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Bulls continue to be offensive in loss to Knicks
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 12
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There was perhaps one offensive possession for the Bulls Wednesday in their 83-78 loss to the New York Knicks that encapsulated the frustration and ineffectiveness that has been this discouraging season.
The Bulls with a little help from their equally underperforming colleagues in short pants from New York had tied the game at 74 with 3:38 left after trailing by 23 points in the third quarter and still by 16 without about 10 minutes left.
“The fight is good,” said the perpetually positive Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Knicks, seemingly jealous of the Bulls 23 turnovers and trying to make the guests not so uncomfortable, gathered themselves a bit after yet another Bulls turnover and went to Amar’e Stoudemire for an 18-footer. Right, I didn’t know he still was in the NBA, either.
“Amar’e’s bucket, which got us a two point lead when we needed a bucket desperately, was probably the biggest shot of the night,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who if you read the local media appears to have a contract that extends only by the play.
That put the Knicks ahead 76-74 with 2:34 left in a low scoring game in which there wasn’t that much defense played. The Bulls big chance came next when they got Mike Dunleavy coming pretty open off a down screen for a three pointer that missed.
“I thought Mike had a clean look that would have put us up one,” noted Thibodeau. “It didn’t go down. You can live with that.”
Dunleavy once again, as he did in Tuesday’s loss to the Bucks, kept the Bulls in the game with 20 points, though on seven of 24 shooting.
J.R. Smith missed a long, quick three. But Marquis Teague, playing in the backcourt for the depleted Bulls along with Kirk Hinrich, saw a lane open to the basket and drove. The Knicks dropped back and Teague missed badly on a reverse.
Carmelo Anthony, defended by Taj Gibson with Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler still out with injuries, was fouled. Anthony, who was mostly defended earlier by rookie Tony Snell, led the Knicks with 30 points and 10 rebounds. He made both free throws for a 78-74 Knicks lead with 1:29 left. The Bulls still had a chance, especially in this game the way both teams went long stretches without scoring and inventing new ways to give up the ball.
Kirk Hinrich, meanwhile, is having a career nightmare, likely the worst stretch of his 11 seasons as he continues to be stretched thin with Derrick Rose out, Teague ineffective and Mike James hurt. Yahoo Sports Wednesday reported the Bulls later this week are expected to add former Bobcats, Pacers and Raptors point guard D.J. Augustin. Though until then Hinrich dribbles on. In the last three games averaging just under 40 minutes per game, Hinrich is shooting four of 31 and three of 16 on threes. Yet, he continues to throw himself into defensive possessions and helped limit the Knicks guards to four of 17 shooting.
The problem in these Bulls possessions is nobody much seems to want to shoot. Not that there was much choice with Hinrich, Teague, Dunleavy, Joakim Noah back from injury, and Taj Gibson on the floor.
Dunleavy inbounded to Noah, who handed back to Teague. Teague actually played a bit better than he had been with a driving basket and finish a bit earlier in the fourth quarter. But it’s difficult to recall the last time he made a jump shot. So he fired to Hinrich on the right side and Hinrich made that drive around the right corner coming along the baseline like he did at the close of the Bucks game when he passed on the shot and threw to Carlos Boozer, who fumbled the ball away.
This time Hinrich lost the ball as he stopped and came back. He dived on the floor and batted the ball toward a supine Gibson, who swatted the ball out of bounds. The Knicks watched Anthony dribble a bunch and then miss with 53 seconds left.
Ok, the Bulls had to do it now still trailing 78-74.
And here came that possession that has defined a Bulls team that, at least now, ranks as the poorest offensively since 2001. That was the last time the Bulls went three consecutive games failing to reach 80 points. Overall, the Bulls have scored fewer than 20 points in seven of the last 10 quarters.
Noah rebounded and threw ahead to Hinrich.
Give the Bulls this: They were hustling and still running despite having to play so much and so long and with so little help. They were going to the floor for loose balls and fighting over screens. But defense and rebounding doesn’t add any points to the total.
Dunleavy is regarded more as a catch and shoot scorer. But with Rose, Deng and Butler out, Dunleavy has basically emerged as the lone offensive option.
Hinrich pitched to Dunleavy in the right corner. But the Knicks were defending him.
The Knicks aren’t the cleverest bunch. But they did figure out to stay with Dunleavy. In the first quarter as the Bulls led 17-15, Dunleavy either scored or assisted on 13 of the points.
But noticing the Bulls not only weren’t making outside shots or even preferring to take them, the Knicks as the Bucks did basically sunk into the lane and invited the Bulls players to shoot. It’s also why the turnover numbers remained astronomical and are difficult to remedy for now.
If you cannot make shots or pose a threat to, then the defense sags back into the lane. That closes off passing lanes and reduces the spacing. The Bulls are a good passing team and always looking for the extra pass, the interior pass, the backdoor. But with five defenders basically inside, there’s little room to get a pass through and lots of ways to create turnovers. The postups for Gibson and Carlos Boozer, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds, are thus also clogged. And there isn’t always a lot of active movement to spread the defense, not that they’re biting that someone might actually make a long shot.
Dunleavy bounced the ball out to Noah in the post area at the foul line extended right. Hinrich cut across, basically exchanging places with Teague. Noah threw to Hinrich on his left. Teague remained standing as the Bulls with the middle closed did a lot of that, not unlike commuters waiting for a taxicab. Noah moved left to screen for Hinrich, who dribbled around Noah and down the right side of the lane. The Knicks closed and Hinrich came out the other side along the baseline, still not looking to shoot and with basically no one spotting up. Dunleavy tried to set a screen for Hinrich. But Dunleavy slipped and fell. The shot clock, as the Bulls run into this conundrum often, was now down to five seconds. Hinrich went to pick up his dribble and fumbled the ball. It rolled toward Dunleavy, who retrieved it and went up as the 24-second clock went. He heaved up a shot put effort short. Now it was Knicks ball with 27 seconds left and a four-point lead and basically game over.
Yes, that was two straight last minute possessions in which not only did the Bulls commit two turnovers, but no one even got a shot off.
There was an odor emanating and it wasn’t only from being near the subway.
The Bulls, 8-12 and two and a half games ahead of New York for 14th in the Eastern Conference, in back to back nights lost to the teams with the two poorest records in the Eastern Conference. Of course, they have also beaten the only two teams in the Eastern Conference with winning records, Indiana and Miami.
“I think that we showed some fight tonight,” said Noah. “We just got to stick together as a team. We’ve been losing a lot of tough games right now, but we can’t pout. We have to stick together through the hard times. We’ve got some guys coming back. Keep grinding and I know this is going to turn around. It’s tough. Losing sucks. We’ve been through a lot this year. A lot of adversity. But I think that we have a positive group. You can’t get too down on yourself. We’ve just got to move on to the next game. As guys come back, as guys understand what their roles are, our team will be a lot better.”
It has been perhaps the most frustrating and ineffective stretch of basketball for the Bulls in more than a decade with the loss of Rose, multiple injuries, a vanishing offense and a series of last second losses.
It’s possible Deng plays when the Bulls are in Milwaukee Friday and perhaps Butler a game or two after. Noah, who had 12 points,11 rebounds and three blocks, suffered a slightly sprained ankle during the game and the hope is he isn’t hurt again.
The rotation is down to about seven players with Nazr Mohammed and Erik Murphy getting in for a few minutes, and the games keep marching on with a back to back Friday and Saturday ending a four games in five stretch. Then there is a back to back set on the road next week with two of the league’s best teams, the Rockets and Thunder. The following week the Bulls open the NBA’s Christmas Day playing in Brooklyn.
“We just have to get guys back healthy,” said Gibson, who has cooled from his hot five-game scoring streak of 20-point games with 12 points on just six shots. “Having Luol and Jimmy out is real tough right now. I am guarding threes. I am guarding twos. I am even playing the three spot (on offense) at times. It’s kind of awkward, but we’re trying to find ways to win.”
“I think if we play like that – the way we played in the fourth – things would be a lot better,” Gibson added. “But it’s still tough and we have to get guys back healthy. It’s a big difference missing those two guys.”
The Bulls showed some life in that wild fourth quarter, actually getting into the game late in the third quarter with four straight New York turnovers, one when Dunleavy cleverly stole the ball from Stoudemire as Stoudemire was for some reason just watching it roll into the back court on a violation. Dunleavy went in to score and Hinrich followed with a strip and score as the Bulls finished off a 13-4 run to get within 68-54 at the end of three.
After the Bulls led 17-15 after one quarter, they gave this game away in the second quarter missing 11 straight shots that enabled the Knicks to score 19 straight points and lead 46-32 at halftime. It was a tough time for Snell trying to defend Anthony and also shooting 10 of 33 the last three games. The Bulls, meanwhile, were resuscitating careers as Stoudemire had season highs in points and rebounds with 14 and nine, and ground based Kenyon Martin actually had three blocks in one brutal Bulls possession late in the second quarter. Though the Bulls couldn’t help the bewildered Iman Shumpert, who was scoreless as a starter for the third time in the last nine games. Sure, the Knicks ought to be able to trade him for a lot.
The Bulls again treated the third quarter like another one of my stories about the time I dunked on a six-foot rim. They pretty much tuned out and the Knicks sort of started laughing at them, Smith making a 360-degree move on a drive and throwing a look away pass to Andrea Bargnani for a dunk. Card tricks, anyone? How does that lady change those clothes? Though she does look chunkier earlier in the show. Pretty soon the Knicks led 64-41 midway through the third quarter and you wondered what Dragan Tarlac and Kornel David were making of all this.
And even with that Knicks semi-meltdown late in the third, it still didn’t look like a game with the Bulls shooting 31.6 percent through three quarters and the Knicks turning two more Bulls turnovers (24 points overall) into baskets for a 72-56 lead with 9:55 left in the game. Certainly, even at 5-15 coming in the Knicks could protect that lead against the Bulls. Surely they would?
“We got comfortable with the lead and started throwing the ball all over the gym,” said Woodson. “And they got excited with their defense because they were causing us to throw it away and they got back in the game before you knew it.”
Hinrich made a pull up three and was decent enough not to ask for the ball.
Teague drove and was fouled and made a pair of free throws, and coming out of a timeout, the Bulls went into a full court trap and caused a turnover. It was pretty impressive in itself with the same five players in most of the game and now trapping all over the court. Perhaps you don’t give them credit for excellence; but you can’t deny their competitiveness and commitment.
Dunleavy missed a wide open drive and Noah missed the follow. But the Knicks were in back page tabloid meltdown, seemingly imagining the headline, like Brick of Time.
But Dunleavy came back with a pull up three to get the Bulls within 72-64 with 6:59 left. Goofy J.R. Smith then threw a screening Hinrich into the shooter for a foul and was yanked out by Woodson. If he’s going, he’s going his way.
Noah threw a beautiful lob pass to Gibson for a dunk and then blocked an Anthony shot. Hinrich made a terrific inbounds pass to a cutting Gibson, who was fouled and made both to cut the New York lead to 72-68 with 6:22 left as the Knicks were going four minutes without a point. Someone appeared to have stolen the Bulls play book.
Anthony isolated and made a tough shot over Gibson, who continued to play good position. But the Knicks committed turnovers on two of their next three possessions around an Anthony miss while Teague made that driving score, Hirnich was fouled on a drive and made both and Noah completed a strong possession with a tip in after Hinrich, Gibson and Teague missed and the Bulls cleaned up each time.
But in the end, as furious and fearless as they were on defense, that’s how mostly inept and incomplete they Bulls were on offense as after tying the game with 3:38 left the Bulls didn’t score again until there was 10.8 seconds left and they trailed by seven points.
“Part of the problem is we have a lot of moving parts so we have guys who are not used to playing with each other,” said Thibodeau. “But we can’t use that as an excuse.”