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Bulls defenseless and offensive to watch vs. Warriors
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 27
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Derrick says he’s going back to being Derrick.
“I think in the first quarter I’ve got to establish myself a little bit more,” said the reigning league MVP who aside from that wonderful game saving floater against the Lakers Christmas Day hasn’t been very valuable at all as the Bulls were bludgeoned 99-91 by the Golden State Warriors Monday. “I see that being laid back is just not doing it. I think both games in the first quarter I shot the ball just one or two times (one of four total and zero free throws). I see that approach is not working. So next game I’ve got to change it up.”
Though according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the larger question is whether the Bulls will go back to being the Bulls, one of the league’s premier defensive teams.
“Defend, rebound, inside out, share the ball, low turnovers,” Thibodeau said shortly after the Bulls only made it look better to those not watching after trailing by 19 with less than nine minutes remaining. “You have to know who you are.”
Yes, as Warriors coach Mark Jackson might have said, “Bulls, you’re better than that.”
Apparently Thibodeau in a very loud voice said something of the sort to his players.
“He just said it was bull (stuff) and it was right,” said Joakim Noah. “We’re not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that. We have to improve. It’s frustrating. Our defense was just bad.”
Really, there’s plenty of good news in this because the Bulls should really be 0-2 instead of 1-1. They were outplayed everywhere in the box score against the Lakers but the bottom line thanks to some awful Lakers free throw shooting and some inspired defensive plays in the closing seconds.
It has been a fairly lousy Bulls team thus far, looking nothing like the team that ran through the Pacers in a pair of preseason games with spirit and hardly measuring up to their own expectations of being serious contenders in growing up a year.
Whatever the reasons, it’s mostly, other than in some spurts, a passive team that shouldn’t be with so many returning players, a familiar system and overall continuity.
Richard Hamilton is basically the only new addition, and after a good start offensively with three baskets against shorter Monta Ellis, Hamilton was two of eight the last three quarters and didn’t play in the fourth quarter along with Noah and Carlos Boozer.
“We were just searching,” Thibodeau said of his fourth quarter small group that opened the period trailing 78-61. “It was a flat game. We had to get some energy into the game. We went with the two point guards (Rose with C.J. Watson). Kyle (Korver) gives us the three. We felt we could get it up quickly and make it up with the three.”
Watson and Korver did combine for five threes in the quarter, but there were no miracles this time. More of the post Christmas day returns in reverse, giving back the few good things they received on Christmas.
“Defense, defense, defense,” Rose said when reporters approached him, obvious Thibodeau had made his point. “We always say we can live with missed shots. Of course, I missed a lot of bunnies tonight (four of 17, one of eight on threes). Open shots I normally hit along with other people on the team. But we can always fix it. We know that without us playing defense, it was going to be a hard game, especially with the scorers they have on their team.”
Rose didn’t help much defensively either, constantly being beaten by Stephen Curry, who had 21 points, 10 assists and six steals. Curry and later Monta Ellis after Curry tweaked his ankle late went back door on Rose several times with Rose turning his head to watch the ball inside, once late in the game Rose angrily counseling Taj Gibson about not protecting the baseline.
The Bulls are supposed to keep the ball out of the middle in their defense, but the Warriors constantly came open off their pick and roll with David Lee adding 22 and Ellis high with 26. And that’s with the Warriors shooting four of 15 on threes.
And old issue developed as Boozer, again taking too many fadeaways, had just six points and three rebounds. Though the problem arose again of an opponent constantly putting Boozer in the pick and roll and Boozer not stepping up to help enough. I could see the impact of former Bulls assistant Pete Myers, now on the Warriors bench as an assistant, having a huge effect as Myers was one of the best former Bulls assistants in breaking down teams and attacking weaknesses.
For the Bulls, there also was too much hand down, man down.
And that was Curry’s cue in the second quarter when the Warriors broke open the game to take a 46-27 lead. Starting and continuing mostly against Watson and with Rose coming in, Curry scored 12 straight Warriors points on an assortment of transition jumpers and runouts as the Bulls were soft with the ball and committed 14 first half turnovers. Perhaps the most remarkable was Curry switching hands and shooting a left handed 15 footer as he was pinched on his right hand by Watson. Hard to blame the Bulls for that one. Hard to get happy as well with that bunch of guano. Heck, when Jordan did those it was legend.
“No defense, turn the ball over, put them in the open floor,” Thibodeau lamented. “You gave them a lot of confidence early and you can’t do that against a team like this. Turnovers are a result of one of two things, the risky pass or one on one. We had a combination of those two things.
“They’re hard to guard normally,” Thibodeau noted. “You put them into the open floor and they’re coming at you with a live ball (eight first quarter Bulls turnovers and 20 total). And then we’re not protecting the basket. You give a team like that easy baskets their confidence goes way up and they are not easy to stop after that. We can’t play like that. We have to play defense, rebound and we‘ve got to take care of the ball. They’re jumping out on pick and rolls and we’re not protecting the ball and that’s what happens.”
Thibodeau will blitz the Bulls about the team’s lack of defense, though more a sort of indifference in which the Bulls even kept getting caught watching the Warriors lob passes for dunks, even 50 and 60 feet passes over the heads of barely retreating defenders.
It suggested more a team satisfied with the acclaim and acceptance it has been getting rather than working to earn it. That’s something we never expected from this group, and perhaps there is some of adjusting to Hamilton. Is Keith Bogans being missed for his defensive tenacity? Mamma, where is that man?
That man is Rose, the MVP, and though the defense will be the topic du jour this week, much seems to rest with just what Rose is doing.
He’s talked a lot of being a facilitator and more selective in his shooting, suggesting more the classic point guard. But even with the upgrade of Hamilton over Bogans—and it is—there still isn’t that explosive second scorer to create on his own. Regular readers know I’ve long championed Monta Ellis, who made a mess of Brewer after he came in to replace Hamilton with the score tied at 16 with seven minutes gone.
Hamilton had been having some success posting the smaller Ellis as the Bulls even went at him with Brewer, hardly a postup threat. But Hamilton had contributed to the early turnover fest (three in the first five possessions) with some of that bothersome overdribbling Thibodeau complained about after the Lakers game.
So out he went and Ellis started hitting his shots, which he hadn’t in Game 1 and was getting heat from the local fans and media. The Warriors remain somewhat indifferent about their high scoring, non point guard backcourt with Ellis and Curry. Jackson is trying to implement more a defensive game and the quick shooting that too often comes from two shooting guards in the backcourt diminishes that.
But when Ellis gets going, as he did Monday, it’s something to see and opens the court the way he occupies the defense. That’s someone the Bulls miss other than Rose.
Which is why Rose suggested he’s got to change his game plan after two games. He’s coming out too passive, seemingly in the playmaker mindset. And the Bulls simply do not have enough pure shooting or a creator to match a high scoring team. Sure, if they could pitch shutouts every game. But that’s not about to happen, and the Warriors took a 30-22 first quarter lead on—gasp!—61.9 percent shooting. Meanwhile, Rose had two points and wouldn’t get his first free throws of the season until four minutes gone into the second half. Of Game 2!
Look, the MVP will get calls. But you’ve got to give the officials something to call.
Though Rose’s three point shooting was good against the Lakers, Rose turned into a jump shooter thus far with 14 threes attempted in two games. He’s 13 of 30 overall and four of four at the line in more than 74 minutes.
When Rose isn’t scoring, the pressure is on for others. Though it’s not easy for Rose.
The Warriors’ plan, not that Rose hadn’t seen it before, was basically to ease off the inside and blitz or trap Rose on the pick and roll. In effect, the Warriors were saying Noah and Boozer aren’t going to hurt us.
Noah’s strength on offense is in transition, but the Bulls have shown very little of that or any real inclination to get there with Rose not pushing the ball much and giving it up and then circling around to set up a half court play.
Noah did throw in a couple of left handed hooks, and he did have 10 rebounds in just under 26 minutes. But he’s not six of 19 in the two games without most being runouts or lobs. If he’s posting up the offense has problems.
Likewise, Boozer after a nice start against the Lakers was again a bit too reliant on the shallow fadeaway in the halfcourt. That pick and pop game isn’t getting you anywhere for long stretches.
“In the first quarter we’ve got to find a way to stop people,” said Rose. “Guys we know can score the ball, we’re giving them too many easy looks. When you give a scorer looks like that they’re going to get confidence. You don’t want to let them get going like that.
“I guess we weren’t too focused. I don’t know what it was,” said Rose. “We just don’t want one of these nights again anytime soon. Keep it moving, but try to remember it. That’s what I’m real concerned about, us being able to get easy baskets. Last year we rarely got them. This year we have to find a way.”
Actually, it is becoming like Mike for Rose. Jordan practically feared playing in Oakland after breaking his foot there in his second season in the NBA. He had his career low scoring average against the Warriors. And now Rose may be following in Jordan’s only playing flaw. Rose had nine turnovers in a loss in Golden State last year and an ineffective 13 points and eight assists Monday. Rose had just three turnovers, but they also were brutal, a bad pass inbounds, stripped on the dribble and the miscues turning into fast breaks. The Warriors ended with 20 fast break points.
“We can’t let teams score on us the way they’ve been scoring on us,” said Noah. “There’s a lot of improvement to be made. It’s frustrating to lose the way we lost. There’s definitely a lot of things we need to do better defensively to go where we want to go.”
There was some really awful stuff going on for the Bulls in the kind of horror show of a game the Bulls often lost here even in their best days. No excuse, though. The place isn’t really cursed, even if sometimes there’s no there there.
Omer Asik, with three fouls and zero rebounds, threw the ball over the rim where it was rebounded by Boozer who had it blocked. Gibson overdribbled into a turnover. Boozer shot a straight on jumper off the back rim, Luol Deng committed a turnover when he was dribbling the ball and changed pivot feet. Call that one dancing with the guys who aren’t playing like stars.
It was 57-41 Warriors at halftime and the Bulls could never really get into this game. They never led by more than two and only in the first six minutes, and that after trailing the entire fourth quarter against the Lakers until the final Rose shot.
Rose got caught several times watching the Warriors go inside at Boozer, only to see the ball flash out for an open shot as he was late to get out. The Bulls were extremely poor covering out to the deep shooters, a category they led the league in last season. Hand down, man, oh, you know.
Down 61-45 early in the third, Hamilton missed three shots on one possession, short handing a two footer in the lane on one. Deng led the Bulls with 22 points and 10 rebounds, emerging as the team’s most consistent thus far. So after his big close against the Lakers, Thibodeau went to him on the opening play to start the game and Deng dribbled into a turnover. He has to play off others doing well.
Every time the Bulls hit a few shots, like Korver with a three after making a technical in the second and Rose with a transition three and two on one break later in the quarter, the Warriors would get an open shot and make it or beat someone off the dribble without enough help stepping up and get fouled.
Brewer and Watson bricked wild jumpers to end the third after the Bulls got it within 73-59 with a few minutes remaining. So they were down 17 heading into the fourth. And every time the Bulls made a little run with Watson and Korver threes, Dorell Wright or Ellis answered, the fitting conclusion to a miserable night for the Bulls when Ellis slammed on a baseline backdoor against Rose and then again, coming all the way from the wing without being contested.
Thibodeau even tried some hack-a-Dominic McGuire late with not much success as the final score hardly represented the disparity in the play.
“We can’t let teams score on us the way they’ve been scoring on us,” said Noah. “There’s a lot of improvement to be made.”