Bulls defiant despite loss in Boston


Nov 6

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These Bulls players are trying really hard, trying so hard they seem consumed with anger and defiance after losses, like Friday’s tough 110-105 overtime defeat against the Boston Celtics.

The Bulls once again scraped and clawed their way out of a big hole, trailing by 16 points in the third quarter to take an 82-81 lead with 5:44 left. They fell back again by six with 2:41 remaining, and then pulled themselves off the parquet still another time with a pair of Luol Deng threes on long Derrick Rose skip passes to the point the Bulls had the ball with 23.3 seconds left tied at 96-96 with a chance for a last shot to win.

But Rose, dribbling out the clock in the plan from coach Tom Thibodeau, got crossed up trying to cross over Rajon Rondo, who slipped and seemed to take out Rose’s legs as Rose fumbled the ball and the game went into overtime.

“Whenever Chicago and Boston get together something crazy happens. It’s just been good games,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

It really was a terrific game, eight lead changes and three ties in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Lost the ball,” Rose said in a clipped response to that last play of regulation. “Nothing I can say will change that. I guess I couldn’t get a shot off for some reason. Something happened. I was driving left and I guess I fumbled the ball. The refs thought it was clean, so there’s nothing I can say.

“When we gel,” Rose added without any prompting, “we’ll be a threat in this league.”

Joakim Noah, who had a career high 26 points to go along with 12 rebounds and is now averaging 16.2 points and 14.2 rebounds on the season, generally is the last Bulls player to leave the locker room. He takes a long time to shower, and was particularly contrite.

He’d made a crucial turnover late in the overtime, dribbling full court in his haste to make a great play with the Bulls behind 108-105 with 14.9 seconds left. Kevin Garnett tipped the ball away from behind to clinch the win for Boston, one of 20 Bulls turnovers for a huge 31 Boston points.

“I was trying to make a play,” said Noah, who kept the Bulls in the game with terrific shooting and 10 of 10 on free throws. “Big mistake. I thought we had numbers. I should have slowed down. We’ve got to get a shot up in that situation.”

Though as Noah pondered an arcane question about the game, he fought back unprompted, at least verbally.

“We’re only going to get better,” he said. “And when we do, it’s going to get real ugly. For everybody who is talking real crazy and all the trash people are talking right now, it’s going to come back and haunt them. Because when it counts, we’ll be ready.”

No one knew if Noah was referring to anything specific or if Garnett had said on the floor Noah looked like he had whooping cough. But in it with the Bulls stars I saw how badly they want this to work and how hard they are trying, making it ever more frustrating.

That is a huge positive for the Bulls and somewhat separated from the NBA image of mercenaries satisfied to just cash the check, as Rasheed Wallace liked to say.

These Bulls guys, especially the team’s stars, won’t give up, which is the greatest trait that drove the greatest Bull of them all. The Bulls have trailed big in most of the games of their 2-3 start and rallied from 21 down to beat Detroit. Which is not a good thing.

They’ve committed way too many turnovers and way, way too many fouls, putting themselves in the position to have to overcome all those free points for opponents and their own mistakes. Yet, they just about do it.

Which is still not quite good enough, and not nearly for the likes of Rose and Noah.

But the issues don’t seem to be going away and aren’t likely to soon as the Boston loss was an example of what they’ll face the rest of this month with Carlos Boozer recovering from a broken hand.

In effect, the Bulls traded Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich (in order to have a chance in free agency) for Boozer. And now Boozer is out. So in personnel, they are down from the teams they had the last two seasons. True, Rose and Noah are better and more experienced.

But the Bulls go through long droughts with the offense bogged down to nothing, particularly when Rose leaves the floor as once again like against the Knicks Thursday the beginning of the second quarter with Noah in as the only starter, the Bulls were outscored 22-3 in the first eight minutes to fall behind 41-26.

“We’ve got to keep working on that,” said Thibodeau. “I think they went 16-2 to start the second quarter, so you know that’s something we need to address and correct.”

Not that it’s going to make a huge difference and is the answer to the problems, but Ronnie Brewer had a second straight good effort and should become the starter. Look, Keith Bogans tries hard and his diving save of a loose ball, though it seemed an over and back violation, might have been the play of the game if Rose had made that last shot.

“I thought Ronnie is looking good,” said Thibodeau. “He’s getting more comfortable. I think he’s getting his timing back so that helps a lot.”

Bogans did have eight rebounds Friday and is no slacker, but he simply doesn’t effect the game enough. He got spun around by Ray Allen to open the game when Allen scored the Celtics’ first seven points on the way to a team high 25. Meanwhile, Brewer had seven points (two for Bogans) in 15 minutes with a nice open court strip and dunk off Allen in the fourth when the Bulls were coming back. I’d like to see Bogans return to that energy role off the bench which he was brought in for, and now that Brewer looks like he’s healthy and in shape and has better timing get him into the starting lineup where he was supposed to be.

Again, it’s a tweak.

The Bulls need way more than that and likely are going to have more games like this until Boozer returns.

Without him they are limited on post ups, though Taj Gibson was terrific again with 18 points and seven rebounds and kept the Bulls close with his shooting in the first and third quarters.

After being second guessed as his starters sat the last nine minutes Thursday, Thibodeau gave Noah 49 minutes, Rose 46, Luol Deng with 20 points, 43 minutes and Gibson 40.

But they need help.

James Johnson had an awful stretch of one quick shot after another and didn’t return after five second quarter minutes while the offense stopped. Kyle Korver played the overtime and much of the fourth quarter and it was the right thing as he can make those shots and spread the court. I would like to see the Bulls run more of those single/double screens to free him a bit more.

But Boston is an excellent defensive team, and Ray Allen took advantage against Korver with some big scores, especially in overtime with a three and a dunk on a pass from Paul Pierce as the two scorers worked together off pick and roll to stay ahead of the Bulls in the overtime.

Mostly, Rose is going to see from the good defensive teams what he saw from Boston, which was a second defender, the big man, staying with him on the pick and roll, and then when he turned the corner to try to get to the basket the corner defender stepping up because teams aren’t afraid of the Bulls perimeter.

Boston is better than most in recovering, and in making another pair of threes Deng is now nine of 18 on the season on threes. So there’s hope there. And Korver is a poor man’s sort of version of Allen the way he runs those screens and shoots the three, though few are in Allen’s class, no offense to Korver.

“We had a chance late in the game when we pushed the lead to five and we gave up two threes to Luol Deng,” noted Pierce. “He’s not normally a three point shooter, but he has been stepping his game up in that area this year. Some of the things we are going to live with. Noah taking 15 footers. We’ll live with that. He knocked some down tonight, but overall I think we did a good job of controlling (the role players) from having a huge night.”

So that’s what the Bulls will continue to fight.

Thibodeau continues to experiment with combinations and in the second half rode Noah and Rose pretty hard. The Bulls responded after just five assists in the first half in seemingly inevitably falling behind, particularly with Rose out.

C.J. Watson did make a couple of big shots Friday, including that one to get the Bulls their first lead in the fourth after early in the game.

It’s just uncertain where those contributions are going to come from.

It was something of a home coming Friday as Thibodeau returned to his Massachusetts roots where he played in college and was Celtics assistant when they won the 2008 title. Also returning and even holding his own pregame press conference was Brian Scalabrine, a particular favorite of the Boston fans.

The Celtics did video tributes to both Scalabrine and Thibodeau during the game and they received standing ovations. Boston is an unusually loyal sports city and both had fun pregame, though more Scalabrine who told Boston writers he took awhile to sign with the Bulls because he wanted a performance clause that could lead to statute next to Jordan’s. Perhaps they’ll make one of someone bringing Jordan lunch.

Thibodeau said he was grateful to the Celtics. Now anyone want to talk about the Princeton offense. Rivers said they used to play game trying to get someone to the practice facility before Thibideau and no one ever could.

Rivers also joked that he was upset with Thibodeau for mentioning the Cubs and Sox at his press conference when he should only have mentioned the Sox, and Rivers said Thibodeau seems so big now he only recently learned Thibodeau’s last name is pronounced with the “h” like Thib. Rose said he’ll always call him “Tibs” no matter what he wants to be called.

For now it’s merely successful as the Bulls led 23-19 after one and then collapsed before being brought back by Noah and Rose, the latter with 18 points, nine assists and five rebounds but six turnovers as the Celtics smothered his every move and even trapped him at times as he came over halfcourt.

Deng stole the ball from Pierce late in the third for a fast break dunk after Rose practically willed himself to a rebound no one could reach, and then Deng and Noah’s shooting and Bogans’ save almost bailed the Bulls out in an improbable game.

It was a heck of an entertaining game once again and reminiscent of that great 2009 playoffs with four overtime games.

The Bulls took a 101-100 overtime lead on a Korver three and tied it on a pair of Rose free throws, though he’ll have to start throwing himself into defenders if he wants to get calls as he had just four free throws Friday and has the ball almost all the time for the Bulls and against two and three defenders constantly.

No one wanted to address that issue with the league particularly sensitive and quick to punish.

But Pierce got a big score on a slick inside pass from Rondo to make it 105-103. Gibson missed, Glen Davis made one of two free throws, Rose did throw himself at the basket in apparent frustration and was called for charging against Garnett, Allen beat Korver baseline for that slam dunk and then Deng missed a three before Noah lost that ball from behind.

It’s good they refuse to give up. But too bad it’s so difficult now.

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