Bulls get their bell rung in Philadelphia


Feb 2

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Remember when things were looking pretty darned good for the Bulls? Oh, yeah, Sunday. That was when the Bulls fought the Miami Heat to a virtual standstill without two starters. All Derrick Rose had to do was make his 30th consecutive fourth quarter free throw. Ok, it happens. Miami didn’t seem all that. So that’s all the Bulls have to beat?

Well, not quite. The Eastern Conference may be catching up as the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday clobbered the Bulls 98-82 as it got so bad the starters didn’t play in the fourth quarter and coach Tom Thibodeau said he wasn’t thinking of bringing them back, anyway.

“Our starters were so lethargic in the third,” said Thibodeau of being outscored 26-11 and falling behind 75-55 after three. “Quite honestly, if we had gotten closer I was going to finish with the group we had in there. They were fighting to get us out of the hole.”

Yes, Brian Scalabrine and John Lucas among them.

And so now it turns out on closer inspection the Bulls at 18-6 are just a game ahead of the 76ers and Hawks and a game and a half ahead of the Pacers. And the Bulls have not defeated a winning team since Jan. 6 when they beat Orlando, and we know what a mess they are. And since then the Bulls have lost to the Hawks, Pacers, Heat and now 76ers.

Derrick Rose

Maybe it’s not time to panic with Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton still out injured. But there’s no need to begin ordering champagne or checking for Grant Park celebration dates.

“We were loose with the ball,” said Thibodeau, noting 17 Bulls turnovers the athletic 76ers ran into a staggering 29 points with a 21-4 edge in fast breaks. “They’ve got great hands, quick. They got to loose balls. We got in a hole (behind 40-29 midway through the second quarter), closed it at the half (to 49-44). Then the start of the third quarter they played really hard. Give them a lot of credit.

“Our defense was not good,” agreed Thibodeau. “Our reaction was not good. They’re quick to the ball. Our reaction to the ball was not good. They beat us to balls with second effort. The fourth quarter we were just scrambling and trying to get back in. But the hole was too big.”

So the question for the Bulls is whether this is a crater they are falling into or just a little tremor that will soon pass.

“Just one of those games,” said Derrick Rose, who had 18 points and was nursing a cold as he skipped the morning shootaround. “The starters did not come out and play the way we know how to play. We turned the ball over, their defense was great, creating turnovers, playing the passing lanes, rebounding the ball, tipping it back out to the guards and we could not get to it and it hurt.”

The 76ers, even without their starting and backup centers out injured, outrebounded the Bulls 43-37 as Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer both were beaten badly with the 76ers getting 46 points inside to 28 for the Bulls. Yes, Tony Battie and Lavoy Allen outplayed Noah, Boozer, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson.

But Rose also pointed to an Achilles heel, toe and arch that is an often unspoken problem for the Bulls.

“They’re a very good defensive team,” Rose noted. “They’re scrappy. They have a lot of athletic people. They’re an athletic team. We were out there sluggish. The energy wasn’t there. I really can’t explain it. They’ve got a lot of athletic people, especially the wings.”

That lack of athletes is the unspoken secret with the Bulls. It’s their disadvantage against Miami, though it’s offset with their size up front and depth. The 76ers match the depth with maybe the league’s best bench. So the Bulls need to dominate them inside. But a relatively unknown rookie, Allen from Temple, was the best big man in the game with 15 points while Rose was the only Bulls starter to score in double figures.

“One of the keys for us tonight was our bench,” said 76ers coach Doug Collins. “We talked about dominating their bench. They actually started two guys who normally come off the bench. Korver normally comes off the bench with C.J. Watson and Brewer. I told our guys, “They’ve got those two (bench) guys starting now, so we’ve got to do a great job.”

The Bulls weren’t unaware of their issues against athletic teams and tried to address that with a shooting guard who could handle the ball and make plays. But it’s not an easy position to find, and the Bulls went for Hamilton, who is a vast upgrade. But Hamilton’s groin issues recurred and he could be out now several weeks as the Bulls are determined to allow him to heal properly.

With Noah and Boozer not able to make an impact, Thibodeau was forced into trying to match the 76ers speed with Rose playing more with C.J. Watson, the latter leading the Bulls with 20 points. Only he and Rose scored in double figures for the Bulls.

But the 76ers counter that with five players, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young who can make plays with the ball and run pick and roll. They’re also long armed and mostly quick, and the 76ers will use Young at power forward. So when they had a lineup with Young at power forward and even Allen at center, Noah was having to defend Young and kept getting caught not sure whether to come out or stay near the rim and allow open jumpers. So he staggered pretty much in a middle nether world getting little done until the Bulls had to give up their size advantage and try to match the 76ers with their own smaller players, who are not as athletic.

Thus it gave the 76ers a big edge.

“If you look at our team, people want to say, “What’s your identity?” Our identity is our defense,” said Collins. “Getting in the open court and playing. Moving the basketball. As I said, 26 assists, 10 turnovers, 46 points in the paint, 21 fast break points, 29 points off turnovers. When we do that, we’re pretty good.”

Too good for the Bulls, whom they beat two of three last season. And the 76ers did a good job on Rose with their aggressive defense which is No. 1 in the NBA. Few teams are as quick and athletic. So when Rose was running the pick and roll on top, which the Bulls often do, the 76ers were jumping it to force Rose to his left hand. Then they were closing off the middle and forcing a pass to the free throw line area where Boozer and Noah were missing shots. With the floor unbalanced in rebounding, the 76ers were able to get in transition.

Jimmy Butler

Thibodeau tried rookie Jimmy Butler a bit, and while he is aggressive, he doesn’t offer much offense. And Ronnie Brewer continued in a shooting slump. So you had a group mostly without much offensive activity or range other than Kyle Korver, and the 76ers turned it to their advantage.

“Defensively, we were so good,” said Collins. “When you play against Derrick Rose, you have to do everything in your power to try and keep him away from that basket and out of that paint. This was a game that our big men did a wonderful job. Our whole game plan was try to keep them out of the paint, off that foul line, and then make Noah, make (Taj) Gibson, make Boozer, make those guys jump shooters. Make them two-point jump shooters. I thought we did a really good job with that.

“Andre Iguodala was spectacular tonight,” added Collins. “That third quarter that he played for us was brilliant. He hit some big shots, had a nice run.”

Iguodala led the 76ers with 19 points (Young had 19 also) and nine rebounds and maybe edged ahead of Deng for All-Star consideration with continued excellent team play for the rising 76ers with Deng out hurt.

Iguodala led that third quarter burst to break the game open with a driving slam dunk in which the Bulls interior defenders were frozen and gave no help, another dunk, a poster style one with his arm well outstretched behind his head after Battie blocked Rose, and then Iguodala casually walked into a three pointer.

The 76ers had six layups or dunks in the third quarter while the Bulls pretty much settled for jump shots, going three of 16 and thus enabling the 76ers fast break. The 76ers had 11 fast break points in the quarter with the Bulls committing six turnovers.

“A really frustrating game,” said Korver. “They played really well, shot the ball well, executed well. They had a lot of energy and were hungry and wanted to prove a point.

“But we can’t let up,” said Korver. “This team this year can’t sneak up on anybody. Teams want to beat us and want to make a statement. The moment you let up things can go wrong in this league. We know that, but games like tonight are kind of a reminder.”

Though that’s not the sort of messages the Bulls want to listen too that much.

Miami did lose as well, in Milwaukee, so this isn’t exactly the typical season. The Bulls early season has been one of the most difficult in the NBA, and it breaks pretty much after this long road trip. Rose will be named a starter to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday on the TNT broadcast, though the way the team has played lately it’s getting more questionable whether they’ll have another All-Star. Deng would seem the only other with a chance, and his extended absence could change that, especially with the Bulls perhaps out of first place in the East by next week.

Of course, Bulls players and coaches don’t measure that much as Thibodeau said Wednesday when talking about being named Eastern Conference coach of the month for January.

But there are other issues with Deng and Hamilton out, namely scoring, which is another that’s hung over the team after last season. And while Thibodeau appropriately dismisses injuries and doesn’t allow his team to make excuses, the Bulls are left at a distinct scoring disadvantage without Deng and Hamilton.

Speak little, do much, as Ben Franklin said. Though not particularly to Thibodeau.

“We’re not trying to think that way (about missing Deng and Hamilton catching up with the team),” said Rose. “There are no excuses. We still have to go out and play these games with effort. Tonight it was clear (we did miss them).”

There’s talk again of adding a big guy, the latest being Joel Pryzbilla, whom the Bulls have courted much of the season. But he’s not going to contribute any scoring or athleticism, though he’s the best of the big men available.

It looked positive for the Bulls to begin with the Bulls scoring on eight of their first 10 possessions as both Korver and Boozer were hitting outside (five of seven combined) and Rose added a three for a 17-11 lead. But Iguodala answered along with rookie Allen hitting jumpers with the Bulls defense not reacting and the 76ers finishing the quarter with a 16-4 run for a 27-21 lead.

Young always has been a brutal matchup for the Bulls with his quickness and long arms, too quick for the power forwards and centers, even Gibson, and too long for the small forwards other than Deng. He began scoring along with Holiday as the 76ers went up 11. But Rose answered with some tough drives even while being pounded and sent to the floor several times without a call. Thibodeau was blasting the officials, though perhaps he needs a few more technicals to get their attention. I even had an advance scout come to me at halftime and say he’s never seen a top player in the league fouled so regularly with no calls. Rose didn’t get a single foul call in the half.

“I guess because I play through it they don’t call it,” Rose said with a shrug. “Hopefully, I get that respect one day.”

Maybe with a second or third MVP.

I usually don’t mention much about officiating as everyone complains about the calls or lack of them. But Rose really was getting bounced around in this game. It probably didn’t help the rest of the team seemed satisfied to shoot jumpers.

That was pretty clear after halftime as the Bulls opened with four missed jumpers in their first six shots and the 76ers began running out with them and pretty much ran away with the game.

Lazy minds and lazy bodies, it turned out.

Thobodeau tried a few wrinkles in the fourth with a zone and a trap and going to Scalabrine with about eight minutes left and Lucas a few minutes after that. Watson had 11 of his game high 20 in the fourth and Gibson had some strong moves inside. But the closest the Bulls got was down by a dozen with about four minutes left before Young ran out for still another fast break layup after a Watson turnover and followed that with a 15 footer to keep the Bulls from getting any ideas.

“Philadelphia certainly was very, very impressive,” said Thibodeau. “They’re good, an excellent team.”

Just like the Bulls were last week.

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