Bulls not in such a ‘Melo mood after Anthony’s threes


Apr 8

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It looks like the Knicks at least got the Bulls attention Sunday in that 100-99 Knicks’ overtime victory.

“Hopefully next time we play them we come out with a sense of urgency,” said Derrick Rose, who had 29 points in his return from missing 12 games with a groin injury but along with Luol Deng each missed two free throws in the last 34 seconds to allow the Knicks to force overtime.

The Knicks did that with a Carmelo Anthony three with 11.2 seconds left in regulation and then another Anthony three to win it, this time with 8.2 seconds left in overtime in a possession in which the Knicks got three offensive rebounds.

Anthony, who finished with 43 points, squared up both threes. The first was over Taj Gibson and the second over Luol Deng with neither Bulls player coming out far enough on Anthony to force a drive when only a three could pose a problem. Then Rose had chances for winners after each and missed a 20 footer from the right wing in regulation and then a forced runner at the end of overtime when the play broke down and the Bulls were scrambling around for a shot.

“A stepback, shot a little too hard,” said Rose of the regulation shot. “I think it was on target, but it just went over the rim a little too hard. I can live with that. My teammates gave me the ball and have confidence in me to take those shots. I just missed it. I just fell into (the defender on the overtime inbounds). I was trying to come off. He was playing me hard. He tripped. I tripped off him. I looked up. The ball was in. I think I ran to Kyle and he gave me the ball. They swarmed me and I got the shot off. It just didn’t go in.

“I didn’t think of (my groin),” said Rose, who played a more than expected 38 and a half minutes. “I’m not worried about it. My thing is just trying to get better. Defensively, we weren’t there. Hopefully next time we play them we come out with a sense of urgency.”

That would be Tuesday in the United Center, and you might expect a tornado of emotions for the 43-14 Bulls after such a stunning end game meltdown after they’d led by 10 points with just under four minutes left in regulation.

One free throw. Yes, just one free throw. Force the ball out of Anthony’s hands just once as he was four of five on threes and the rest of the Knicks were four of 29. Get one defensive rebound. The best rebounding team in the league can’t come up with one rebound against a team playing Anthony at power forward? Anthony got one on his own miss with 31.9 seconds left and the Bulls ahead 99-97, and then Tyson Chandler with 16 rebounds, 10 offensive, got a pair with two tip outs as he dominated Joakim Noah inside.

It was as mystifying a loss for perhaps the league’s most fundamentally sound team as it was frustrating after the Bulls had recovered from a 27-6 first quarter deficit in still another desultory start in an early Sunday afternoon game. This was the fourth straight time the Bulls have lost an early Sunday game and basically looked bad doing it. They are young men, sure, but the Bulls hardly are known as a group that turns out the last light.

“It’s a concern, a big concern,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls likely also put the East’s best record back in play with two more games against Miami and now with only one fewer loss. Plus, this was a game against a potential first round playoff opponent with the Knicks currently in the eighth spot in the East. So much for the so called statement, which you’d assume the Bulls will finish Tuesday. Really, this should not be a difficult Knicks team to beat. They are without injured Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin and if they were not in such generally good condition and honest you’d think you were watching a lunchtime game of lawyers at the local Y.

J.R. Smith, the J. R. standing for his shot Just Released, was six of 22. A good shot to him appears to be one he takes. Baron Davis was one of seven and the Knicks overall shot 38.2 percent. Anthony is a terrific offensive player, perhaps the best individual scorer in the game. He made the Bulls best defender, Deng, look like, well, Anthony on defense. You could perhaps use the cliché word “focus” to describe Anthony because he is focused on getting a shot off. He doesn’t much look around and the Knicks offense is often a good one man show. Then again he scored more points against the Bulls’ vaunted defense than anyone had this season.

They shoot a lot of threes, the fourth most attempts in the league, which was basically the Bulls plan, to run the Knicks off the three point line and get them to take more contested twos. It’s basically a good idea and perhaps no one plans better for opponents than Thibodeau. But the Knicks in many respects are like an improvisational comedy club. You never know what’s coming, and it’s often going to be a joke.

While fourth in attempts, they are 26th in three point percentage, and launched 34 on Sunday and made eight, for 23.5 percent. Perhaps the Bulls would have been better off letting them shoot. Several times I thought they were as they had Kyle Korver on Smith. And though Korver is a better defender than given credit for, someone like Smith would see Korver and just assume he can beat him. See J.R. shoot. Shoot, J.R. shoot. Please.

And the Knicks had their share of bonehead maneuvers as well. With 48 seconds left in regulation after Anthony missed a free throw after a driving score to leave the Knicks trailing 91-88, Chandler inexplicably purposely fouled Deng.

“I thought we were under the 24-second clock, and Luol was who I wanted to foul,” said Chandler.

Well, they were sort of close with 34.1 seconds left.

Then, shockingly, Deng missed both. He’s a 79.5 percent free throw shooter and has made them to win games before. This wasn’t exactly the seventh game of the Finals.

“We felt like we had the game,” said Deng. “We missed big free throws and gave away the game. We just made mental mistakes, free throws, turnovers. Things that we don’t normally do. Nothing went our way. The free throws really hurt us and the turnovers.”

Ok, still a three point lead with 34 seconds.

Steve Novak, the Knicks best three point shooter at almost 50 percent, spun a three to tie in and out. Ronnie Brewer rebounded on Deng’s save, and Smith fouled Rose on a drive. OK, that’s it. Rose needs to make one free throw. He has missed these before, like in the Miami afternoon game earlier this season. Then he’d come back and make them. Of course, right?

Rose missed both with 19.4 seconds remaining. What?

“I missed those free throws,” Rose lamented. “Hopefully, next time if I get the opportunity I’m going to knock them down. I told them (coaches) where if I was out there and we needed to win the game, I wanted to be in there. He put me in. I missed those damn free throws. Next time I know for sure I’ll hit one of them.”

Then Anthony stunned the Garden walking up the right side near where he missed one against the Bulls in an attempt to tie the game back in February and lobbed in a 27 footer with 11.2 seconds to win it.

Should the Bulls have fouled ahead three twice in the last seconds? I’m generally an advocate of that, though not with so much time left. In regulation, there was 11.2 seconds for Anthony’s shot and in overtime 8.2 seconds. That overtime one was close and perhaps you could foul there, though you usually wait until five or six seconds. But only a three can hurt you and Thibodeau’s point was you don’t lay off even a few inches and make the guy drive. Anthony said the Bulls were playing him off to prevent the drive and that’s why he pulled up to shoot.

Carmelo Anthony and Luol Deng

“I don’t even know how far he shot it from,” said Deng of the overtime winner. “He made some tough shots throughout the game. I knew he was looking for the shot. Just because it was two steps behind the three (point line) and I was a little bit back, but I should have been up on him.”

It seems we have a failure to communicate here, Luke.

And it wasn’t like the Bulls were making free throws to get into a late free throw shooting contest. The Bulls were 22 of 31 overall as they’ve shot free throws poorly of late and now are 27th in the league. You have an excuse if you have Shaq or Dwight Howard on your team. But with players like Rose, an 82 percent free throw shooter, Carlos Boozer and Deng doing much of the ball handling there’s little excuse to be ranked among the bottom in the league in free throw shooting.

So it was all a mystery to Thibodeau, who seemed to suggest just about everything he did suggest was ignored.

“You have to do the right things,” said Thibodeau. “You do the right things and you’re not going to have those turnovers. Simple plays: Protect the ball, keep the ball moving, quick decisions, hit the first open man, sustain your spacing, protect the ball, tuck it on the catch. Fight for your space. Get your space. Simple. Turnovers, turnovers, missed free throws. We got fouled, went to the free throw line and missed. Can’t do that.

“We should’ve called a timeout (when Rose tripped on the overtime inbounds play),” said Thibodeau. “It’s a bang, bang play. You can’t be giving up that shot (to Anthony to tie and then win). That’s the only thing that gets you in trouble is the three. You don’t give it up. You make him drive, make him take the two.”

It was a poor game from Noah through regulation, though he did perk up to start overtime with a pair of scores to put the Bulls ahead 95-93 and good help defense on Novak after the Bulls took a 99-95 lead with just over two minutes left in the overtime and the Bulls looked once again in control. But Thibodeau was clearly annoyed with Noah’s seemingly casual approach to the start that contributed to the massive 21-point first quarter deficit.

“He has to be ready from the start,” said Thibodeau. “He’s got to bring energy. When you’re an energy player, you have to bring it every game. When he plays with great energy, he’s terrific. When he’s playing with great energy, we’re playing with great energy. But it wasn’t only him. It was our entire team.”

Joakim Noah

The Bulls in some respects rely on Noah as much or more than Rose to set their emotional tempo, and Noah has been up and down frequently this season. The point is they aren’t depending on him for offense, so he has to bring the effort daily.

There also wasn’t much to see of Richard Hamilton, who had a meager first half. He was better after halftime, but once again played just one rotation in each half and didn’t return. He played under 19 minutes and not in the fourth quarter or overtime. You’d think given his veteran experience and offensive abilities he’d be on the court late in pressure situations. But Thibodeau has continued to be cautious about Hamilton’s shoulder problems. Hamilton said afterward he felt OK.

The Knicks and Anthony certainly did with Anthony calling it one of the bigger moments of his career, which lets you know how many big games he’s been in. His 43 points, according to Elias Sports, tied Toby Knight in 1978 for the most points a Knick ever has scored against the Bulls. Yes, the amazing Toby Knight, Notre Dame’s own.

“This was a playoff type game,” said Anthony. “We might play these guys in the playoffs if we keep going and getting that seed. So, this was a big statement game for us.

“Overtime, Easter Sunday, everybody’s watching, everybody’s in the Garden, so this ranks as one of the top,” said Anthony.

So this sets up as sort of a playoff series for now with Game 2 Tuesday in the United Center. Though if the Bulls hold onto the top seed, the way things are going in the Eastern Conference and with another bad loss Sunday by the 76ers, the Knicks could move up to seventh. Of course, if the Bulls play many more games like Sunday’s they could be second behind Miami before this is over with nine games to go, five against teams with winning records.

They’re a good team where they fight throughout the whole game,” said Rose of the Knicks. “If we do play them, it will be a fun series.”

The return of Rose is what the team has been waiting for, though there is an expected adjustment. Rose did commit eight turnovers and shot just eight of 26. And while the Knicks aren’t what you’d consider a good defensive team with generally lax coverage, they are very good at stripping the ball. They play more like the Chicago Bears the way they swipe at the ball, which led to 20 Bulls turnovers. But I thought it was less sloppy play than the Knicks aggression when you put the ball down as the Knicks are second in the league in steals.

“They get into the ball (steals), so we were on our heels,” said Thibodeau. “When we started to get aggressive, we were able to come back and got the lead. Then we couldn’t hang on in the end. It was about what we expected (with Rose’s return). Some good, some bad. Handling the ball was a problem for our whole team. We didn’t take care of the ball. Put them in the open floor and because you’re cross matched, they’re going to be open. You’ve got to be ready to handle the pressure. You have to make free throws down the stretch, which we didn’t do. You have to limit their second shots, which we didn’t do. Chandler kept batting the ball out. You get what you deserve.”

The Knicks also presented problems for the Bulls because Stoudemire was out. They play small with Anthony at power forward, which requires Deng to defend him. Because Noah isn’t a scoring threat, the Bulls are limited in taking advantage of the Knicks’s lack of size. I thought one thing they could have done was gone more to Boozer, who was playing well and being defended by Anthony. Boozer had 13 points and 16 rebounds. The Bulls did put Boozer in the high pick and roll with Rose a few times with Noah struggling so badly. But the transition was a problem as with those mismatches Boozer had to at times play a perimeter player like Landry Fields.

The Bulls started Noah on Fields, and Fields got off strong running out as the Bulls had trouble recovering on the defensive cross matches with bigs like Noah trying to find perimeter players. Fields had eight points in the first quarter as the Bulls talked constantly about not having another bad start and were down 17-3 midway through the first quarter.

“When you’re a big the majority of the time you just run to the basket,” said Gibson, who found himself defending Anthony on that regulation tying three. “Against a team like this most of their guys stop at the top of the key, long threes, walking into threes, it’s tough. Having to switch and close out and run them off the line. You want to try to contest the shot and make it tough (with Anthony). I tried to contest it the best I can and he made a tough shot. I felt we should have won. It came down to our defense late. We gave up the late shot, the offensive rebounds, the Tyson Chandler kickouts. We did get away with a lot of open threes. We’ve just got to adjust.”

It also was an unusually stagnant game for the Bulls offense with just 14 assists. Even the one-on-one oriented Knicks had more. So you know there’s something different about the game, and, yes, there had to be some uncertainty with the return of Rose.

Rose admitted he was cautious to start the game and attempted just one shot before leaving after eight minutes. His lack of aggression didn’t help, though it could be expected.

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I was getting my groove back. My wind was OK. Just playing, felt good to be out there. I wasn’t trying to do too much (in the first quarter). I tried to let the game come to me. My teammates did a great job of getting us back into the game. The second half, I tried to be more aggressive. (I was) trying to take off too fast with the ball behind me or trying to be aggressive going to the hole and not cuffing the ball like I normally do (causing turnovers). That comes with time. Hopefully next time we play them turnovers will be down.”

The Bulls also might have taken a look with Jimmy Butler on Anthony as Butler did have some good moments with Anthony before. But I also can see sticking with the regular rotation, especially with the playoffs approaching. And Butler hasn’t been in that regular rotation.

Plus, the Bulls got back into the game relatively quickly against an erratic Knicks bench. Granted, Anthony when he is hot is an elite scorer. But when he went out with about three minutes left in the first quarter, the Bulls stormed back from behind 27-6 to down just 31-19 after one quarter. OK, one bad quarter, 58 percent shooting. You can recover from that, and Boozer was looking the liveliest of the bunch with the most emotion and aggression to the boards. That had to be encouraging, especially when he found Gibson for a slam dunk and three point play with some nice interior passing.

“I don’t think it’s a mental block,” said Korver of the slow Sunday starts. “We haven’t come out well. There is something to that. We’ve got to evaluate and look at how we’re approaching the game. Chances are we’re going to have a couple of these in the playoffs. And you can’t just give up a quarter and expect to win. We’ve got to look at our routines, what we’re doing. We’ve got to have better starts.”

The reserves were again good and began to get the Bulls back into the game with Gibson scoring seven in the second quarter. Noah was still having problems, and even drew a questionable flagrant foul when he merely was just behind the play again in fouling Iman Shumpert, who played some hard, physical defense on Rose.

But Rose closed the half with a nice pick and roll with Boozer as Thibodeau moved Noah out of his usual ballhandling spot and the Bulls closed the half trailing just 53-45.

It was a heck of a comeback from that early deficit and you figured it was just a matter of time before the Bulls overwhelmed the smaller, selfish Knicks.

And it was as Rose began to find the range and stepped into three three pointers in the third quarter. Boozer had a strong tipin of a Deng miss and with a 30-19 quarter the Bulls took a 75-72 lead heading onto the fourth.

Look, this was over.

Their theme song in Madison Square Garden which we heard during those great Bulls/Knicks games of the 90’s was “Go, New York, Go, New York, Go.” And it seemed time for the fans to start leaving and look for Easter eggs instead of a Knicks win.

“I thought we did a decent job on defense once we got the hang of what they were doing,” said Boozer. “But they had too many open looks at the end. They play small. They’ve been successful that way, but we’ve got to do a better job taking advantage of that.”

It looked like the Bulls had as C.J. Watson hit an early three to open the fourth and then the typical Knicks defense saw Smith aggressively overplaying Kyle Korver, bumping and pushing him. Then when the ball swung finally, Smith relaxed in the lane and Korver eased out for a three and the Bulls were rolling, pulling ahead 89-80 after a Rose four point play — a three and foul — with 5:04 left. Rose as he lay on the ground even mimicked Noah’s finger six shooters with Noah not having much chance. It was good times for the Bulls. For a little while, anyway.

“No, I don’t feel like it was a bad day,” Noah finally decided after thinking for a bit when questioned after the game. “Just a tough loss. I know I can play better. I want to be out there more, too.”

After Gibson gave the Bulls a 91-81 lead with 3:45 left in regulation, the Bulls would not score again. There was a Smith open three, an Anthony drive, a couple of Rose turnovers as maybe he was trying to do too much and they were ganging up on him, those four straight missed free throws and then Anthony in a mellow mood. Other than when he began to scream, “This is my house!” after making the three to tie and win the game. Of course, if my house smelled like the Garden does I might not be so proud.

“Give them credit,” said Boozer. “They did a great job coming out and getting a huge lead, but give us credit for fighting back and getting the lead at the end of the game and overtime as well. Usually, we close out games better. We made some mistakes, missed some free throws, some rebounds we could have gotten. And then ‘Melo hit some amazing shots. You’ve got to give him credit. He took some tough shots and made them. That’s a tough one to come up on the short end of. But we look forward to playing them Tuesday. It should be a good game.”

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