Previous ArticlesBulls have another unlikely opening night story
Rose healthy, but Bulls lose opener in Miami
by Sam Smith
Posted on Oct 30
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Derrick Rose Tuesday in his first official NBA game in 18 months since reconstructive knee surgery shot four of 15 with one of seven on threes, added four assists but five turnovers in a 107-95 loss to the Miami Heat in which the Bulls trailed by 25 points in the fourth quarter.
“If anything I’m disappointed in the loss,” said Rose, who flew most of his family to the game, including his young son and rented out several suites in the American Airlines Arena.
“My performance, I can easily change that by making shots and turning down the turnovers,” Rose continued. “It’s something we can learn from. It’s not the end of the world; it’s not the playoffs where we’re going to be eliminated. We can fix things. A learning experience. Tonight we did not show what we were capable of.
“Of course I would want it to be (a breakout game),” Rose said about the national attention focused on his comeback and against the champion Miami Heat after they received their championship rings in a pregame ceremony. “If I thought I was going to have a 50-point, 60-point night, that’s something you think about. But you have to be realistic. For me I wouldn’t want it any other way. I know I work hard enough where I’m going to have a breakthrough game.”
Rose will. There seems no doubt his knee is sound, and he even seemed surprised when a reporter asked about it following the game.
But this was a little like the Y2K night in 1999 when the world was supposed to come to an end. Certainly, the Maya never would have predicted this.
That’s all? That’s it? We waited more than a year for that game?
All that talk about this game and that performance?
Though Rose showed in an 8-0 preseason averaging more than 20 points per game that he and his knee were healthy, this was what everyone has been anticipating for more than a year. Especially Rose. And even better the way the theatrical NBA set it up against the rival Miami Heat on ring night. Conference finals preview? MVP candidate faceoff? Changing of the guards?
President Barack Obama on his Twitter account before the game offered: “Welcome back @DRose. #BullsNation.”
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 29, 2013
The State of the Bulls for this night, however, was not strong. Bulls nation was in recession.
Because the Heat, in a balanced game with seven players in double figures led by LeBron James with 17 points, trapped and pressured Rose on every possession. The Bulls failed to respond appropriately and offered up 13 turnovers in the first half, missed nine of 11 threes by halftime, saw their famed defense blitzed for 37 second quarter points, gave up easy penetration and stood around as the Heat seemed to toy with them in taking a 54-33 halftime lead.
“No excuses,” said Joakim Noah, who played 20 minutes easing back from a preseason groin strain with two points and 11 rebounds. “They kicked our (butts) tonight. We’ll be back. It’s a long journey. There is a lot of basketball to be played. Obviously, we want to beat those guys. They were better than us today. We realize we have a lot of work to do. And we’re going to do it. I really believe in this team more than ever. I’m going to play better; our offense is going to get better. We feel like we’re capable of playing a lot better.”
Actually, there were some excuses.
Both Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler, the latter with a strong second half that gave him 20 points for the game, were both in early foul trouble. Deng got a third late in the first quarter and had to sit out the entire second quarter when the game caved in on the Bulls. Butler picked up a third early in the second quarter, and Miami then carved up the Bulls as the Bulls had to go with big guys, who had trouble getting out to Miami’s shooters, and slow guys, who just had trouble. The Heat went on to hit five threes in the quarter to break the game open as the Bulls shooting was brutally poor. Those were the guys you wanted for your firing squad.
Coach Tom Thibodeau declined to discuss the officiating. But Deng said it did have an effect, though the Bulls could have dealt with it better.
“I don’t think we got the best whistle throughout the whole game,” said Deng, who never got going and finished with four points and was zero for five on threes. “I thought two of my four fouls were not fouls at all. The refs even said that when I asked them. But it happens sometimes. Today, it just didn’t go our way. I don’t want to say anything negative or bad about the refs. They’re trying to do a good job out there. I don’t think they’re favoring one side. They’re humans and I felt tonight they missed some calls on us.
“It affected me a lot staying out the whole second quarter,” Deng admitted. “I usually don’t sit out for that long. And then coming back in the third quarter, I tried to be more aggressive. I didn’t do a good job of handling (the fouls). I just had no rhythm and wasn’t as aggressive as I wanted to be after that watching my fouls. I felt my foul trouble affected us in the second quarter. Normally I play with the second unit. That second quarter was awful on our part.”
There were some positives.
Carlos Boozer had one of his best games as a Bull with 31 points and seven rebounds in just over 32 minutes, constantly powering inside and past the Heat defenders. Butler had that 17-point second half and Mike Dunleavy added 10 points in the second half after a brutal first half. Kirk Hinrich after sitting out the last week of games with a concussion fouled out in 29 rugged minutes. And Taj Gibson was solid with 10 points and eight rebounds and three assists.
But ball movement was a problem as the Bulls seemed shocked by Miami’s tactics, though Rose often saw them before being injured and the Heat always traps the pick and rolls in their defense. The Bulls simply had a brain lock in failing to move the ball quickly and then swing to the other side as Rose was high with four assists.
“They were double teaming, putting two on the ball,” said Rose. “From there you just have to play easy basketball, and it takes me making shots. I don’t think I forced anything; I just couldn’t knock down any shots. I don’t think it was any rust. If anything I have amnesia about it and we play in two nights. I think everyone in the league is just going to try double teaming now. As a team we have to work around it and make the game easy.”
But if the Bulls offense was sloppy, the defense was uncertain.
“We were a little stagnant offensively,” agreed Noah. “Defensively, we did not do very well, either.”
You know, the offense was poor, but the defense was bad.
They did look good in their new pregame sweats, though.
The Bulls defense relies, obviously, on helping as they push the screens to the baseline and sagging into the lane. But Miami did a wonderful job of moving the ball, beating defenders off the dribble and then pitching out to shooters. Rose had difficulties containing both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, though his help was often lax when he forced the dribbler baseline. And he got in trouble with his jump passes as Heat defenders anticipated well. Too often Bulls defenders raced out to cover the three point line, only to have the Heat player fake and get inside, breaking down the defense constantly. Even Ray Allen in slow motion garnered seven assists in driving and pitching out.
“It really was our defense in the second quarter,” said Thibodeau. “We gave up 37. We could score in the second half, but in the second half we continued not to get stops. We have to make plays for each other. The ball has to move. The problem with (Deng’s foul trouble) it was also coupled with Jimmy being off. Luol was out of rhythm because of being on the bench. You still have to have the ability to work through it. That’s something we can do a lot better. They’re obviously a very good team, the two time defending champion. I thought they were very, very physical. You have to match that. When they’re grabbing and holding you have to be able to withstand that.”
But this was a game more that the Heat grabbed a hold of and the Bulls were sliding down a greased pole.
Though the Bulls actually led early 9-2 as Rose scored the team’s first basket with a full length drive and another to go up seven shortly afterward, this was a somewhat untypical Bulls effort against Miami.
The Bulls tend to be frothing, but in a good way, in these Miami games. But it seemed to be a tired Bulls team without the energy you’d normally expect not only from a debut game but one against the supposedly hated Heat. There were no technicals or really hard fouls, not that anyone is preaching violence. But that spirit you often see with the Bulls in these sorts of games wasn’t there. The obvious excuse was perhaps the late start as the Bulls remained in their locker room as the Heat players received their championship rings from NBA commissioner David Stern in his last such ceremony as he’s retiring later this season.
But it was the Bulls who looked remorseful.
The Bulls, nevertheless, held onto the lead most of the first quarter with Boozer barreling inside and Noah snatching five rebounds. The Heat nosed ahead late to finish the first quarter leading 17-15. But it seemed like one of those Bulls/Heat games James talked about before the game in discussing the Bulls.
“It don’t matter who they put on the floor,” James said. “You’re going to get a battle with them. No matter if it’s no Derrick, no Booz, no Luol, no Joakim, no Taj, no Butler, it doesn’t matter. No matter who they put on the floor, Thibs is going to make sure those guys compete. We know that. We don’t take them lightly no matter who is in uniform.”
But that Bulls team left early.
Certainly, the foul trouble made a difference, and Thibodeau gambled leaving Deng and then Butler in with two fouls, though Thibodeau clearly was worried about letting the game slip and also knowing Deng doesn’t get called for fouls often. By the time he got them back in after halftime, it was another ugly Florida sinkhole.
“Me and Jimmy can’t sit out at the same time, especially in the second quarter and especially against this team,” said Deng. “But it’s just how the whistle went. Got to just move onto the next one, fire up and get back to it.”
Actually, it was not a depressed Bulls locker room. Sometimes being beaten so badly does that. But it’s also the first game and that one of 82 thing got a good workout in post game comments. It is a professional group and they did cut it to eight with 2:46 left on a Boozer drive, though you just never had the feeling the Bulls had it in them for a big move or surprise in this game.
“Very disappointed in how I played, disappointed in how we played,” said Deng. “Just have to stay positive and know there is 82 games and our goal is bigger than this one game. They won tonight; it’s a new season. We look forward to the rest of the season and seeing them again. Just got to be mature and realize our goal is bigger than this. We’ve just got to be upset ‘til 12 at night. Be back in the gym tomorrow morning, It’s a new day. Our goal is way bigger than this and we’re not just going to drop it after one game. It’s a long season.”
Though it made for a long night the way the Heat blew out in the second quarter with a 17-0 run.
“The second quarter when Lu and Jimmy went out. That’s something you can’t think of going into a game. We didn’t adjust right,” said Rose. “And we can only learn from it and I think this will only help us as a team.”
Rookie Tony Snell was rushed in with Dunleavy struggling on defense early and then Deng and Butler out. And suddenly he’s defending James, who was pushing him into any position he wanted. Snell hung in well, but James in your first NBA game trying to fight back from 20 down is not ideal.
“A learning experience,” said Snell, “and trying to do the things Jimmy and Lu do.” Other than the fouls.
Boozer continued to pound the rock in keeping the Bulls in the same zip code late in the second quarter as the Bulls seemed fortunate to be down just 21 at halftime. They recovered some in the third quarter with Deng and Butler back, though more trading baskets. Being too careful with fouls? Perhaps. But the urgency seemed lacking as Chalmers and Cole made things uncomfortable for a growing frustrated Rose, who would gather his teammates in a huddle near center court when it was over for some encouragement about looking forward and not back.
Rose doesn’t admit such things, but his expression throughout the game suggested a player who really wanted this, perhaps going too hard at times.
The usually indifferent Miami fan home gathering, many of whom were off early again to the beach parties like in the early departures last June from the Game 6 Finals comeback, got a scare again as Dunleavy finally found the range and Butler busted inside and began getting to the line and in the passing lanes with five steals. But eight points would be the closest as Shane Battier with four of four threes and Dwyane Wade with 13 points added threes to close a very untypical and not particularly dramatic Bulls/Heat game.
Sometimes, as these things can go, the buildup and anticipation much exceeded the reality.
So these Bulls aren’t quite ready for Miami yet.
But Rose does seem healthy, which was the goal of the early part of the season after he missed all of last season. The things the Bulls know they can do better, like ball movement and tighter defense, can be remedied.
Noah clearly was out of sorts with all the time off and Deng was distracted by the fouls. It wasn’t a game for Nazr Mohammed the way Miami plays small with all the shooters. The Bulls know they need to outrebound Miami by double figures, and it was just 41-40. They don’t win those games.
And so the Bulls move on to host New York Thursday in yet another Rose first, his initial home game with new ligaments. But the Bulls also come home with a lesson of sorts, which isn’t all bad even as they’re now tied for last in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps they’re not as good as advertised and a bit more work will get them there. Even one loss. As Thibodeau likes to say, the games will tell you what you need to do.
But, hey, the 1991 champion Bulls began the season 0-3.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Rose. “This will be easily forgotten. We have the whole season to make a statement. For us it’s building every game. We know we have a special team; we know we work hard. It’s just us jelling and getting our chemistry.”