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Bulls lose to Hornets without Anthony Davis
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 4
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In many respects, it was a wonderful game for the Bulls Saturday night, though they lost 89-82 to the New Orleans Hornets. Yes, losing is not so wonderful, even if they still are 2-1.
But I thought they competed hard, getting 15 offensive rebounds to nine for the Hornets. The Bulls led with 11 steals, had fewer turnovers with a season low 12, scored more points in the paint, second chance points and fast break points. Though coach Tom Thibodeau and I differed on this somewhat, I thought it was a very competitive effort.
The Bulls did a lot of good things. Other than put the ball in the basket very often, which I will admit is very important in basketball.
After shooting 63.8 percent in routing Cleveland Friday night, the Bulls Saturday made just a third of their shots and just 26 percent after halftime to lose at home to the team with the poorest record in the Western Conference last season and missing its two top players, rookie No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis and big money free agent Eric Gordon.
“I thought they missed a lot of shots,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said of the Bulls. “(Luol) Deng missed a lot of shots he normally makes (six of 15, but no jumpers). (Carlos) Boozer certainly wasn’t himself tonight (one of eight and sitting out the fourth quarter along with starters Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich). Yeah, we played pretty tough defense. But they didn’t knock down the shots they knocked down last night. I thought they got too many possessions where they got the ball back (after misses).”
Thibodeau had his objections to the Bulls’ performance, and he was right. They missed too many layups, often on breaks, by not going up strong enough or into the defense and the Hornets’ superior size. They dug an early hole, falling behind 16-6, though I thought more because they were trying to take advantage of the matchup with rookie Austin Rivers against Richard Hamilton and got a bit selfish and out of position in transition. And after regaining control of the game ahead 44-37 late in the second quarter despite the horrific shooting—and most were pretty good open looks—Nate Robinson got himself out of control taking a couple of wild shots and losing Greivis Vasquez, who made back to back threes to give the Hornets a 46-44 halftime lead.
“We took the lead and they went on a 9-0 run to end the second quarter,” noted Thibodeau. “That really did change the game. There are four parts of the game we talk about you always have to take care of: The first five minutes of the game, the last five minutes of the second quarter, the first five minutes of the second half and the last five minutes of the game. We failed in the first five and the last five of the second quarter. And that really was the game. We were chasing (from behind) the whole second half and it was tough on us.”
All true, though this game perhaps more than the first two represented the essence of this Bulls team that will make it both an interesting and perhaps excruciating season.
There really isn’t that great, go to scorer.
Yes, everyone knows.
There will be games, like in the first two, where Boozer or Hamilton gets going, Deng as well as he led the Bulls Saturday with 19 points despite still not seeing his jump shot fall.
But this has to be a team that plays almost perfectly in tandem with one another without an MVP scorer like Derrick Rose. As badly as they shot Saturday, they really weren’t that far away. Marco Belinelli, who had his best game as a Bull with 13 points against his former team, had an open look at a three with 53.5 seconds left to bring the Bulls within one.
It was off, and the Hornets made all their foul shots the rest of the way to get the great win for them.
Thibodeau, of course, was disappointed since he, like most coaches, look at what else the team could have done to succeed. And so did his players.
“Tough day at the office,” said Joakim Noah, who had 11 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks. “We got our (butts) kicked. They outplayed us. They were way more on edge than us. It’s unfortunate because it was a good opportunity to go 3-0. But, on to the next one: Three games in, 79 more to go.”
“We got outhustled,” said Taj Gibson, who had 12 points, five rebounds (three offensive) and three blocks. “They were physical from the start of the game. They set the tone right away. Any given night, guys can step up even if their top players are down. It shows. You can’t sleep on anybody. We missed a lot of key layups. A lot of easy layups, including myself. Thibs said you’ve got everyone telling you how good you are and praising you and you get knocked on your tail. That’s thing about this league. You can’t get comfortable with any team or any game. There’s always someone looking to knock you down. We feel like we dropped the ball tonight.”
“The start of the game set the tone for the game,” said Thibodeau. “We were back on our heels. They got an early lead. I thought their big guys hurt us. The thing about shooting, that doesn’t bother me. Obviously you want to make more shots. If you are taking your shot and you are missing your shot, you can live with that. The thing that bothered me was our approach to defensive transition. When you are not shooting well, you cannot allow that to sap your energy in terms of get back and set your defense. I thought our rebounding was poor in the second half and we missed a lot of layups. They had something to do with it. They played very well, they played hard. They are athletic and they have size at the rim. We have to take the ball a lot stronger to the basket.”
I agree there were times the Bulls didn’t power into the rim, and there were times they maybe didn’t get back quite as perfectly as usual. But these are not players who mail in a game, who ever really lack effort. Right down to the last seconds they were forcing a turnover with 20.9 seconds left and down five that gave Robinson a three he missed to effectively end it. They hammered at the boards, clawing back in the fourth quarter with five offensive rebounds, a pair of steals and three blocks.
But in trying to find someone to score, Thibodeau sat Hinrich, Hamilton and Boozer in the fourth quarter as they finished a combined four of 26. A gassed Deng and Noah played just about the entire fourth and were a combined one of five shooting.
Robinson was four of 11 in the fourth quarter alone. The entire team attempted 22 fourth quarter shots.
“We were just searching, trying to get some energy out there,” Thibodeau said about playing Robinson, Belinelli and Gibson the entire fourth quarter. “I just felt we were flat. I thought that group was playing with energy. The nights you are not shooting well, there are many other things you can do to help your team win the game. That is the mindset I want us to have. If we fought a little bit harder in the fourth quarter, we could have changed it.”
They were fighting. There just isn’t reserve in their tank without Rose.
It’s OK. That’s who they are. They are a team that has to play together and play well, get easy baskets and hope at least two guys are making shots. They’ll have a lot of close, low scoring games. Because they play so hard, generally smart and are serious minded, they’ll be in just about all their games. Some super talented teams might take them out. But they’ll generally be there at the end. But there will be games like Saturday’s where there just isn’t anyone who can bail them out of a bad night.
It’s what the great stars do, and he’s still getting ready.
It was a disappointing start for the fans as the Hornets were without Chicagoan Davis, the exciting rookie who sustained a mild concussion in Friday’s home win over Utah and stayed home in his team’s only trip back to Chicago this season. If Davis was upset, no one knew. But Williams was as before the game he curiously condemned the league’s conservative policy on concussions, which came about with the recent controversies regarding football and hockey players.
“When you’re dealing with the brain, I guess what’s happening in football has impacted everybody,” Williams said before the game. “He got touched up a little bit last night. That happens a lot in basketball. It’s just that now they treat everybody like they have white gloves and pink drawers and it’s getting old. It’s just the way the league is now. It’s a man’s game. They’re treating these guys like they’re 5 years old. He desperately wanted to come, but he couldn’t make it. I’m not saying I don’t like it. We’ve got to protect our players, but I think the players should have more say-so about how they feel. I’m sure I had four or five concussions when I played and it didn’t bother me. I think the NBA is doing what’s necessary to protect the players, but this is not the NFL. You don’t get hit in the head that much. So, I understand it, but as a coach, I’m a baby about it. I want my guys ready to play, so that’s basically the bottom line.”
Tough guy. Actually, Williams is and one of the best young coaches in the league. Even last season as his team was overmatched, they were known to defend hard and never quit competing. So it’s been little surprise to many they play as hard as they do even if the wins weren’t expected.
Though Rivers hasn’t shot well and seems to have an unusual shot with a lot of his hand on the ball, he is very quick on the dribble and scored early against Hamilton. The Bulls tried to go back with Hamilton at the rookie, but the Hornets’ big men helped well, forcing the Bulls into four turnovers in the first three minutes of the game. The Hornets got some runouts as a result, upsetting Thibodeau about the transition, and that early lead.
Though it was worse as the Bulls’ shots were clanging off even though often open as they still did the things they do well, like moving the ball. They had 21 assists on their meager 29 baskets and still went to the free throw line 25 times, though Thibodeau felt they shied away at the rim on fast breaks a bit too much at times, which was true.
But the matchups with the Hornets also proved troublesome as Ryan Anderson had 12 points and 13 rebounds and Robin Lopez 16 points and four blocks.
It might have been a game to use Gibson more early, though Boozer has been scoring well and the Bulls desperately need his scoring. But with the Hornets having the so called “stretch four” with the three point shooting Anderson, the Bulls had to put the quicker Noah on the 6-10 Anderson.
That left Boozer inside on Lopez, who is seven foot and was able to make several short jump shots easily over Boozer. I’d admit I’ve never seen this Lopez make jump shots, so it was a surprise to me as well as the Bulls, I’d guess.
“It’s tough because when they have a stretch shooter in Ryan Anderson, it’s harder to set your rotations,” agreed Noah. “Even if he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from three tonight (one of seven thanks to Noah), his presence on the court makes it difficult. Robin played great tonight. Jason (Smith, seven-foot reserve) played great tonight. You have to give credit when credit is due. We didn’t play our best basketball tonight. We need to play better, no question.”
The Bulls are going to be smaller than many teams as Thibodeau doesn’t use Nazr Mohammed that much given he doesn’t rotate as quickly. The Bulls big men of Noah and Gibson may be the best in the league at switching and taking even guards and holding them off. Thibodeau’s defenses rely on a lot of help, and it’s not a strong element for Mohammed, who played just four minutes.
Still, the Bulls handled themselves well on the boards, outrebounded 44-41 but dominating the offensive boards as the Bulls had 13 more shots. And still made three fewer baskets.
Yes, they did most everything but the little thing of seeing the ball go through the netting.
“It’s disappointing,” said Hinrich. “Obviously, the shots did not go in. We still had our chances. Give them credit. It was a hard fought game and they got the better of us tonight. Early on we might have forced things a little. Struggling offensively, we have to rely on eachother and I don’t know if we did the best at that tonight. I thought the guys played hard; we just didn’t play as well tonight. Our transition defense maybe was not as good as it could have been. And there’s a natural tendency when a team is struggling to do what you can do to help the team.”
This is where the Bulls see the good Nate and bad Nate.
Thibodeau went to him like for a hard thrower out of the bullpen. He made some impressive plays and had five rebounds and three steals and a couple of daring full court dashes for baskets. But he is one of those who will try to make the hero shots and dribble too much into his own offense. It is difficult to avoid when losing, but also something Thibodeau asks the team to stay away from doing.
Robinson, though, did give the Bulls that boost coming in along with Belinelli, who got the Bulls within 21-18 after one with a runout slam dunk and three. Belinelli was then pumped up with a flying fist when he made another three along with Robinson and Noah fast break scores in the second quarter as the Bulls took that 44-37 lead.
“So bad I wanted this game,” said Belinelli about playing against his former team. “(I) feel bad now. (It is) finally different between now and the preseason (when he shot poorly). I want to come in and be aggressive. Everybody wants to play well against your old team. I’m mad we lost this game. We missed a lot of layups. We didn’t play well.”
The layups do stand out as the Bulls were denied at least a half dozen times at the rim. Thibodeau didn’t like the occasional looking for fouls that weren’t called and the Hornets taking advantage and running. That sort of thing is unusual for this Bulls team. And the Bulls this season have been doing well attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. I thought they still were aggressive, though sometimes not completing their move.
That close of the second quarter turned out fatal.
After halftime, they looked to Deng inside for a mismatch against Al-Faroug Aminu, Deng sealing a few times and getting a pair of scores. But the Hornets big men adjusted with help well, and the Bulls could not make shots still as Hinrich, Hamilton and Boozer combined for three of 14 in the third and the team 25 percent overall. Even with that, the Hornets led just 66-60 going into the fourth quarter.
Vasquez, who led the Hornets with 18 points, hit a pair of jumpers early in the fourth to hold off the Bulls as they tried to make a run with a Robinson pull up, Gibson with a strong post move and Noah and Robinson keeping plays going with blocks and steals. But the Bulls also got burned a few times by Jason Smith as the Hornets isolated on the smaller Robinson. Noah came to help and the backside protection was late, enabling Smith to get six points in about two minutes midway through the fourth to hold off the scrambling Bulls.
By now, Thibodeau had seen enough of much of the starting lineup and decided to run it out with Belinelli, Gibson and Robinson with Noah and Deng playing the entire fourth.
They couldn’t muster even 30 percent shooting combined and the closest the Bulls got was down four with that Belinelli three in the last minute. You sensed it wasn’t going to go the way little did.
“I thought the intentions were good by everybody,” said Thibodeau. “But you have to do it as a team. You can’t do it individually. One of the things that we have done well up to this point is that we made the officials make calls. I thought we did a lot of flipping tonight instead of attacking. When you are missing layups, complaining to officials or jogging back, that’s something you have to guard against. We’re capable of doing a lot better than we did tonight.”
Though I suspect we’ll see more of these in the nights to come. It’s been said if you look for perfection you’ll never be content. But don’t ask Thibs to stop trying.