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Bulls lose as Rose and Noah watch, too
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 5
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Madison Square Garden caved in the other day, but it turns out it was the Bulls having the roof fall in on them.
It was in the form of an astounding display of three point shooting Thursday by the New York Knicks, who were 16 of 24 on threes (they shot 42 percent on twos) and led from the middle of the first quarter on and defeated the Bulls 120-112.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played against a team that shot that well as a team,” said Kyle Korver, who had 18 points off the bench in hitting four threes of his own. “Maybe Orlando once or twice. They shot well, but it was our fault for giving them so many wide open threes. And once they made them they had their rhythm.
“That’s what they do,” said Korver. “I watched them on NBA TV, their training camp thing and all they do is shoot threes. It’s their strength, but we did not take that away from them.”
Though it didn’t seem like a bad strategy coming in as the Knicks were shooting 29 percent on threes in their 1-2 start as both teams now are 2-2.
Though the lack of defensive attention turned out to be a footnote and the first mini crisis for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
Here’s the situation that had fans in the sold out United Center chanting unusually in the fourth quarter for the coach to put Derrick Rose back into the game for the last nine minutes.
This being after Rose was magnificent, at least on offense, getting 24 points, a career high 14 assists and just three turnovers in 35 minutes.
But with 9:31 left, a game in Boston Friday, the Bulls trailing 104-87 and the Knicks 14 for 19 on threes at that point after three more wide open ones to open the fourth, Thibodeau yanked Rose and never inserted Joakim Noah, seemingly for the night.
“We had gone with the starters longer than usual to start the second half,” said Thibodeau. “When we got down (17) is when I subbed them. I wanted to see what they (reserves) could get out of it. The way the Knicks’ guards were shooting, I thought the energy to get out to the line was what we needed. New York does a great job running the pick and roll. They roll hard to the rim and then you’ve got to get out (to the three point) line and that uses a lot of energy.”
Basically, Thibodeau was using the routine coach’s move not only to give his starters a break in what seemed a blowout loss with a back to back ahead, but also sending a message to his starters that their defense wasn’t good enough.
“I thought to start the game we weren’t into the game and closing short to the line (not getting out to the shooters),” said Thibodeau. “They Knicks played really well (led by Toney Douglas off the bench with 30). They got their confidence. You’ve got to run them off the three point line.”
Though Rose and Noah, the latter with 12 points and 13 rebounds, were having big games and Rose had one of those stunning highlight two hand slams early, Thibodeau felt the defense was sloppy and it was time to try something—and someone—else.
And it worked, sort of.
A group of C.J. Watson, Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer went on a 10-0 run to send the Knicks into a timeout after a Korver 22 footer with a nine point lead at 108-99 with 4:48.
Time to bring back a rested Rose, Noah and Luol Deng, the latter with 17 points?
No, as it turned out as a murmur went up in the crowd, soon followed by chants of “We want Rose.”
Thibodeau sent the same group back and they got Ronny Turiaf to force up a bad miss. But Watson, one of seven and now shooting 36 percent, missed a 20 footer.
Danilo Gallinari, who came in shooting 18 percent on threes, hit his fourth straight three as he scored 24 and was killing the Bulls with transition threes. But Korver answered with his third three.
Still nine with 3:41 left.
No movement on the bench.
Wilson Chandler drove for a score, but Taj Gibson, who was the Bulls best interior threat with 18 points and 10 rebounds, went hard and was fouled and made two.
Back to a nine-point deficit with 3:04 left, but time was running out.
Amar’e Stoudemire, who had a quiet night with 14 points on five of 21 shooting and fouled out, missed on a dunk attempt and the Bulls had a chance to cut it to seven with 2:50 left. But Rose, who the Knicks could not stop, sat motionless on the bench.
Gibson was blocked, and Ray Felton scooted the other way and hit another Knicks’ three for a 116-104 lead. Korver added his fourth three as the clock ticked just under two minutes, but it was a waste of a heck of an offensive fourth quarter, 55.6 percent shooting with Korver getting 13 in the fourth, as it was too far to come back with that group with barely over a minute and a half left.
Which raised the question from everyone, including the TNT national broadcasters doing the game and the fans: Where the heck were your two best players in a winnable game situation, down less than 10 with just under five minutes left and at home?
Let me say I would have gone back to Rose and Noah and taken my shot given the Knicks might have been tiring. I thought they got a break when their game with the Magic Tuesday was canceled because asbestos in the roof of the world’s formerly greatest arena, Madison Square Garden, had collapsed and rendered the arena unusable.
Thus the Knicks came in not having played since last Saturday and obviously more lively in their legs. But it was a fast paced game, which the Knicks play, and this early in the season with more pressure in the fourth quarter perhaps those shots start coming up short.
Thibodeau didn’t hesitate and wasn’t apologetic. He said he thought about bringing them back, but decided given the lack of effort toward the three point line and the fact that second unit, much maligned, was doing well, he’d ride them the rest of the way.
He clearly was one of the few who would have done that, but his was the only vote that mattered.
And it was to his credit, no matter what anyone may think, that he was strong in his belief and stuck with it.
“The second unit, I thought, fought hard to close it, and I wanted to see what they could get out of it,” Thibodeau said. “They were closing a lot harder to the three point line. I thought the energy to get out to the line was (what we needed). I thought the group that was out there was covering the line pretty well.”
Though it clearly was an unpopular decision with the fans and media, it may have been a subtle bonus for Thibodeau as the players rallied around him afterward.
Rose was unavailable to the local media as he left for the team plane heading to Boston, but prior to that he told Craig Sager of TNT: “I wasn’t disappointed at all. The team we had out there, those five were doing good. But it wasn’t enough. I guess the coach made the right decision. The five out there were playing perfect, trying to get us back in the game. We’re going to listen to him no matter what and we’re never going to question (him) no matter what he does.”
So perhaps in some respect it was a victory for Thibodeau so early in the season and still without Carlos Boozer to have his players rallying for him like that.
“I think the coach is definitely trying to make a point,” said Noah. “I think it’s pretty clear that we have to come out there with better energy. We can’t let a team score at will like that. It’s the starters responsibility to do a better job defensively. The game plan was to get them off the line and we messed it up as players. I understand where the coach is coming from. They played well. Give them credit. They shot 70 percent on threes, but we can’t let that happen.”
And Deng, the third captain playing, added: “Coach had the right to keep them in. They got us back in the game. Message or not, we know we did not do the right thing. I thought the group that came in at the end played really hard and go us back into the game.”
And so the Bulls move on to Boston for Thibideau’s return to his native state and where he picked up his championship ring as the Celtics defensive coach. They go seemingly without internal discord, but still with some major personnel issues hanging over the team.
Because without Boozer—it can’t be said enough—they have difficulty going inside and despite the late comeback, the reserve unit again put the team in an early hole.
That was after a wild 34-30 Knicks first quarter in which the Knicks were five of seven on threes and Rose stunned the building after getting burned by Douglas by spinning by Douglas, getting his both hands over his lead and powering past Gallinari at he rim for a two handed slam. When Noah dunked on a Rose pass a moment later it was 26-26 with about two minutes left in an entertaining first quarter, if not to Thibodeau with the Knicks scoring.
But the Bulls essentially lost the game to open the second quarter when Thibodeau went to a group of Brian Scalabrine, James Johnson, Omer Asik, Deng and Watson.
Though Deng can score, it’s more off the action of others. Watson hasn’t been able to run the team and has looked to shoot more, and that unit went stale as the Knicks hit them with a 10-2 run to make it a 12-point lead and it was up to 15 before Rose and Noah began to settle things down.
The Knicks also victimized the Bulls playing two small guards, Douglas and Felton for their quickness while the Bulls couldn’t take advantage on the other end because their primary shooting guards, Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer don’t specialize in posting up or backing down smaller guards and play more a face up game.
Plus, you can’t keep coming back from those kinds of deficits as the Bulls did in beating the Pistons. The Knicks are a better team this season, stronger defensively with Turiaf and Felton and more versatile with Stoudemire, even more as a threat as he was Thursday.
The Knicks with their speed and pushing the ball then began to get the Bulls scrambling back in defense and fouling as the Knicks took a 21-point lead and led 70-52 at halftime.
The Bulls began to control their shooters better after halftime and got within 10 until Rose opened the fourth with Johnson, Deng, Asik and Korver and it got out of control early and Rose left and Noah never got in during the fourth.
Clearly Rose has to stay out on the floor more with Watson’s deficiencies, at least for now, and Thibodeau did lean that way in starting Rose to open the fourth instead of resting him for later in the game.
But I thought that reserve group to open the second quarter at least needed Gibson, whom the Bulls were going to successfully to open the game, as there was no one who could really create a shot or make a play in the post.
The Bulls roster without Boozer doesn’t have much flexibility with players who can create, and Johnson was one of five and got a quick hook early in the second when that second unit struggled.
“We’re still evaluating, searching a little bit,” Thibodeau admitted. “We have to get the ball inside more. We have to post the ball more. We were settling for a lot of jump shots.”
Still, the Bulls shot 51.9 percent, were nine of 19 on threes, outrebounded the Knicks and had more points in the paint, though again a troubling 20 turnovers for 26 points and sent the Knicks to the free throw line 29 times.
It’s still a work in progress, as the coaches like to say at this time, though any crisis seemed averted.