Bulls unable to counter Nyet threat


Jan 6

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You know how it is when rivals like the Bulls and Nets get together. You can throw away the record books.

Or in the Bulls case Wednesday in Newark, you can just throw away the game, a shaky all around effort, Carlos Boozer benched the fourth quarter for apparent defensive inefficiency, the Bulls left to scramble late without a timeout after giving up the winning layup on an offensive rebound, Derrick Rose pulling up for an off balance three when he maybe could have driven for a tying two, a pair of Luol Deng free throw misses with 34.8 seconds left and trailing by two, out run by the 10-25 Nets, also outrebounded, out shot from the field and three point line and with a paltry 17 assists, barely above the season low.

Hey, and with all that the Bulls still only lost 96-94 when Sasha Vujacic picked up a deflected pass to Brook Lopez with 5.3 seconds and laid it in.

And they still had their health.

The Bulls didn’t have a timeout left after using a last one with 49.7 seconds left. So Rose let the ball roll some before picking it up, which actually allowed the Nets to set their defense and trap him (I hate that ball rolling in play to save two seconds). And though Rose broke that pressure, he fired off an off balance three that missed.

“Not having that timeout hurt,” said Rose, who led the Bulls with 21 points but had just two assists. “I can get up the court in a couple of seconds. I took a bad shot toward the end. Things like this help you for the long run when you get in situations like that again. I could have gone all the way to the basket. They tried to trap me, Brook  (Lopez) and Devin (Harris). I had to get past them and by that time my mind was rushing, “What to do. What to do?’ I picked up the ball. I faked I was going to pass and shot. Next time I should know what to do.”

There will be next times, and the Bulls are probably fortunate it won’t be against the Nets in the playoffs. Among the Nets 12 wins last season were two against the Bulls. The teams are 1-1 this season with the Nets having won the season series six of the last 10 times with two tied.

The Bulls fell to 23-11 in losing for just the third time in the last 17 games, and the loss also broke the team’s five game winning streak. The Bulls are now 15-3 against teams with sub-500 records.

That doesn’t sound so bad, and it seemed like it was that kind of attitude the Bulls took into the game against the lowly Nets.

No, folks, they aren’t that good yet.

Sure, it was the second of a back to back, but the starters played little in Tuesday’s easy win over Toronto. Forget that. The team’s plane out of Chicago had some mechanical problems and had to turn back before continuing and the team got to Philadelphia after 4 a.m. So what, they might have gone out if they’d gotten in earlier. And they could sleep all day. It’s night games. Sorry with that one as well.

“We didn’t establish ourselves defensively to start the game,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “So it was a long night for us. We allowed them to shoot 49 percent. They got the big loose ball at the end that won the game for them. You have to defend and rebound on the road and be low turnover. We didn’t defend. We didn’t rebound well. And we were low energy most of the game. In the fourth quarter, we dug down and got some stops and played with more energy.”

Amazingly enough in a somewhat indifferent effort, the Bulls almost stole this one.

After that mostly reserve group that included C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver and Luol Deng rallied the Bulls back to within one from a 78-65 deficit to start the fourth quarter, then saw the Nets go back up 93-84 with three minutes left, Rose put on a finishing kick.

He got a three point play, fouled on an off balance runner and then pulled up for a three. Brewer then broke out for a rare fast break layup to bring the Bulls within 93-92 with 1:45 left.

“We played very bad, but we still had a chance to win,” noted Rose. “We had a lot of possessions we could have taken the lead or tied but we didn’t.”

After a Vujacic miss—and he does take some wild shots—Rose missed on a drive for the lead. The Bulls rebounded and C.J. Watson had a three pointer halfway down and it spun out. The Bulls fouled Brook Lopez, who had 14 points and a dominating three rebounds, and Lopez made one of two for a 94-92 Nets edge with 49.7 seconds left.

Deng, who had 15 points and eight rebounds but again played big minutes, just under 43, then powered in, missed, got his own rebound and was fouled. But he missed both with a chance to tie.

“Nah, not at all,” Deng said about whether he was leg tired from back to back 40-plus games. “I have to make them. You get fouled and in a position like that, I expect myself to make those. I’ve been struggling with my free throws this year. I got to get on that.”

Overall, the Bulls were 20 of 30 from the line.

“You look at the lineup that’s playing well,” Thibodeau said about whether Deng, who moved to power forward in the smaller, more effective lineup late, was playing too much. “Every night, it’s easy after the fact to say he’s playing too many minutes. He’s playing effectively. If he’s playing effectively, he plays. We were searching for something to get us going and put us in position to win. And that group played extremely well.”

Devin Harris then missed a 17 footer, giving the Bulls yet another chance, and Watson drew Vujacic into a foul call on what appeared to be a corner three pointer, but Watson was barely on the line.

“I thought it was a three, but Lu told me it was a two,” said Watson, who again played well off the bench and paired with Rose late. I was kind of disappointed. “I thought it was a three pointer, but I couldn’t tell.”

Watson made both free throws to tie the game at 94 with 11.1 seconds left.

The Nets called timeout to set up a Harris lob to Lopez. But Harris threw it too low and Watson got a finger on it, but it deflected into the lane where Vujacic was standing. He put it back for the winning margin before Rose’s futile dash to disappointment.

“You have to come up with the loose ball,” said Thibodeau. “CJ made a good play to get a piece of the ball. We have to scramble to come up with it. We didn’t. Give them credit. They came up with it.”

And so the Bulls head down the turnpike of broken glass bottles, the New Jersey Turnpike, to Philadelphia to face the 76ers Friday wondering where their fast break went, where their defense went and where was Carlos Boozer.

The high scoring forward had 12 points, nine rebounds and a team high five assists, but he didn’t play the last 14 minutes of the game as Thibodeau went with the bench as he usually does to open the fourth quarter.  But Boozer never went back in, and, actually, Rose didn’t until 4:02 left in the game as Thibodeau rode the reserve group, apparently somewhat displeased with the starters’ efforts.

“We struggled all night,” said Thibodeau. “At the end, we were in such a big hole that we were searching for anything that could get us going. So we went small to see if that could generate something. It worked pretty effectively. When you’re doing that, you’re sacrificing some defense too. They were playing zone. So we had to keep shooting on the floor. That was the main reason to put Lu at the four, to get more range shooting out there and see if we could spread them out.”

So Boozer sat and he said afterward it was not his decision.

“You gotta talk to Thibs about that,” Boozer said. “That was a coaching decision.”

He repeated that when asked again in a somewhat different way.

“Yeah, we were surprised (Boozer didn’t come back in),” said Rose. “But we’re not going to try to coach. We’re going to do our jobs and that’s to play. We’re going to leave the subbing up to him.”

That said, Boozer and Rose were very much into the game while on the bench in the fourth, leaping up at every Bulls basket and exploding when they thought Watson was fouled for three shots.

“I want us to win,” said Boozer. “I’m always going to cheer my teammates on no matter what.”

But Boozer had difficulty on defense at times with Kris Humphries. He was benched for rookie Derrick Favors, but he came off the bench for 20 points and 15 rebounds, frequently beating the Bulls down court or for lobs. And early in the third quarter, Favors, who had seven points and five rebounds in nine foul plagued minutes, beat Boozer twice to open the quarter and send the Bulls into a quick timeout. It’s no secret Boozer’s strength is not defense, but he makes up for it with his offense, and if you are going to have him you are going to have to use him that way.

But the Bulls starters did have a somewhat unaggressive start, and when the Nets tried to play faster with smaller players and went frequently into zone defense, Thibodeau said he decided to match that rather than try to exploit it.

“They were playing (Jordan) Farmar and Harris and Vujacic,” noted Thibodeau. “We had a hard time matching up. That’s why we went small to see if that would help. They’re off the dribble very quick. I thought Humphries played with a lot of energy off the bench. Their rebounding and second shots hurt us badly. The big thing was we were behind big and they were zoning. Playing Lu at the four gave us another perimeter player. It was more effective against the zone. When that group cut the lead down and we were in position, we decided to finish with the group that was going well. Obviously, offensively he (Boozer) helps a lot more. But that matchup with Lopez, that’s what I was concerned with going down the other end.”

You don’t necessarily go home with the one that brung ya in basketball.

Other than the Toronto aberration Tuesday, the offensive problem remains the same. With Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas in the starting lineup, it’s difficult to run because neither is a fast break player. So the Bulls are prone to slow starts. Also, Rose prefers to feel out the defense and get teammates going early. Boozer couldn’t get anything going to start, and Deng was off. So the Bulls fall into more half court game, and the game becomes a struggle.

“We got to get out and run, get easy baskets,” said Rose. “We’re not getting easy baskets anymore. Everything has to be tough, contested. We don’t want that. We’ve got to make the game easy.”

Rose actually got to the line four times in the first quarter as the Nets led 25-24 as they were the ones running and dunking. Though later in the third quarter Rose would be smacked so hard on a drive he began, uncharacteristically, yelling at referee Haywoode Workman, a former Pacers guard. Workman ignored Rose and refused to give him the technical foul Rose seemed to be pleading for. It almost was a plea for some more life from the team.

Boozer found some space in the second quarter along with Brewer, and when Rose closed the half with a reverse spin for a layup, the Bulls had a 47-46 halftime lead and seeming control.

But the Nets owned the third quarter (you don’t hear that much these days), shooting almost 70 percent with nine fast break points  and 18 inside points to eight for the Bulls. It became 78-65 Nets after three, and pretty much made up Thibodeau’s mind that he’d seen the last of Boozer and Kurt Thomas, and he’d try to force the Bulls into a quicker game.

Thibodeau said he was matching to the Nets, but he seemed as much trying to force some energy/thrust/pace, whatever, into his own team, and it almost worked. The Nets shot 33 percent in the fourth quarter and the Bulls outscored them inside 14-10.

The Bulls just needed a couple of free throws or a loose ball or one more shot to drop. But not this time.

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