Warriors beat Bulls with a plan


Feb 6

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Time to panic?

Certainly not just because the Bulls Saturday lost 101-90 to the Golden State Warriors in the Oakland House of Horrors for the Bulls franchise.

That’s right. It was here in 1985 when Michael Jordan suffered the only serious injury of his Bulls career, a broken foot, and where Jordan compiled his lowest scoring average. So the Bulls lost for the 10th time in the last 12 games here against traditionally poor Warriors teams, this one now 22-27.

The Bulls fell to 34-15 with just their second loss in the last nine in ending a six game winning streak. No big deal, right? Road trip. Tough night. Motivated home team with guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry getting hot and combining for 56 points. It happens, right?

Sure, but the Warriors, not necessarily noted as a defensive juggernaut, may have unveiled something of a blueprint for how to play this Bulls team. The Bulls had seen something like it before when they lost in Philadelphia last month, that time when the 76ers displayed an aggressive trap right over half court against Derrick Rose.

This time the Warriors added a layer to it, a third defender crowding the release men in the paint and then staying with Rose in something of a triple team when he tried to drive. And the result was perhaps Rose’s poorest game as a pro, 14 points, 10 assists and nine turnovers with six of 15 shooting.

“It was weird,” said Rose, who pointed to a crumpled up box score on the floor by his locker that he’d just looked at and discarded. “The way they did it, they had someone checking Carlos (Boozer, the pressure release men at the free throw line). Then there was someone right behind him coming over. If I drive baseline, the guy behind him cuts me off. The guy is sticking with Carlos. If I drive middle, the guy on the side comes out and doubles me. It’s something we’ve never seen before, I guess. I just got to get used to it.

“I couldn’t get a feel for the game,” said Rose, who also appeared somewhat uncertain and was making lazy passes. “I just could not get into it. They wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t split (double teams). They dragged it out. Even the pick and roll they trapped. I guess we’ve got to get used to that.

“I’ll look at film on the plane, tomorrow,” said Rose. “I should be able to point out who is the open guy. We’ll learn from it and hopefully you won’t see this performance anymore.”

But the Bulls can count on seeing this type of defense, especially in  a playoff series. Sure, Rose has regularly faced double teams and traps and blitzes and figured it out quickly. Golden State stuck with it throughout the game in an open dare to let someone else beat them.

“We got a little frustrated early because some other guys made some plays, but we knew as the game moved on that some of those guys wouldn’t be in that position to make those kinds of shots and make those kind of plays,” said Warriors coach Keith Smart.

Sure, Joakim Noah will be back, probably right after the All Star break, and given he’s a release guy where Boozer usually plays now and is a better playmaker, that will help.

But the Bulls remain still a bit short in offense, especially with a second straight poor game from Ronnie Brewer and an awful homecoming from C.J. Watson, who was paired with Rose in the fourth quarter when the Bulls tried to match the Warriors quicker backcourt. But Watson was victimized and in the middle of a 14-0 Golden State run early in the fourth quarter that broke open the game.

“They were collapsing on dribble penetration,” noted Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “The turnovers came from overdribbling, dribbling into a crowd. When we made the simple plays and just hit the open man, that’s how we scored effectively. I thought we scored the ball in the first three quarters and then in the fourth quarter we struggled scoring. Usually your turnovers end up being a result of either risky passes or too much one-on-one. When we started off, I thought the rebounding was good, but I didn’t like our defense from the start. And in the fourth quarter we just played poorly.”

Yeah, it was one of those nights. The defense was bad.

And the offense was horrible.

But it’s also a personnel question.

The Bulls have scored at least 100 points just four times in the last 23 games, and this was just the second time since Dec. 26 they’ve given up at least 100 points. But can you get through a playoff series when the defense is committed to stopping Rose with everything they have?

In a sense, that always was Phil Jackson’s trick during the Bulls’ championship runs: Wait and devote extra resources to the player who makes the team go. You take him out, and if you concentrate on it you can always take one guy away, and it throws off their flow and system.

So Jackson sprung Scottie Pippen on Magic Johnson in Game 2 of the 1991 Finals. He took out Mark Price against the Cavs, Pippen on Mark Jackson against the Pacers, on Kevin Johnson. When you have a primary ball handler who makes all the plays, it becomes more difficult in a playoff setting without substantial offensive talent around him.

And this Warriors team wasn’t exactly the Bad Boy Pistons. But they put on a clinic in how to frustrate Rose, who committed a career high in turnovers. And without Rose making plays, the Bulls reverted to some old bad habits, like pulling up for long jumpers early in the shot clock.

“Taking quick shots, playing stupid,” said Rose.

The Bulls shot just 13 free throws, making six and were eight of 25 on threes, an unusually high number of threes for them. The Warriors doubled the Bulls in fast break points, yet it wasn’t a Warriors style game as the Bulls controlled the pace much of the game and led 48-47 at halftime.

“When the ball moved freely, we got the shots we wanted,” said Thibodeau. “A couple of times when we had the lead we took quick shots and we should have been more inside-out, dribble penetration. They were in passing lanes and they do a good job with the strip and when you’re loose with the ball they’re going to get it.”

Boozer led the Bulls with 21 points and 10 rebounds. But the Bulls didn’t seem to try to offset the Warriors perimeter strength by pounding it inside as much. Part of that was Kurt Thomas, who got a quick start with defenders jumping off Rose and scored six points on jumpers in the first quarter. But Thomas isn’t a postup threat or pick and roll guy, and while Boozer gets his numbers, he doesn’t overwhelm you all the time.

In fact, the Warriors had rookie Ekpe Udoh on Boozer in stretches and I didn’t think the Bulls went there enough, though the Warriors suggested Boozer wasn’t going to explode past anyone.

“At this stage of his career, he can guard a deliberate guy (like Boozer),” said Smart of Udoh. “A guy who is more of an aggressive attacking guy right off the bat he’s not there yet.”

The Warriors committed to Rose from the start with Thomas popping out to hit open jumpers. The Warriors generally had the screener’s man stay with Rose in a blitz across the floor and had a help guy come up to play Boozer, who when he got the pass didn’t always go quick enough or move the ball.

To break what the Warriors were doing, you have to make quicker moves and also have slashing off the weak side and ball movement. Early in the game, the Bulls did move the ball well. They led 25-23 after one quarter, and they took a quick seven point lead early in the second as Kyle Korver dropped in a pair of threes.

Korver added another jumper right afterward coming off a down screen. But the Bulls tend not to ride him enough when he is hot. After Korver hit three of four to give the Bulls a 35-29 lead, the only shot he got until the fourth quarter was a long one at the end of the first half.

Though the Warriors did recognize Korver quickly enough and did begin to shade to him. But he really doesn’t get enough playing time with Rose, who presumably would give him the most open looks given all the attention Rose receives.

That sequence was also a lost opportunity for the Bulls to break open the game or, at least, create some space as Boozer had a soft underhanded shot blocked by Udoh and Brewer missed a runaway one on none dunk, after which Boozer got a technical foul for complaining and the chances to extend the lead into double figures had gone unavailing.

Taj Gibson had an aggressive game with eight points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes, finishing in traffic powerfully. He had a big second quarter with seven points and five rebounds as the Bulls trailed 48-47 at halftime. But Gibson only played six minutes in the second half and didn’t have a rebound.

The Bulls might have used his toughness more against a relatively skinny Warriors front line, especially the way David Lee with 13 points and four rebounds was coming out every time to help on Rose.

Still, it looked like the Bulls were in good position.

Keith Bogans and Luol Deng hit threes early in the third quarter. Rose finally got a step and hit a stop and go reverse and Boozer got a pair of scores on a spinning baseline dunk move and an open jumper off Rose being doubled. That gave the Bulls a 65-53 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.

“I thought it was an easy first quarter and maybe we had the impression it was going to be easy all game,” said Boozer. “They switched it up, brought guys to me, doubled D-Rose. The game just got more clogged up on offense and on defense we did not get stops.”

That’s when Ellis and Curry got going. Thibodeau brought Brewer in, but he was off again, and Rose didn’t seem like he could find his explosion and on drives kept getting stripped. Which led to run outs and a 31-15 edge in fast break points for Golden State.

“I turned the ball over a few times just trying to make the right play,” said Boozer. “For the most part, they have two real good guards. The way they play, they make you rush a little bit. At times I thought we rushed a little bit tonight.”

The Bulls were hanging around down 75-74 early in the fourth. Thibodeau tried pairing Watson with Rose to combat the Warriors’ mini backcourt and it backfired. Watson, returning to Golden State and getting a nice welcome (and we’d soon find out why), couldn’t contend with Ellis, and then Curry when the Bulls switched Rose onto Ellis after Ellis hit two over Watson. While that was going on, Watson shot two air balls and had the ball a third time as the 24-second clock expired.

That suddenly left the Bulls behind 83-74 as Thibodeau pulled Watson for Brewer, but the rout was on.

Curry hit two more and Andres Biedrins got  a dunk on a pick and roll as the Bulls rotations were now slowing to a crawl.

The Bulls were banging their heads, figuratively and then literally when Boozer and Korver cut into one another, cracking heads as Boozer was called for traveling just before Curry pulled up for a 20 footer to make it 89-74 with six minutes left.

The Warriors went into a bit of a clock stall at that point, allowing the Bulls to get within 10 with about four minutes remaining.

But Curry threw himself at the rim and was fouled, a cold Korver missed a three and Dorell Wright ran out with no one covering back for Korver and dunked, pretty much ending it as the Warriors went ahead 93-79 with about three minutes remaining. Deng and Korver hit some late threes to get it a bit closer.

“It was one those games,” said Rose. “It wasn’t going our way. We tried to force it. One of those nights.”

We’ll soon find out.

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