noah came out slowly and even let the Thunder get a pair of scores off baseline out of bounds plays early. But they were still the rocks as the Bulls needs remained clear. Yes, they need Boozer back, but pretty much just anyone who can make a play down the stretch as the defense stifled Rose.

They desperately need a shooting guard as Bogans doesn’t do enough and Brewer clearly seems afraid to test that hamstring as he seems to have almost no lift and isn’t finishing at all.

It was an entertaining and competitive opener, though, with 19 lead changes and 12 ties against a team many believe could challenge the Lakers in the West, though I am not one of them.

I might like to see more of Watson playing with Rose for a bit more pop, or threat, on offense. Korver also has to get involved more, but with more action on offense as he doesn’t have the kind of game to make a move off a quick pass, perhaps off the weak side when the Bulls reverse the ball, which we didn’t see much of. Though Sefolosha is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders for someone like Korver to face. Also, it was more of a return to Deng standing in the corner instead of slashing in the cracks as he’d been doing in preseason, though he was occupied with Durant. And when the Bulls tried Bogans on Durant it was a disaster.

“I think that we definitely have to become stronger down the stretch,” said Noah. “Coach is always emphasizing the fourth quarter being very different than the other three. We just have to do a better job coming together when it hits the fan. It’s disappointing, obviously, to lose, especially a game that we felt was winnable, but it’s an 82-game season and we have to get better and understand there’s a next one coming up in a couple of days.I think some of the positives were Taj played his (back side) off (16 and 11). I think D-Rose was very aggressive coming off the pick-and-roll. We have a lot of new players, but it just shows the character of this team. Overall, I feel like the competitiveness was definitely there. There were some mental mistakes, but all correctable.”

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