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Bulls favored in Game 2 of series with Knicks
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 9
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The Bulls really played the perfect game against the New York Knicks Sunday. Because now they have to know after that 100-99 defeat there is no way they could lose to the Knicks in a playoff series.
I’m going with Bulls by 20 when the teams meet again Tuesday at the United Center.
Unless Derrick Rose doesn’t play. Ooops, now it seems that’s possible.
It turns out Rose suffered a sprained ankle sometime Sunday in playing almost 39 minutes in his return after missing almost a month with a groin problem. The Bulls are listing Rose as a game time decision for Tuesday’s rematch with the Knicks, which generally means we’ll see him again in a week. It’s a curious situation as we all saw Rose leave the locker room without any discomfort. He stopped to speak with ABC-TV on the way out to the team bus and didn’t seem to have any problem. He wasn’t limping at all. Could he have played too much? Was it something that swelled later? Is this just one of those seasons when nothing goes right? Yet, now it’s possible he doesn’t play Tuesday against the Knicks.
And we thought missing those free throws at the end like he did against Miami earlier this season was a problem. Yikes, now this! If Rose doesn’t play Tuesday you’d have to assume it would be questionable whether he can play Thursday in the big home game against Miami. You assume the Heat are going to be paying attention this time if Rose doesn’t play and not get embarrassed again. So we’re back on Rose day-to-day watch again, which has been perhaps as much as anything the story of this Bulls season.
But if he weren’t hurt….
The Bulls did seem to see enough from Sunday’s game to know if they meet the Knicks in the playoffs it shouldn’t be that much of an issue.
It wasn’t the worst loss the Bulls have had this season, but they could not have played a poorer game.
They started with the enthusiasm of mourners at a funeral and trailing 27-6, the worst start of the season.
Joakim Noah apparently was in a hypnotic trance to open the game as his first quarter box score was the classic trillion: Seven minutes played and a zero in every column. It turns out he had the identical impact of a dead man.
Forget the Bulls missing four free throws in the last 34 seconds, any one of which would have won the game, and the free throws being missed by two of the team’s best free throw shooters with Luol Deng just under 80 percent and Rose at 82 percent.
Rose committed eight turnovers. He hadn’t played in just short of a month and had barely even run. Iman Shumpert kept stripping the ball from Rose. I know the rookie plays hard, but no one is confusing him with Sidney Moncrief and Michael Cooper.
Rose, shooting at least a respectable 45 percent, shot eight of 26. C’mon, this canard of the Knicks being a defensive team now is laughable. Carmelo Anthony still is yelling every time for someone to pick up his guy on screens. Most of the players hang out in the lanes trying to make steals while Tyson Chandler keeps jumping back and forth trying to guard everyone.
Chandler, by the way, had 10 offensive rebounds. Since when did he become Bill Russell?
So the Bulls are trailing by 21 points in the first quarter and by halftime they are down eight points. With a bit less than four minutes left in the game — even after trailing by more than 20 — they are leading by 10. And that’s still with making 20 turnovers.
So now in overtime the best rebounding team in the league gives up three offensive rebounds on one possession, any one of which they get probably ends the game.
The Bulls draw up a last play in overtime for the winner and Rose gets tripped running into Shumpert and the play goes awry. Everyone forgets to call time. Just before that Rose and Noah get too close to one another and the Knicks get a steal because the defense is so crowded together. Rose is out a month with little practice time and a pair of easy bounce passes he makes to Kyle Korver go right past Korver as their timing is off from not being together for so long.
It seemed like Murphy’s Law — Not Troy, though he has his issues — of anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
When Anthony needed a three and a two wouldn’t have meant anything, the Bulls both didn’t foul and then played him relatively loosely so he could shoot the three to tie the game in regulation. Then in overtime when a two would tie and a three would win, the Bulls laid off far enough that Anthony had time to launch the three to win the game. The Bulls had 10 blocks in the game, and the Knicks weren’t going to the line as the Bulls had 31 free throw attempts to New York’s 20. Yet, the so fundamentally sound Bulls allowed Anthony to pull up instead of sending him to their huge size advantage on the interior.
The Bulls outrebounded the Knicks by 12, but failed to get one key rebound. They shot better from the field and from the three point line, but failed to deny the one shot that made a difference.
They relatively easily made up a 20-plus point deficit in a 30-point turnaround, and then still lost the game when all they needed was one point in the last four minutes.
This was just about every mistake they made all season wrapped into one game. And the Knicks still needed a miracle shot at home in overtime to win the game. And equaling the record for most points ever scored in a game by a Knick against the Bulls and still winning by a point in overtime. And the most points scored against the Bulls this season. And still winning at home by a point in overtime with a pair of desperation threes.
What if Noah actually comes to the next game? What if Deng is able to shoot better than 25 percent? Yes, I know J.R. Smith shot six for 22, though given the shots he takes I’m surprised he had that high a percentage. Baron Davis was one for seven. And my point? The Knicks’ backup center is, well, I’m not sure. Jared Jeffries at maybe 6-9 is their next tallest guy. The Bulls have at least four guys as big.
The Knicks play Anthony at power forward, about 25 feet from the basket most of the time. And Anthony, a 29 percent three point shooter, made four of five threes.
Yes, I suppose they could get Amar’e Stoudemire back for the playoffs. Though he and Anthony haven’t quite fit yet. So we’ll see if the time comes. And Stoudemire missed most of last season’s playoffs with back problems said not to be as severe as he has now. But that’s if there is a first round matchup, and it’s way too soon with uncertainty in the standings regarding the 76ers and Bucks.
If the Bulls just play an ordinarily lousy game it would seem they’d win by a dozen. We’ve almost never seen Rose like that losing the ball with such regularity. He’s usually got such strong hands and cups the ball so that no one gets it. So one of six shooting and five first half turnovers. That sounds about the worst from his first action after missing a month. No one is likely to see that again.
But the Bulls still could do some things better.
Deng again played just short of 50 minutes. Jimmy Butler has had some good moments defending Anthony before, and last season we saw Anthony give Deng some problems. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to give Anthony a different look for a bit with an aggressive Butler.
There’s always talk about resting players toward the end of the season, and you’d think Deng would be prime among them. But I liked what Thunder coach Scott Brooks told the Oklahoman newspaper about that issue, which is very much in vogue among fans and media these days.
Brooks said resting your best players is “Cheating the game,” that fans pay big prices to see the best in the NBA and the team has an obligation.
“If we had a bunch of veteran guys in their 30s, there’s no question things would be different,” Brooks said. “But our guys, if you take out some of the guys, they’ll think I’m benching them twice a game. They want to play every minute. They love to play and they want to keep playing. It’s like pulling teeth to get five or six minutes out of them per half. I always focus on the game and not focus on the minutes. I always believe that guys can muster up enough energy to win an NBA game (even if) it’s a back-to-back. If the guys need to play 40 minutes, they have to play it. I’m not worried about the minutes. I’m worried about how we play and how we can get better the last two weeks.”
Actually, the Bulls have had plenty of rest, particularly Rose and Richard Hamilton, and it’s probably time to see Hamilton get above 30 minutes per game. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been keeping a tight reign on Hamilton after he’d missed so much time this season and Hamilton played just 18:43 Sunday and not in overtime or the fourth quarter.
The Bulls could use his offensive threat and his defense on the floor at crucial times, especially with just nine games left before the playoffs. If this is the Bulls starting five that was supposed to be an upgrade over last season, then the Bulls need to see them in a regular playoff rotation for the rest of the regular season.
It’s another national TV game Tuesday, and the Bulls have put on enough bad shows this season for the team with the league’s best record. I’d be surprised if this one were close. It would help if Rose were to play, of course. Though suddenly that is a question. Of course, if the spate of injury problems continue with Rose all of this above: Never mind!