Bulls go cold in Canada and lose to Raptors


Feb 24

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Well, that’s not going to scare the Miami Heat.

Maybe the Heat players had extra large cuts at Gibson’s after watching the game in Chicago and that will slow them down when they play the Bulls Thursday at the United Center.

Because the way the Bulls lost 118-113 to the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, the Bulls couldn’t slow down Michael Sweetney at Old Country Buffet.

“I think the guys… we really wanted this,” said Derrick Rose, whose rally with 19 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter fell short. “If anything, we wanted this so we could go into that (Miami) game with a lot of confidence. Now we have to go into it very aggressively where we have to prove a point that we can play defense.”

We thought that was the given with the Bulls. But Toronto taketh, instead, and fairly easily in shooting a Bulls’ opponent high 58.1 percent, at least 50 percent in every quarter. When the Bulls defenders, to use the term generously, weren’t biting on bad pump fakes, they were failing to help and allowing a virtual parade to the basket. So much so you expected someone to sing Danke Schoen. The Raptors had a staggering 58 points in the paint as they ran pick and roll relentlessly with little backside help. Actually, almost none.

“Start with defensive transition, keeping the ball out of the paint, challenging shots, every aspect of our defense out the window,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “We gave up 118 points. It’s not about any one individual. It’s about our whole team. Offensively, we scored more. Defensively, it was a disaster.”

The numbers tell just part of the story, unfortunately.

The Bulls were abused inside against Carlos Boozer, including down the stretch when Amir Johnson posted up Boozer deep and scored for a 115-111 lead with 16.9 seconds left. Johnson then left his man—hello, Bulls defenders. See that?—and came across to block a Rose drive and effectively clinch the game. Yes, Amir Johnson, whom I labeled the worst free agent contract last summer. OK, I’ll say against everyone but the Bulls.

“We needed stops towards the end and we just couldn’t get any,” lamented Rose. “You know us. Towards the end that’s when our defense really gets better. Tonight, we just didn’t have it. But we play tomorrow.”

Actually, tomorrow (Thursday) doesn’t bode particularly well after a game like this in which an athletic, small team exposed the Bulls defense, or at least raised questions about it. The Bulls main weakness is against athletic wing players, and the Heat has two fairly good ones.

Somewhat better than DeMar DeRozan with 24 points and Leandro Barbosa with 13, both driving hard off screens and getting an unusual Bulls defensive escort to the basket.

“We’ll study it more and we’ll watch the film. We’ll make our corrections and get ready for Miami tomorrow,” said Thibodeau. “Each game reveals the things you need to work on.”

The Bulls defense has been No. 1 in the NBA much of this season, recently falling behind Miami. It’s profited with teamwork, help and attention to detail, like closing hard on shooters. Most of that was missing Wednesday in a relatively lazy effort as Andrea Bargnani tied DeRozan with 24 points and former Bull James Johnson, starting in his first game with his new team, had a nice, athletic game with nine points and three blocks.

“If you check the times I did get playing time [with Chicago] we were down by 20 and we ended up coming back to win,” said Johnson, though I don’t recall it exactly that way. “My plus-minus is outrageous, so I’m going to play hard every time I strap up.”

I wince when men say strap it up, but I’ll get over it.

The big story of the game for the Bulls was the return of Joakim Noah, and his numbers were good, seven points and 16 rebounds. But they were misleading as Noah didn’t have a block and perhaps half his rebounds were his own missed shots he was tipping back. He had 10 of his rebounds in the first quarter as the Bulls led 29-25, but the Bulls were doing little to stop the Raptors. Noah’s interior defense was lacking, though he did try hard and, after all, he’s been out 10 weeks.

“It (thumb) felt okay, but it is definitely not the result that I wanted,” said Noah of the Bulls falling to 38-17. “We just have to keep fighting and come with a better edge. They are a good offensive team and they were getting a lot of attempts at the rim. My timing is a little bit off. I’m a little tired and a little winded.”

Yes, Noah was working hard. You can always count on that, if not particularly efficient this time. Though he hardly was at fault or the only one failing to deliver enough impact.

The Raptors, 16-42, aren’t a particularly good team, though I suppose I could have just mentioned the record. But they have athletes, and the Bulls also gambled with Kurt Thomas becoming the backup for Noah with Omer Asik falling out of the rotation.

“Kurt (won the job) based on matchups and what’s happened since Jo’s been out,” said Thibodeau. “Kurt’s been the anchor of our defense. You can count on him and what he does. Omer has done a fine job. Kurt’s done a great job, but I’m not happy with our defense.”

Thomas had two points and five rebounds. But Toronto isn’t a good matchup for him, though probably not Asik either. Still, I’d like to see Thomas get more rest heading toward the playoffs and get Asik some time so he’ll be more ready for the playoffs. The Raptors play seven foot shooter Andrea Bargnani at center. But he plays outside with sleek Johnson around the interior, though not usually a postup guy.

The Raptors had a nice plan to start, and then used it effectively down the stretch.

They went to DeRozan, their most athletic player, early against Keith Bogans and late against Kyle Korver, who closes at shooting guard. They also put Boozer in pick and roll over and over with Johnson with 17 points dashing to the basket and converting all eight of his shots.

The Raptors opened fast up 9-4 on those Johnson rolls and DeRozan driving, and the Bulls were not very good providing help. Though the effort from the principal defenders was lacking as well. Yelling, “switch” or “help” isn’t particularly good fundamentals.

Boozer was having his way with Johnson on the other end, taking him inside with drop steps and spins. I thought the Bulls went away from that too quickly when it was working. Like Amar’e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh, you aren’t going to depend on Boozer for defense. But you’ve got to ride his offense when he has the matchup. Boozer did finish with 24 points, but in this kind of high scoring game who knows how many Boozer could have easily gotten.

It was a tough start for Noah who four times in the first quarter missed his own tips, piling up stats, if not points.

The Bulls looked like they might take control of the game early in the second quarter in a terrific series of possessions in which Ronnie Brewer overplayed and played the passing lanes and made three steals that were turned into scores in four Raptors possessions.

That enabled the Bulls to take a 38-30 lead just a few minutes into the second quarter. The Raptors seemed to panic and rushed four quick jumpers, but the Bulls could not take advantage.  Instead, Bargnani after that stretch went at Thomas and DeRozan at Korver, who was now at shooting guard with Luol Deng back in the game and Brewer out.

Korver does get defensive attention, though the Raptors aren’t one to do so with anyone. When you play Korver, much like with Boozer, you’ve got to get him shots, if also to occupy the defense and spread them out. But Korver got just two shots, and though Rose was spectacular in the fourth quarter in carrying the Bulls, Korver played eight minutes mostly at shooting guard and didn’t get a shot. He is a better defender than given credit for, but when he’s in the game he has to get more shots.

I thought perhaps the Bulls could have spread the court more and isolated Rose instead of playing out of so many pick and rolls. The Raptors were blitzing Rose on the pick and roll, though in isolation they weren’t giving help, leaving Jose Calderon on him and leaving shot blockers at the rim. Rose simply was shimmy shaking by them, though Johnson did get that last big one.

Korver was still on the floor late in the second quarter, and it did take Toronto out of its offense a bit as the Raptors now began to go almost exclusively to DeRozan and he was coming up short. Not that the Bulls were doing that, but it’s an old Don Nelson trick to put a weaker defender on a player who believes he has a huge edge and he may take all his teammates out of the game and get into a one on one contest.

While DeRozan was doing that, the Bulls got a nice run going with Korver swishing a three and the Bulls went on to lead 58-55 at halftime.

The Raptors then began to take control some with James Johnson playing a role with a pair of blocks against Deng and beating the Bulls and getting fouled for four free throws in the first half of the third.

“He didn’t know any plays or anything,” said DeRozan. “He just went out there and played with energy and you could definitely tell on the defensive end, getting blocks, hustle plays, everything and that’s where he helped us.”

The Raptors took an 85-81 lead after three quarters, and the Bulls took a lead on a Rose pull up three early in the fourth quarter. But despite a fabulous Rose fourth quarter, the Bulls couldn’t pull away. Though the Bulls had more fast break points, that seemed more because of the pace the Raptors like to play at and their relative inattention to defense. Noah wasn’t able to have much impact defensively as usual at the rim while Taj Gibson had a rough time with fouls falling for pump fakes and didn’t play much down the stretch. Plus, he missed several close attempts when he failed to dunk the ball and went up a bit uncharacteristically for him, weak.

But it was the defense breaking down in the fourth quarter that proved fatal.

Johnson scored on a lob when Boozer left to help on a pick and roll. That gave Toronto a 98-91 lead with 6:23 left. Then Barbosa scored twice against Korver without Korver getting a shot attempt on his end. The Bulls took a timeout and went to Deng on Barbosa. But Barbosa drove and got a three point play for a 107-100 lead with 2:49 left.

Meanwhile, Rose was attacking, beating Calderon on the perimeter and getting the foul calls as he was 14 of 16 for the game, nine of nine in the fourth quarter.

When Rose hit a pull up three out of transition with 1:59 left, the Bulls had come all the way back and tied it at 107.

It was one shot after the next then as DeRozan got to the basket again to make it 109-107. He then went on Rose, and Rose burned him going left to tie the game with 1:32 left.

DeRozan then made a nice dive cut off an out of bounds play and Deng lost him and DeRozan was fouled, making both. Rose answered with a drive and converted his two free throws after a beauty of a crossover move on an isolation. It was tied at 111 with just over a minute left.

DeRozan then drew a foul against Boozer’s help on a pump fake, and he made both. But Rose came up short on a pull up. It was then Amir Johnson posted and scored over Boozer and made his block on Rose’s drive. James Johnson was then fouled and made one of two and Noah summed up his night throwing the ball out of bounds as he tried a handoff to Rose.

“We all know that we can’t play like that,” said Rose. “Thank god we play tomorrow.”

The Heat, who were in Chicago Wednesday on a day off waiting for Thursday’s national TNT game, may feel the same way now.

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