Bobcats beat Bulls for second time in a week


Jan 19

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It’s a simple game, basketball is, really, to paraphrase Bull Durham. You shoot, you dribble, you pass. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes the season catches up with you. Think about that for a while.

That’s sort of what occurred Tuesday in the United Center when the Bulls had all the breaks they could ask for in the closing seconds, but could not make a last shot and lost to the Charlotte Bobcats 83-82.

“We had plenty of time to win the game,” said Derrick Rose, who had 33 points, while the rest of the starters combined for 28. “They fought their way back. We should have easily won this game, so we’ve got to take it out on the next team. Of course, we’re missing key players, but we could have won this game even with the way we played.”

It’s true, as the Bulls despite shooting 39 percent, beaten on the boards 44-43 and a whopping 46-28 on inside points and with Charlotte zero for 13 on threes had the ball trailing 83-82 with 8.2 seconds left after a replay ruling gave the Bulls a steal. Rose had scored the Bulls last eight points, one of two empty possessions within that run when Rose hit Ronnie Brewer cutting to the basket for an apparent layup and Brewer passed out to Luol Deng, who missed an open three.

If not artfully played, it was an exciting finish to a close game with neither team leading by more than six with 23 lead changes or ties.

But on that play with 8.2 seconds left, Rose seemed more decoy with a nice play run, similar to one the Bulls had run before and gotten a late basket. Kurt Thomas, who continues to respond with 10 rebounds in 35 minutes, got the inbounds pass maybe 16 feet from the basket on the left wing with Kyle Korver setting a screen. Teams usually don’t want to switch on that screen, but the Bobcats were hedging toward Rose, whom Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said was the first option.

“It was surprising (that shot didn’t go to Rose) because I knew they were going to Derrick because he was burning us up,” said Bobcats coach Paul Silas.

Rose said he was supposed to get a dribble handoff and curl, but Thomas read the defense leaning toward Rose and read Korver sliding to daylight.

Korver slipped the screen and came open and Thomas made the quick pass for what looked like a layup for the lead with seconds left. But Korver hesitated just a bit and tried to go for a reverse. Tyrus Thomas, with his only block of the game and booed relentlessly, swooped in and got the block. Still, the Bulls got the ball again as it went out of bounds. They passed into Rose this time, who circled toward the middle but faded back for a jumper that came up short to end the game.

“I never want to be in those positions where I have to take shots like that,” said Rose, explaining he’d rather have a big lead by then.  “The way we played tonight is not the way we are supposed to play.  We didn’t really get enough energy toward the end of the game (fourth in five nights).  That really messed us up throughout the whole game. I was just trying to get back to the middle as quick as I could and get something off but it was short. It was a good look but short. I’ll learn from it. The next time I’m in that situation, I’ll shoot it as high as I can.”

So the Bulls fell to 28-14, and, as losses do, they expose your weaknesses. Wins do that as well, but no one pays attention.

“Obviously, it wasn’t one of our better games,” said Thibodeau. “I thought the fight was good and I thought the intentions were good, but we weren’t able to sustain. I thought a big part of the problem was the first quarter when they scored 27 points and they were feeling good. Some nights you are not going to shoot well, but you can do other things to help. In the first half, I thought the screening, cutting, keeping the ball moving, helping teammates get open, that was missing. The second half I thought we played harder. We were searching. We probably should have gotten into the post a little more. We have guys capable of posting, Taj (Gibson), Derrick we should have gotten into the post more.”

Especially against the mini mite D.J Augustin, all 5-10 or thereabouts of him.  But the Bulls don’t do a particularly good job of using Rose that way. Though he did score 33 points on 28 shots, one more shot that the rest of the starters combined. And Gibson has been in an offensive funk for some time, preferring to shoot fadeaway jumpers, though he did again have a career high equaling six blocks along with nine points and nine rebounds in 47 minutes with Carlos Boozer still out with a sprained ankle.

Boozer is listed day-to-day, but internal team estimates generally have his return anywhere between Saturday against Cleveland or a week from Friday against Orlando.

Though when the Bulls did go to Rose positioned deep leading 78-76 with 1:51 left, it led to a Gerald Wallace run out fast break and three point play as the weary defense didn’t cover for Rose and get back.

Though Thibodeau never points fingers at individual players in public, he clearly was furious as he mentioned after the game, “When Derrick drives, we have to have floor balance.  We cannot leave the basket unprotected.  We paid for it tonight.  When Derrick drives our twos and threes have to be back to protect the basket.  If there are breakaways, we don’t want to concede baskets. We have to wrap them up.  We cannot let the ball get up to the basket.  At the end, we lost by a point and there are a lot of plays that lead up to that.  We have to do better.”

So yes, especially with a one point loss to a 16-24 team that has beaten the Bulls twice but has just one other win all season over a plus-.500 team, there are plenty of places to look for a point or two.

But there are more fundamental issues with a Bulls team that isn’t as good as its record, not certainly with Boozer and Joakim Noah out. It’s a tribute to the moxie they play with that they can be competing for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Without Boozer and Noah, it’s debatable whether they have more than two legitimate NBA starters. Gibson is credible, but not much offensive threat, certainly not in the top half in the league at his position.

The Bulls are not a particularly athletic team, especially with Thomas and Bogans playing, and Deng is more all around basketball player. Which is why the Bobcats give the Bulls trouble. They are athletic at the wing positions as Gerald Wallace had 13 points and 16 rebounds and Stephen Jackson added 12. It probably was the kind of game to give a more athletic James Johnson a look, though Brewer did have 12 points and five rebounds.

Also, this was another of those games where Noah’s absence hurt the team as much on offense. In the second half, the Bobcats went to an aggressive two man trap on Rose on virtually every possession. Rose will split it or look for creases at times, but teams do it more now without Noah. That’s because Noah is such a good passer in the lane that against a trap like that Rose could pass to Noah, who’d either dive to the basket or make a solid back door pass to a cutter.

Thomas and Gibson don’t particularly have that skill as both prefer to pop out and aren’t great passers, Gibson without an assist despite being out just over one minute.

So the Bobcats’ trap cut down the Bulls movement. Despite Thibodeau’s concerns, I thought the defense was adequate in the first half. The Bulls are ever alert to helping, much more than most teams, and closing on shooters. But Charlotte also has good size against Gibson with Boris Diaw, who’s able to back down Gibson while Kwame Brown, who hurt the Bulls again, made some quick moves on Thomas.

Rose had it easier to start without that aggressive trap and had 10 points in the first quarter to keep the Bulls within 27-24. The Bulls weren’t particularly sharp with the ball and committed nine first half turnovers the Bobcats turned into 17 points while the Bulls could get just three points on two Charlotte first half turnovers.

Though Charlotte should have had one fewer basket on a turnover as Augustin took, really, at least four steps on a breakaway to end the half with Charlotte ahead 47-44. Augustin was so alone the referees apparently just decided to cede him the score.

So you take that away and it’s a one point game…

No, you should have plenty of time to make up for a bad call in the first half. But this wasn’t to be one of those games the Bulls could steal, even at home where they fell to 18-4.

“Rebounding,” said Rose. “When you miss guys like Joakim and Booz, it’s going to hurt us.  But we definitely should have gotten some of those rebounds.  Those are hustle plays and they just weren’t there tonight.” 

The minutes certainly are adding up, but the players tried to make that run after halftime and it looked almost like they would as Rose hit a pullup three and Deng had a runout three point play after a turnover for a 56-51 lead midway through the third.

But the Bobcats pulled within 66-64 after three and this was coming down to the end again.

Gibson tried to rouse the Bulls with a block on a Thomas driving try early in the fourth after which Gibson screamed and faced the court even as the ball was still loose behind him as Deng was retrieving it. Dikembe Mutombo stuff.

C.J. Watson hit a three for a 69-66 lead. But the Bobcats seemed to revive when Wallace got tangled up with Brewer with 3:02 left and when Brewer could not get off, Wallace kicked him in the back. He wasn’t ejected, surprisingly, and was called for a technical foul. But on the next possession as Wallace mimed a twisted ankle he rebounded a Jackson miss and slammed it back for a 74-74 tie with 2:47.

Rose did his road runner beep beep imitation scooting by Augustin and Diaw for a layup. But Wallace then got another offensive rebound and was fouled and made both to tie again.

“Derrick Rose can’t beat us all by himself,” Wallace would announce loudly later in the Bobcats locker room.

Rose beat the trap again with a floater to put the Bulls back up by two, 78-76, after which Gibson blocked Diaw. But Rose was thwarted inside and there went Wallace again, this time for that three point play and the 79-78 lead with 1:13 left when Brewer and Deng were late getting back.

Rose went up, was denied, but retrieved the miss and willed himself up through several Bobcats to retake the lead at 80-79 with 1:05 remaining. Thibodeau had Korver in for offense and to spread the court. But the Bobcats went down and Jackson put in a 15 footer over him for an 81-80 Charlotte lead with 47.5 seconds left.

I thought Korver did as good as you could as Jackson made a tough shot. But Thibodeau went with Brewer for defense though the Bulls had the ball. So there was Brewer getting that pass in what looked to be a sure layup. But he hesitated and passed out to Deng, who missed the open three as Deng was just two of 11 in extended minutes with Boozer out. Though Deng played just 34 Tuesday.

“We can’t think of fatigue,” said Deng. “You (media) guys keep mentioning it. We’re really trying not to. We feel we have a deep enough team. I don’t want to make excuses. We had enough to win the game.  We’ve faced a lot of adversity so far. We felt we played great (Monday). We wanted to come and show up. But we played hard only in spurts. I felt good about the three. I was wide open, had time. I tried to make sure I wasn’t short because the ones I missed before were short. This was long.”

It was a good shot Deng could make. I didn’t have a big problem with it, though it looked like Brewer could have gone up.

“It’s a make or miss league,” said Thibodeau. “I thought it was a good shot and we missed. Walking into a shot and open at the three point line. It goes, it’s a great play by Ronnie.”

“When I got the ball,” said Brewer, “I looked to see if someone was behind me. I saw Gerald Wallace coming and I knew he was going to jump. I tried to hesitate and make a quick spin and threw it to Lu where I know is his sweet spot, where he’s made a lot of threes from. So I felt like even though we only needed a bucket, he’s been knocking down that shot.”

Jackson then was fouled and made both free throws, the Bobcats athletes in Jackson and Wallace taking over down the stretch. But Rose answered with a brilliant drive switching to his left hand to bring the Bulls within 83-82 with 25.2 seconds left.

There wasn’t enough time to play defense and get a shot, so I expected a foul.

“We felt we had time to try to trap,” said Thibodeau. “We wanted to see if we could get them to turn it over first. Once it got inside 10 (seconds), then we’d foul.”

Thibodeau turned out right. The Bobcats called a timeout in a trap with 10.3 seconds left. On the inbounds, Watson deflected the ball, and on replay it was called for Augustin, giving the Bulls a chance to steal the game back. But Korver couldn’t get that shot off, and the longer, quicker Gerald Henderson pushed Rose just a bit back and Rose’s shot went short.

“The Bulls are a very guard dominant team,” said Silas.  “Tonight we did a pretty good job getting the ball out of Derrick’s hands.  We also held Korver to (six) points.  I’m not going to say we’ve got their number, but we’re playing them well.”

Just a simple game.

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