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Bulls learn some hard facts in blowout loss to Nets
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 18
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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau likes to say every game reveals something about your team. So what do you suppose the New Jersey Nets’ 97-85 domination of the Bulls in the United Center revealed about the home team?
I’ll make it the top 10 things we learned about the Bulls Saturday.
10. They don’t do well falling behind 22-3 in the first five minutes of the game. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said contrary to popular belief more games are decided in the first quarter than in the last five minutes. “Everyone says it’s the last five minutes. No, it’s not. You should be ready to go,” said Thibodeau. “To dig a hole like we did is disappointing. That is more my responsibility to make sure we are ready.” The Bulls came into the game, according to Elias Sports, 21-0 when leading after the first quarter.
9. The Bulls don’t do well in day games. They are now 1-4, and the win was Christmas Day against the Lakers when they stole the game thanks to Derrick Rose in the last few minutes. Could this be a too hard partying team? Unless there are parties in the movies, where most always seem to be going. The problem isn’t so much late sleepers as in the playoffs you play a lot of afternoon games. The afternoon games are generally against the better teams, and the Bulls have lost in the afternoon to Memphis, Miami and Boston.
8. Joakim Noah sometimes needs more than the schedule to be into it. Noah had zero points and six rebounds in 21 minutes and didn’t play the last 17 minutes. He tried to talk around it, but basically acknowledged after the Boston win Thursday that some games are easier to get up for than others. Not the Bulls as a teamn, certainly, who had won 18 straight before Saturday against teams with losing records. But some of Noah’s best games this season were against Miami, Boston and Indiana, all double/doubles. Thibodeau said the vital element for Noah always is his energy or lack of it. Though Noah was getting burned early by Kris Humphries in trying to help C.J. Watson after Deron Williams was dominating Watson.
7. Watson has improved this season, averaging a career high 10.4 points. You could even get him into the Most Improved discussion. But it’s too much to ask to run a now 25-8 team, especially also with no true shooting guard. With Ronnie Brewer essentially unguarded, and facing an All-Star in Deron Williams, who had 29 points and eigth assists, Watson was overwhelmed. He went under screens, allowing Williams to get off fast, and it wasn’t until Thibodeau went with Brewer on Williams in the second half that the Bulls got Williams under some control. Watson also isn’t exactly Rose. A lot of what the Bulls have set up on offense involves Rose driving. That’s not really Watson’s game. I don’t know the numbers, but he’s not a very good shooter off the drive. Get him the ball on a skip pass with him set and he’s a very good shooter. He was in the top five in the league earlier and was looking good playing some with Rose. He’s now fallen out of the top 10, though he’s still good at 44 percent. But he’s eight of 24 on threes the last six games basically the period Rose has been out.
6. That’s not a starting level backcourt. Watson is shooting 30 percent the last six games and Brewer is 34 percent in that stretch. Combined they are about 40 percent for the season. Brewer hasn’t shot more than 50 percent in a game since Jan. 25. Defenses don’t respect them much, so it makes it that much more difficult for Carlos Boozer, with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Luol Deng, with 14 points and eight rebounds, to get enough space and to get going to offset that all the time. The Nets smothered the inside and packed the lane, and having just basically Williams and Kris Humphries playing well was enough with the Bulls supplying so little offense of their own. Mike James had 16 points off the bench and a team high 7 assists. “We’ve proven we can beat any team in this league, but we can also lose to any team in this league if you don’t come out aggressive and play with energy in the first five minutes of the game,” James said.
5. The Bulls’ big men may be among the poorest finishers in the league. Omer Asik, though he doesn’t play enough to blame, was zero for five and scoreless again. Though still above 50 percent on the season, he’s three of his last 15 the last five games. Noah battles, but may lead the league in missed tips. Brewer and Boozer have missed several dunks this season. The only ones who really finish strong are Rose and Deng. Dunk the ball!
4. This isn’t a team that has enough talent, certainly not these days, to relax on defense. The Bulls defensive principles including, and perhaps most importantly, keeping drivers out of the middle. They are supposed to turn drivers away toward the baselines and push the pick and roll down toward the end line. They didn’t do much of that as the Nets shot almost 70 percent in the first quarter in leading 34-19. And there wasn’t much hand in anyone’s face as the Nets knocked in 10 three pointers, five by Williams.
3. Other teams remember when you celebrate on their floor as well. Not that the Bulls mocked the Nets, but there were “Scalabrine” chants, the Bulls led 35-14 after one quarter in shooting 76 percent and were basically doing a lot of high five slapping when the Bulls smothered the Nets in Newark earlier this month. It also was the game Rose’s back spasm injury was compounded when he landed awkwardly in being trapped. He played uncomfortably the next game in New Orleans and hasn’t played since. “We just played them a little over a week ago,” noted Thibodeau. “They were ready. Deron Williams came out and set the tone for them. We were back on our heels and you get what you deserve.” Meaning teams remember. Even losing ones. Without Rose and Richard Hamilton, you can’t get so full of yourselves. “We gave the Bulls a dose of what teams have given us all year,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. Not that the Nets were overconfident—they’d lost eight straight and are now 9-23—but they decided to bring back injured center Brook Lopez Sunday at home against Milwaukee instead of Saturday. Shelden Williams had 14 rebounds. The Bulls leader was Boozer with nine.
2. You can’t shoot your way back in from long distance. Getting back into the game in the second quarter after a Deng three brought the Bulls within eight with 3:20 left, four of the next five shots were threes. There were long rebounds, which the Nets turned into transition scores with the defense unable to set, enabling the Nets to get back on top 59-45 at halftime. The Bulls starters early in the third quarter had a pretty amazing stretch of six possessions that covered four turnovers, an air ball and two missed free throws. The Nets weren’t doing much as Brewer played Williams tighter and the Bulls were thus able to stay on Humphries. But then Watson missed two more jumpers, Noah flubbed another inside on a wild drive and Watson committed a turnover, the team’s fifth in less than five minutes, enabling the Nets to maintain their lead even while scoring only eight points in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter. The Nets then got one to drop, Watson crashed into Humphries on a screen and suffered what he said was just a bad headache, one Thibodeau shared as Williams raced away with the ball for a slam dunk and 73-56 lead after three. Thibodeau tried a small lineup with Taj Gibson, who had 14 points and nine rebounds, at center and Deng at power forward in the fourth. But Humphries with 24 points and 18 rebounds, took advantage with some high/low plays to open the fourth, the Nets went ahead by 22 and then enjoyed their way with their Scalabrines finishing up.
1. And the biggest thing we learned about the Bulls Saturday is they really, really need Derrick Rose. They’re 7-3 this season without Rose and had that nice win over Boston Thursday. But this is just asking too much without him. Deng’s had a wonderful season, but without Rose there basically is no one else to initiate an isolation if you need one. The defense doesn’t have to react all the time. Point guards are putting up big numbers against the Bulls. The Bulls do so well because of an unusually unselfish nature, manic effort and committed defense. But they all have to be working at a high level. With Rose they always don’t have to be. To say nothing about not having Hamilton as well. Hamilton is expected back after the All-Star break, and there’s a good chance Rose will play Monday against Atlanta. If he can and is healthy, he should. He wants to, I know, and is not going to sit out unless he cannot play. If his back isn’t right, then he has to sit. Everyone who’s had back problems knows there’s not much you can do with the spasms. But if he’s ready, the Bulls really could use him. Really, really could use him.
“We had a bad day,” said Deng, who had an elbow in the temple that dazed him some, though he said he was OK. “We’ve got no excuses. We played terrible. But it’s over with.”