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Bulls heading west 6-3 after victory over Charlotte
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 19
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It hasn’t necessarily been artistic or aesthetic, and it’s raised questions and concerns. But the Bulls reach the first marker in their season long NBA marathon in competitive position after Monday’s 86-81 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
“I will take it,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I told our guys that it got choppy out there.”
That’s not my metaphor. But the Bulls did avoid drowning in a sea of misses before Derrick Rose, first with the Bulls leading 78-76 with about two minutes remaining, shrugging off a screen from Joakim Noah and dribbling to about eight feet on the right side to put up an eight footer that banked in. That made it 80-76.
But Gerald Henderson came right back with a three pointer, the Bobcats’ second straight from behind the outer buoy as, like the Pinkertons from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Bulls couldn’t shake those guys and weren’t even quite sure who they were with Jeff Taylor, Jeff Adrien and Josh McRoberts making big fourth quarter plays.
“Sometimes you have to find different ways to win,” said Thibodeau. “We showed a lot of toughness down the stretch.”
Then with about 80 seconds left, Rose, whose shot was barely off much of the game, beat a loose double after a Noah brush screen, drove all the way from the top of the key on the right side across the lane to score with a lefty layup on the left side of the rim for an 82-79 lead.
“I’m going to have games where I shoot great,” said Rose. “I’m going to have games where I miss the majority of my shots. But winning takes care of everything, I’m fine.”
No, these are not your older brother’s Bobcats, and this coach may stay more than a few months as the Bobcats continued to throw counter punches and went right back at the Bulls. Luol Deng made a rare defensive mistake overplaying and losing Henderson on the left wing and then having to foul him from behind for two free throws. That made it 82-81 Bulls with 51.3 seconds left and right there to steal for the surprising Bobcats.
But then came Deng, the savvy pro of the Bulls. He came off a Noah down screen to get the ball on top as Rose casually dribbled up. Deng then handed off to Rose, who went to the left side above the three-point circle as Deng retreated to the right side to watch and wait. Everyone, especially the Bobcats, was eying Rose as he’d scored the last two baskets. And no matter his roller coaster games thus far Rose remains the Bulls last and best option.
Rose jab stepped as Kemba Walker stayed with him and McRoberts stepped up, leaving Noah’s screen. Rose went to his right, back over the Noah screen and passed across court back to Deng with now eight seconds left on the shot clock. Yes, this play had long broken down.
Which is time for veterans and leaders and big time players.
This was not Deng not too long ago.
The 10th season Bulls veteran had long been questioned for his lack of fourth quarter production. Fans and critics measure numbers. But Deng always has been a team first man. He’s been willing to make the play to set up Ben Gordon and then Rose. He’s not the sort of player, anyway, whom you’d isolate to defeat the defender. So he’s prospered best under coaches like Scott Skiles and Thibodeau, who devise team play. But the play was over for now, and now it was about making a play.
Deng got the ball and took one dribble and threw back across to Rose on top of the floor. Rose beat Walker again going left. But McRoberts closed hard, leaving Noah. Rose’s alley was blocked. Every coach at every level says never jump to pass. But there was no other way. Perhaps it’s not fundamentally sound, but Rose isn’t quite your average player. So Rose went up as if to shoot, but was not getting it off this time, he could see. So Rose got both hands on the ball as if making an outlet pass and fired the ball back to Deng, diagonally across court, a Tom Brady laser about 30 feet to Deng above the three-point line on the right wing.
Jeff Taylor, who led the Bobcats off the bench with 20 points, took off running at Deng and looked like he had his shot with 1.5 seconds left on the shot clock. Deng pump faked, dribbled once to his left and launched a three pointer that ripped the net with 27.1 seconds left, and about a half second left on the shot clock, to give the Bulls an 85-81 lead and, basically, the game.
“I’m just glad I had enough time,” said Deng. “I just caught the ball. I saw him close out hard, he went for the pump fake and I had a good look.”
Looking good, Lu.
The Bobcats went back to Henderson on the inbounds after a timeout. But Taj Gibson, with the Bulls uniquely able to switch big men onto guards in these late game situations, got Henderson to come up short for an air ball on a jump shot, which Rose caught and was fouled for the final margin.
It was a narrow escape from a team many have been overlooking, but a win to give the Bulls five wins in a row and a 6-3 record as they finish the first portion of their schedule. They now play six straight on the road in the annual West Coast road trip, not returning to the United Center until Dec. 2.
But after a shaky 1-3 start with big margin losses in Miami and Indiana as well as a shocking collapse in Philadelphia, the Bulls head to the Western Conference, if not at their best, playing well enough to leave doubt of the outcome as they face high scoring, contending teams in the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Clippers in the next week.
The Bulls were led again by Deng with 21 points, the second consecutive and fourth time in the last five games he either was higher scorer or tied. Deng is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds the last three games and four of eight on threes.
“He’s been around for a long time and, as I have said, a big part of your offense is dependent on precision, timing, spacing and the guys working together,” said Thibodeau. “It’s hard to get your timing when you don’t have everybody working together.”
Though he shot just five of 17 for 12 points, Carlos Boozer had a dominant rebounding game with 17 as the Bulls had a 54-44 edge on the boards in a game their interior defense was unusually slow to react. The Bobcats, playing hard defense with mostly a motivated group of role players, had a rare 38-28 edge on the Bulls in points in the paint and 21-11 in second chance points.
Charlotte for the most part outplayed the Bulls, who were fortunate Bobcats top scorer Al Jefferson was out injured and the Bobcats both missed free throws (eight of 16) and didn’t get many as the Bulls had a huge edge making 26 of 31 free throws.
Jimmy Butler had a strong start with 10 first quarter points and a pair of threes. But he finished with 14 points as he had to leave with a Sergeant Hulka injury. He returned later, but was limited and ended with 14. He predicted he’ll be ready for Denver Thursday.
“My toe hurts,” said Butler who apparently hurt it landing awkwardly on a drive. “I could not move like I was fully capable of (when returning), so I didn’t want to make it any worse. (But) I am good to go.”
Rose had 12 points on four of 13 shooting, though he made the big baskets late. He had five assists and I saw at least five wide open jumpers missed by teammates off his penetration and passes as the Bulls shot 36 percent and won.
“It was a tough, hard fought game and I liked that Derrick showed a lot of perseverance,” said Thibodeau. “He had timely buckets late and made some big buckets for us. That was huge. Each game he has gotten better and better. I am good with where he is.”
Kirk Hinrich, though one of five shooting, had seven assists and zero turnovers and made three straight key defensive plays midway through the fourth quarter when with the Bulls hanging on ahead 70-66. Hinrich, forever the defensive spider, first stepped among the big guys to grab a McRoberts miss. Hinrich then fronted and overplayed Henderson, whom the Bobcats were trying to isolate on the wing. Hinrich knocked the pass off Henderson and out of bounds for a turnover. The Bulls now were playing three guards with Rose, Hinrich and Butler, Hinrich drawing the bigger and physical shooting guard or forward, and this time Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Kidd-Gilchrist stationed himself in the right corner. But Hinrich knowing Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t shoot well, leaned toward the middle. The Bobcats ran a pick and roll on the left side with McRoberts screening for Walker. Rose played excellent defense on Walker all game, rarely letting the Bobcats’ lead scorer to get going. Noah came to help as Walker went left in the Bulls rotation. A big man is then supposed to close to get the screener. But McRoberts had an open lane as he got the ball from Walker.
Instead, Hinrich moved over from his right side spot to set his web for McRoberts, getting in front for the charge to keep the Bulls ahead by four points with about five minutes left in the game. Boozer then was fouled and made a pair of free throws to give the Bulls some room with a 72-66 lead and enough to withstand those three Charlotte three pointers in the next three minutes.
In that space, Boozer also had a big tipin follow basket of a Noah miss and then teamed with Noah to split a pair of baskets as each assisted the other, Boozer first with a fast ball quick high/low pass. Noah then got Rose’s dump off pass as Rose was doubled on the pick and roll and found Boozer along the baseline for a reverse layup.
“Jo, he’s back,” said Thibodeau. “He’s playing very well. That’s a big part of our offense. Carlos started out tonight with some tough plays that did not go his way. But then he found a lot of other things to help us win. His rebounding was outstanding and at the end when we needed him most, he made two great plays.”
It would be after a miserable shooting game and early 10-point lead lost and an impressive finish with the Bulls scoring in eight of their last nine possessions after no field goals in the last 7:42 of the third period and scoreless in the last 5:02 of the second period.
The Bulls had led 26-21 after one quarter highlighted by a Deng followup tip dunk slam on a Boozer miss and seemed on the way to a rugged, if not exceptional win, when they took a 33-23 second quarter lead on a Mike Dunleavy three. Dunleavy with two of three three pointers is now 54 percent on threes and fourth in the league.
But the Bobcats (eventually-again-to-be-the-Hornets) overwhelmed the Bulls interior in the second quarter with quick drives that uncharacteristically led to nine of their 11 baskets at the rim in the quarter.
The frazzled, suddenly slow reacting Bulls were outscored 23-14 and trailed 44-40 at halftime with Boozer and Noah a combined two of 14 shooting.
The Bulls regained the lead to start the third quarter, getting on the boards with Noah tipping in a Rose driving miss as the defenders all went toward Rose and Boozer showing that high/low game with Noah for a layup. The Bulls went back ahead 55-48 midway through the quarter. But hush, hush, sweet Charlotte would be turning this into a thriller. The impressive Taylor got a steal and breakaway dunk and his own miss for a score as the Bobcats got within 62-59 going into the fourth quarter with that second long Bulls field goal drought.
This Charlotte team plays hard defense, which is why they cut Tyrus Thomas and don’t use Ben Gordon, the latter having played in just one game this season for the 5-6 Bobcats.
“It was right there for us all night,” said Henderson. “We played hard, but we just didn’t come up with the plays at the end of the game. Defensively, we played well. But they made good plays down the stretch. Rose had (two) drives and Deng got the (big) basket.”
From the guy who not too long ago was one of 18 shooting threes and there were all sorts of concerns.
There are plenty more to come, certainly, as the Bulls cannot say they’ve constructed a bridge over their troubled scoring waters quite yet. Though they are holding teams to 82 per game in this winning streak. But they’re doing enough offensively, and Deng is proving to be a rock even if everyone isn’t quite feeling groovy yet.
“I think every game is going to be a different story and the sign of a good team is finding a way to win,” said Deng. “We have enough weapons that when some guys don’t have it going, other guys can pick it up. The way we found a way to win, we’re going to have to do it again at some point.”
Probably later this week.