Lakers have plenty in reserve for Bulls


Nov 24

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The Bulls had it going for a long time Tuesday against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Joakim Noah was dominating Pau Gasol, often bullying the Lakers center under the basket and out of bounds as tougher guys once did to Noah. Derrick Rose was making a seen-it-all Hollywood crowd stand and gasp at his dramatic movements to the basket. Taj Gibson, playing through a foot injury, was grinding away and filling in the gaps.

Rose would finish with 30 points, eight assists and a movie contract if he asked. Noah would walk off with 19 points, 13 rebounds, four steals and three blocks and the admiration of many, and Gibson would return to his college town to deliver 16 points, 12 rebounds and a pair each of steals and blocks.

The Bulls were the tough guys, outrebounding the Lakers 46-38, they were the quicker and more aggressive with an edge of 26-15 on second chance points, and the tougher, really, with an edge in inside points.

But, in the end, there wasn’t enough in reserve for the Bulls or on the wings but a miss and a prayer.

For with the Lakers bench, led by Proviso East’s Shannon Brown scoring 21 points with five three pointers, and outscoring the Bulls bench 39-10, and with the Bulls wing players, the small forwards and shooting guards, combining for eight for 28 shooting from what usually is supposed to be the scoring positions, the Bulls faded in the last eight minutes after taking a lead and lost 98-91.

They drop to 7-5 on the season and 2-2 on this long road trip headed into a game Wednesday in Phoenix after Rose, Gibson and Noah all battled brilliantly and for at least 39 minutes each, Gibson with the most in going over 40 minutes on his bum foot.

“The Lakers are a heck of a defensive team. You have got to make quick decisions against them. You got to move their size and then when you finish the game they’re small and quick,” noted Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of the Lakers going with only big man Gasol and guards and small forwards to pull away late. “They have quality back-ups at all the perimeter positions now. All three (Brown, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, their so called Killer B’s) are very good defenders and I think sometimes that gets overlooked. Shannon Brown has really come along way. He’s turned into a heck of a defender and, of course, Barnes is a very good defender. I thought Shannon Brown played a great game for them. He’s shooting with a lot of confidence.”

It was a form of sweet revenge for Brown, who was a  free agent this summer but wasn’t pursued by the Bulls, who first chose J.J. Redick and then Ronnie Brewer.

But it’s not like Brown was pursued by the entire league.

In fact, even after being on two Lakers’ championship teams, the Lakers barely had interest and eventually signed him to a modest two-year $4.5 million deal with an opt out after this season. Brown wasn’t considered much of a three point shooter, less than 33 percent on his career, an often disinterested defender and somewhat difficult given his penchant to prefer fancy dunks to solid basketball.

“I’ve always thought I could shoot even when I couldn’t,” Brown said recently.

Brown did take it upon himself to work hard this summer. He said he returned to his high school gym in Maywood with his old trainer and worked every day despite no air conditioning in the gym, all day long, all week long.

“I wasn’t being myself,” said Brown, who was with four teams in his first four years in the NBA, including a short stay with the Bulls in the Ben Wallace deal. “I had to stop listening to everyone else.”

On Tuesday, Brown mostly listened to the sound of the crowd exploding and the twine rippling as scored 15 second quarter points to keep the Lakers barely ahead, 51-49 at halftime.

“He’s such a great shooter,” said Kobe Bryant, who had 20 points to support Brown and Lamar Odom with 21 each. “If he’s open he’s going to make it.”

Yes, Shannon Brown, and he’s showing a lot of teams they didn’t realize what they could have had.

“He’s shooting the ball well this year and he’s got a lot of confidence,” said Rose. “We should have made him a driver. Everybody in the league knows that their bench is like a transition team, where they get out in the open and try to shoot a lot of [three-pointers]. And they were hitting tonight.”

Still, this was a game the Bulls could have had in another brilliant effort from Rose and the Bulls twin anchors, Noah and Gibson.

“I feel like we played very hard tonight,” said Noah, who just about took All Star Gasol out of the game in the first half when he smothered Gasol and kept him to just three shots and three rebounds. “We just got to look at the things that we can do better. It’s always tough to lose but that’s a very good team out there. They know how to turn it up in the fourth quarter. These games are good for us because it tells us where we are exactly when you play against those top teams. It tells you where you are and if you can compete against them, and we feel like we can compete against anybody.”

The Bulls look like they can with that 2-1 Texas Triangle swing and a solid effort in Los Angeles.

But they’ve got to get something more from the shooting guard spot with Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer combining for two of nine for nine points, and when Kyle Korver is missing, which isn’t often but was the case Tuesday at one for six, it’s difficult to make up.

Luol Deng has a terrific first quarter with 11 points, but he scored just two more the rest of the game as he ended up mostly with long jump shots and not a lot of cuts to the basket. But these are the Lakers, who know how to shrink the lane and make it more difficult as the game goes on. They are a team accustomed to the long haul, and the Bulls needed a rest stop as they shot 31 percent and scored 18 points in the fourth, no field goals from a somewhat tiring Rose, as a 17-2 Lakers run broke open the game with about eight minutes left.

“The Lakers are a heck of a defensive team,” said Thibodeau. “You have got to make quick decisions against them. You got to move their size and then when you finish the game they’re small and quick.”

The Bulls went with Korver and C.J, Watson to counter the Lakers going small in that deciding spurt, but Korver and Watson combined for one of six shooting in the fourth and missed all four of their threes.

“The starters were ready to go,” said Bryant. “They (reserves) were just playing well. I think it was a great call by Phil to leave them in.”

The pivotal sequence, even though he only had one basket, was when Bryant cut up the Bulls double teaming in that 17-2 run, reminiscent of the way Michael Jordan would often finish off opponents late in his career, quick to recognize a single team and shoot or pass out of the double and know exactly which teammate was left open.

After another poor third quarter start when they outscored 8-0, the Bulls got back into it by just outworking the Lakers, Rose hitting a three after a second offensive rebound, Noah tipping in a pair of misses that barely rolled off the rim on stunning Rose drives through three defenders, and then Rose reversing through traffic and beating Barnes and Odom.

 “I’d say he’s the first,” Odom said when asked if any guard requires as much defensive attention as Rose. “It’s kind of like quarterback when you get the ball first. Sometimes we play that way with Deron Williams as well. And he’s their first option and he has to go first. Unlike, you think about, Westbrook he comes down, he’s looking for Durant to shoot.

Rose finished with 30 once again, the third time in four games on this trip, and closed the third quarter with a stunning jump stop and then powering into Pau’s body and scoring, still another move that had the usually ho hum L.A. crowd buzzing and cheering.

“He is so quick,” marveled Brown. “One time he came in and out, showed the ball, took it away, doubled back, revered on the other end. Wow! He’s a great player. I’ve been a big fan since he was at Simeon. And he’s so humble.”

Said Phil Jackson of Rose: “He showed his style tonight.”

Jackson had pulled out his best strategy to deal with Rose, but it had no effect.

Against a team with a primary ballhandler and playmaker like Rose, Jackson likes to take the ball out of his hand and make someone else key the offense.

So Jackson put his best defender, Ron Artest, on Rose to start each half.

Artest was out of the game on fouls four minutes into the game, and after Rose began to bring the Bulls back after a slow start to the third and Artest went mad firing wild shots, Jackson lifted him for the game as Artest was one of eight in 17 minutes played.

The Bulls had held on against Bryant coming out fast to start the game with a hot Deng effort and even had a beautiful reverse dunk from Ronnie Brewer on a cut and Rose pass. It was 26-26 after one and  a two point game and Rose highlight show by halftime, Rose’s laser spins and reverses at the basket as if he were propelled like one of those Avatar figures.

Then, as the game drifted into the fourth quarter, it suddenly looked like the Bulls could take it even after they’d fallen behind by 10 to open the third.

Gibson, who was a game time decision with a foot injury, carried the Bulls to open the fourth with a group of reserves with a jumper, a blow by of Lakers’ rookie Derrick Caracter for a layup and a pair of free throws after a third Omer Asik offensive rebound in the sequence.

Three minutes into the fourth quarter after those free throws, it was 79-79. And coming out of the timeout with 8:13 left, Rose got deep into the paint again despite the Lakers having a virtual wall of defenders in front of him, Rose flashing the ball back to Noah for an 18 footer and a Bulls lead.

Eight minutes of heck left.

But the Bulls were not up to it, and the Lakers usually make sure of that with most teams.

They didn’t do it with their size this time, but their depth.

Brown answered with his fifth three as Korver constantly lost him and Barnes made a pair of free throws for an 84-81 Lakers lead with 7:13 left.

Perhaps the Lakers’ biggest advantage in addition to their size is how many of their players, namely Bryant, Gasol and Odom, can play out of the post.

After a Bulls turnover when Korver stepped out of bounds on a Deng pass, Bryant went into the post and when there was no double he hit a 12 footer over Deng. Rose drove and was fouled, making both, though the Bulls would miss five fourth quarter free throws, Noah and Deng with double misses.

The Bulls then sent Noah on a double and as they rotated in behind him, Bryant found Steve Blake on the left wing for a three.

Korver missed a three for the Bulls, and back into the post Bryant went. This time Noah feinted, or did a dig, sort of a fake toward Bryant and then in trying to get back Bryant moved the ball out to Barnes for a three, and when Noah drove and lost the ball in what might have been a foul, Blake hit a three running back in transition with Noah fallen at the other end.

That made it 95-83 with 4:58 left as the Bulls called time, a 16-2 burst, and it hardly seemed likely the Bulls could overcome a 12-point deficit against the Lakers in five minutes.

They did get within seven with 2:14 left when Bryant went cold with some quick jumpers against good Deng defense and Bryant and Gasol committed turnovers. But Noah missed a pair of free throws and Rose another, and when Korver and C.J. Watson missed threes just on each side of the minute mark, the Bulls then went quietly.

“They definitely have that Boston mentality with the coach over there,” said Brown. “They try to load up, try to push you on the ground. They try to double team Kobe and make us do other things.”

And the Lakers did. It’s what the great ones do. The Bulls are not there yet.

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