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Bulls lack spirit against 76ers
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 29
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Coaches love a loss. No, I’m not saying Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau likes to lose, as the Bulls did Monday 97-85 at the United Center to the Philadelphia 76ers.
And Thibodeau seemed a bit more yelled out than usual croaking through his post game remarks.
“Again, the last couple of games, the first half we haven’t played defense,” said Thibodeau, noting big early deficits during comeback wins over Memphis and Milwaukee. “We did the same thing tonight. This game was lost early when we were down 27-13 in the first quarter. We have to take a look at how we approach the game, how we practice and make the necessary corrections real fast. Things can change fast in this league.”
I’m fairly sure the Bulls still will make the playoffs, though they fell to 53-20 with their first home loss since Jan. 18, 14 games. Oh, right. They’re in. And they kept a two game East lead now over both Boston and Miami with the Celtics losing again.
But losses give a coach more reason to practice and demand attention as Thibodeau admitted the practices have been a bit casual lately and not fully attended with some players resting injuries. Thibs loves practice. But losses also tend to magnify your flaws.
And while Derrick Rose had his sixth straight game of at least 30 points with 31, though he committed 10 turnovers, the Bulls interior big guys, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, seemingly continued to have their signals mixed on defense.
Noah finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds while Boozer had 15 points and nine rebounds, though Boozer hasn’t reached 20 points since Feb. 23 in Noah’s first game back right after All-Star weekend. It’s now three straight games the Bulls have failed to reach 100 points after the back to back blowout wins previous to that.
Scoring has been a question mark around this Bulls team, though Rose has come up big for weeks now to save the team. But the 76ers did a good job with Andre Iguodala, whom 76ers coach Doug Collins said should be the Defensive Player of the Year, on Luol Deng, who had 10 points on three of 11 shooting.
Thibodeau, not surprisingly, blamed “not one of Lu’s better games” on sitting out practice lately with a thigh bruise. Deng said he’s over that and will practice Tuesday.
When Deng isn’t scoring, the starters can have some offensive issues as Noah and Keith Bogans aren’t offensive minded.
So there is a fragility to that starting unit if Boozer also is held in check, which teams have done well of late by keeping taller players on him and forcing him away from the basket for jumpers.
So it also was no surprise to see Thibodeau going from player to player after the game in the locker room, which he rarely does, and calling most into his office or in the trainers’ area for private conferences. Teaching moments, they are called.
Fire up the tape machine. Thibs is coming!
“When you practice well, you play well,” said Thibodeau. “When you’re not putting a lot into practice, you’re not going to have an edge in the game. If you don’t have an edge in the game, you’re putting yourself in a bad position. Turnovers, big problem. Not making free throws (18 of 30), big problem. And not playing defense. And outrebounded. So, there wasn’t one phase of the game where we were doing the things that we should be doing.”
So he has some stuff to look at as the 76ers did a nice job of actually taking advantage of the Bulls aggressiveness on defense. It will be something other teams will watch for the upcoming playoffs.
The Bulls are generally regarded as something of the James Brown of defenses, the hardest working men in this form of show business. Their defense is relentless in its help and recovery. So the 76ers tried something with Spencer Hawes, of all guys, who hit backbreaking jumpers throughout and especially down the stretch for 14 points.
Overall, the balanced 76ers had six players in double figures, led by Thaddeus Young off the bench with 21.
The Bulls like to overplay the pick and roll and push it to the baseline. So what the 76ers did was what’s called flattening it out. They put three players down on the baseline and moved the pick and roll more to the middle, where it would take longer for the help to come.
It’s an old Boston move where they free Paul Pierce a lot for those right elbow jumpers that haunted the Bulls in the 2009 playoffs.
So as the guard went over the screen and the big man helped, generally Boozer, Hawes popped out for 18 footers the Bulls couldn’t react to. The Bulls did change some coverages late as they’ll have their bigs switch. But they got caught in transition and lost the jump shooting big man later.
In addition, the 76ers went smaller and more athletic with Young at power forward, which gave the Bulls matchup headaches in the second quarter when Young went for 13 points and the 76ers went up 50-27 with 4:15 left in the first half.
You can’t keep coming back from 20 down. Not everyone is the Bucks.
The Bulls tried Boozer on Young, which was a disaster as Young went right to an isolation as the Bulls best defender, Deng, was occupied with Iguodala, who was having a good game with 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Yes, this is the team the Bulls beat by 45 earlier this season, though have lost the last two to finish the season 1-2 against. The 76ers, 38-36 after a 3-13 start, should get the sixth spot in the East unless the Knicks make a major turnaround.
Collins, who said before the game he would have taken the Bulls job if offered during talks before Vinny Del Negro got the job but is thrilled where he is, used primarily a seven player rotation with No. 2 pick Evan Turner doing little in just under seven minutes.
Collins admitted the St. Joseph’s High School product hasn’t been a good fit with the 76ers because of their perimeter strength.
“It’s tough for Evan,” Collins agreed. “He’s more comfortable with the ball in his hand. It’s hard for us with (Lou Williams, Igiodala, Young and Jrue Holiday) to get him the ball. It’s a huge adjustment learning to play off the ball.”
Collins said he could see Turner more a point-forward, sort of a Brandon Roy type, someone, Collins said, “Never glamorous, never wow, creating that kind of buzz, but a winner.”
The Bulls didn’t do a particularly good job on pushing Young away from his dominant left hand in his Tayshaun Prince style. But it’s also a question whether the Bulls can take advantage of athletic teams who go small against them and punish the opponent with size. They have on the boards, but not this time as the bench was uncharacteristically off, outscored 21-14.
The 76ers actually outrebounded the Bulls 44-42, a rarely which also suggests with fatigue or lack of aggressiveness. But to take advantage of teams that will try to go athletic, the Bulls will have to get more from Boozer and put him in more scoring position, though he did get some nice finishes from Rose on the pick and roll.
Rose sees perhaps more defensive formations than any player in the league now, and the 76ers threw in traps, some upcourt pressure at times and the usual blitzes on the pick and roll but with more quickness stepping into him. They also, obviously, saw his latest tendency to throw the ball through when splitting the defense and catch up to it as they picked off that move among Rose’s 10 turnovers.
“We tried to play in the middle of the floor and stay away from the sidelines,” said Collins. “If you don’t, that’s where they can contain you. Against Rose, you have to be aggressive. If you get back on your heels, that’s when he gets going downhill and gets three-point plays. He is so quick like Dwyane Wade that you have to get up on him or he’ll beat you. Tonight we tried to matchup Thad (Young) on Gibson and to keep (Kyle) Korver from getting going. Our big guys also did a good job by getting out and having a jersey in someone’s face all night. I thought we made them take the shots we wanted them to.”
Predictably, Rose was harsh on himself, though his 24 second half points gave the Bulls a chance in what looked for a while like another stolen win when the Bulls pulled within 72-68 with more than nine minutes left.
But the 76ers got jumpers from Williams and Elton Brand, the latter former Bull with 13 points and nine rebounds and a big time block of a Rose drive at 78-72, and then pulled away on those Hawes jumpers to make it an 86-76 lead with under four minutes left.
The Bulls, though, don’t give up and got it back to 86-80 on a Rose drive and free throws and a Noah slash after Rose was trapped just over half court.
But Rose got stripped with a chance to cut it to four and Hawes hit another jumper on a defensive mixup with Noah running to Hawes late. C.J. Watson, who was playing effectively with Rose at times to counter the 76ers small lineup, then passed to Rose, who dropped the ball and Holiday ran out for a score that effectively closed it out with a 10 point 76ers lead with 1:46 left.
It was a rare sight this season for fans to be leaving the United Center early as the Bulls home record fell to an East best 32-5.
Rose, though, didn’t get his usual fourth quarter rest early as with the Bulls within five to open the fourth, Thibodeau likely figured he could ride Rose and take away the 76ers momentum and solidify that East lead with Boston already having lost. It didn’t work this time as Rose played the entire second half.
“I was turning the ball over. It was terrible,” said Rose. “If we get a chance to play them again it definitely will be different. It was on me. I know some things I could have done differently. We’ve got to find a way to come out and put teams like that away in the first half. My turnovers definitely changed the game. We came out sluggish. We played like crap tonight. Our bench has been saving us. Our starters have to come out and play harder, especially me. We weren’t ready for this one. Put this one on me.
“Dribbling the ball off my foot, my head, whatever,” said Rose disgustedly. “I’ll learn from it. We play in a couple of days (in Minnesota) and we’re not going to come out like that.”
Rose sat afterward with his hand wrapped in a bandage, but he said it was nothing but a treatment for jammed fingers and he was fine.
The Bulls were jammed from the beginning once again, poor defense and poor shooting to start in that surprising 27-13 deficit on 30 percent shooting as the 76ers, despite no true shot blocker, ganged up on the middle.
It was a game the Bulls never would lead and couldn’t control Young in the second quarter, once when he beat a chasing Tag Gibson for a score Gibson stopped to exchange not so pleasantries with Deng on the coverage. Frustration was seeping in.
The Bulls made a run back within 53-37 at halftime as Thibodeau made a nice adjustment taking Rose off the ball and away from the traps with Watson handling. That got Rose in position to attack off the wing, where he drove for a pair of scores and the shifting defense gave Boozer a lane for a two handed dunk.
The 76ers got threes from Iguodala and Holiday as the starters again were slow to close to open the second half and the 76ers went back up by 19. But the Bulls defense, as it often does, gained some fuel in the third quarter as the 76ers began to settle for jumpers without much movement. Against any good help team like the Bulls, you need to move the ball side to side. But the 76ers went the last 3:22 of the third without scoring and the Bulls got on the boards for second shots and to the basket to get within 69-64 on a Korver jumper that got the crowd thinking, “Here we go again to victory.”
It seemed similar to when the 76ers last week blew a 13-point lead to the Heat and lost to an attacking Wade in the fourth.
It seemed certain as Rose began to take over with a pair of twisting, driving scores through the big men forest, or as big as the 76ers get, to pull within 74-70. But this time the barely over .500 team didn’t fold and made its shots. And seemingly sure victory became easy defeat.
“Derrick (is) that kind of guy when things are not going well he wants to put heat on himself,” said Noah. “That’s not true. The truth is as a starting unit we have to do a better job, come out with a better edge. Collectively. Not one or two guys. We’ve got to come and play harder.
“People are telling us, ‘Oh, you’re going to win this game. It’s easy.’ Nothing is easy in this league,” said Noah. “It sucks to lose, but we have to learn from it.”
Thibs is ready.