Previous ArticlesBulls again find it's no vacation in Cleveland
Pelicans win triple overtimer over the Bulls
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 3
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The chances were there; they thought they’d make it.
There was Luol Deng, with 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, trying a pick and roll pass to Joakim Noah at the buzzer in regulation after Jrue Holiday tied the game with an 18-footer with 3.9 seconds remaining. Deng’s pass did not connect.
There was Deng again at the close of the first overtime after Eric Gordon tied it with a three with 10.2 seconds left, waving off a Noah screen, driving right and losing the ball to Kirk Hinrich, whose rushed 20 footer came up short.
There was Deng in the second overtime after the Bulls had trailed by five with two minutes remaining, sealing Al-Farouq Aminu and taking an inbounds pass from Hinrich for a layup to tie the game at 122 with 4.7 seconds left before a last, desperate Pelicans miss.
And then there was Mike Dunleavy after a driving Holiday three-point play to untie the game with 2.6 seconds left coming up short with a tying three, the Pelicans beating the Bulls in something of a perfect storm of a triple overtime game, 131-128.
It was exciting and thrilling, 23 lead changes and 15 ties, no more than three points separating the teams except for about a minute in the second overtime from the end of the third quarter.
It was wonderful theater with moments of euphoria followed by despair. It was the best of an NBA season in the brilliant plays and the worst, at least for the home team, in the loss after doing so much for so long, five Bulls players with either career highs or season highs in minutes played and three with season high scoring games.
But, in the end, the Bulls, now 7-9, could just not climb that wave of obstacles. Figuratively, at least, like the guys on the Andrea Gail, their efforts, as magnificent as they were, were not enough. A wonderful story had a sad ending.
“It was a grind game,” said Taj Gibson, who was terrific with a career-high 26 points, 14 rebounds, including seven offensive, and five blocks in his best game as a Bull. He almost got the victory with an amazing defensive stretch at the end of the first overtime with consecutive blocks of Holiday and Jason Smith with about a minute left and the Bulls up by three in their best chance to win the game in the overtimes. But Deng missed a 15 footer with about 16 seconds left and the Bulls then lost Gordon in transition as Gordon tied it with that three at 109. The Bulls final play then broke down.
“It was about who could make some tough shots and they did,” said Gibson. “You’ve just got to keep going. We’ve got guys who are not going to quit, not lay down. We’ve just got to figure out a way to squeak ‘em out. We’ve been there a lot of times, especially in the fourth quarter. But we have not been defending the three point line well, and that’s what’s really hurting us.
“We’ve got a great coach; we’ve got guys who understand when things are going bad you’ve got to work your way out of it and not sit and whine about it. In this league you start feeling bad for yourself the wolves come. The wolves are not going to feel sorry for you. Every team is going to come in smelling blood. Luckily for us we’ve got guys who understand that. Your back is against the wall, you’ve got to dig yourself out of the hole. You can’t make excuses, tired, just got to keep playing. We’re optimistic. We’ve just got to get guys back healthy and give it our best shot.”
The Bulls gave it a heck of a shot Monday in their return after their 1-5 Western Conference road trip when they also lost Derrick Rose for the season with a knee injury. They’d figure to have an edge with the Pelicans having played Sunday and without the injured Anthony Davis, who now has missed his only two games back in Chicago.
But the high energy, high scoring Pelicans hung on in the marathon with Ryan Anderson playing 56 minutes and scoring 36 points, Gordon adding 23 and Holiday 19. The Pelicans, 9-8, had all five starters play at least 45 minutes.
The Bulls went with Deng, Gibson, Hinrich, Dunleavy and Joakim Noah for all three overtimes except for 18 seconds of defensive substitutions for Tony Snell. Deng, Noah and Hinrich all played more than 50 minutes with Gibson almost 45 and Dunleavy 48. Dunleavy had a season high 23 points, Noah had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Hinrich 13 points and 11 assists.
And now it’s Miami on national TNT Thursday in the United Center.
Which suggests after catching some breath and rest a cleanup on the boards. The Bulls barely outrebounded the perimeter oriented Pelicans, but were beaten on the offensive boards 22-16 and 24-15 in second chance points as the Pelicans got to the loose balls and second shots, at least four, according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, leading to three-point goals.
With Rose out for the season, the question for the Bulls was to be who would score and whether they could score enough without players who score off the dribble or much in transition. Instead, it’s been on the defensive end where the Bulls have continued to falter, allowing 11 of 23 threes and seven of 11 for Anderson even though Deng said the game plan was to deny threes to Anderson.
“Our defense is not there,” said Deng. “Especially we are not covering the (three-point) line well. That’s hurting us. We came into the game with a game plan to not let Anderson get a lot of looks. I think he shot seven of 11 from threes. We failed at that. You can’t expect to go into games thinking you are going to blow out teams. Having Derrick and having Jimmy (Butler) we are able to do that. When Jimmy comes back, I think we will be a better team. But as of right now, every game we go to we’ve got to expect it to go to the wire and be mentally ready for that.”
This is the sort of season the Bulls know they have to expect. Perhaps not playing an offensive shootout as they had 34 assists on 48 baskets and made eight threes, six of 10 by Dunleavy. Without Rose and still without Butler, who should be out at least another week, there’s little margin for error. And it’s caught up with the Bulls in the last week, a chance to win at the buzzer in Utah on Deng and Carlos Boozer close shots and losing in overtime; a chance to tie Cleveland at the buzzer with Noah and Boozer putbacks missing to force overtime. And Monday’s triple overtime disappointment.
It was the first regular season triple overtime game for the Bulls in almost 13 years and the most points they’d scored in a game in almost two years. It was reminiscent of the fabulous overtime playoff games with Boston in the 2009 playoffs with memorable shots, head shaking missteps, delirium turned to desperation in moments and back again.
“There’s no quit in this team,” said Noah, who had an amazing left handed running hook to tie the game at 128 in the third overtime with 4.5 seconds left before Holiday’s unlikely winner. “It sucks we don’t have anything to show for it now. We have a lot of losses in a row. We’ll keep fighting. We’ll keep getting better.
“We have to get better executing down the stretch,” said Noah. “It’s definitely a different team; we don’t have Derrick, we don’t have Nate (Robinson). So different guys have to step up.”
A lot of guys did; well, at least the five who were playing. But in the end it was a defensive mistake, miscommunication, perhaps physical or mental fatigue, that sided with the Pelicans and Holiday’s driving winner.
After Noah of all guys made that runner and it appeared a fourth overtime was coming, the Pelicans inbounded to a darting Holiday almost near half court. He was so high up some Bulls didn’t even think he would be in the play. But he took the inbounds pass in motion, ran off a high screen from Anderson and flashed down the lane on the left side. Hinrich was picked off high and Noah didn’t get over as Holiday streaked in. Gibson picked him up late, trying to move over as Holiday’s layup, a rare sort of defensive lapse by the Bulls to allow a straight line drive from so far away, went in and Gibson fouled him.
“I was shocked (to see Holiday coming so fast),” admitted Gibson. “I didn’t even know what happened. I didn’t want to give up a three late. It looked like they spread the court, that they wanted to get a three knowing them. But he was just charging so easily. I just tried to make a stop, went straight up but by that time his knee was in my stomach.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way,” Gibson added. “There were a lot of tips, long hustle plays. They got hands on them. They got some guys that can knock down threes in Anderson and Gordon. It was one of those games coming down to the wire. It just didn’t fall our way.”
Which was unfortunate for the Bulls being back home and trying to take advantage. It’s the sort of season, though, they’re starting to expect with all the effort they can muster in order to prevail.
“Lately we’ve been going on down the wire, so we’re going to be in that position a lot more,” acknowledged Deng, averaging 27.4 in the last five games. “They made a big play at the end to make it a three-point. With 2.6 seconds you don’t need anything else but a three and Mike did his best to get up a quick shot.
“It’s tough,” Deng agreed in the word of the night. “I think right now a lot of things are not going our way. We’ve got to stick with it and keep fighting and just keep working hard. It’s not going to turn around by itself. We’ve got to make it happen. We are losing a lot of close games right now and it’s something we’ve got to learn from and a group something we’ve got to get better with.”
Not that anyone ever sees one of these games coming, but the teams never were separated by much all game. The Pelicans led 24-21 after one quarter. But with a strong second quarter with Gibson dominating in the post the Bulls took a 56-50 halftime lead. But the Bulls had yet another third quarter fade, falling behind by six against Anderson’s hot hand before Deng got them back ahead 80-77 going into the fourth quarter.
Once seemingly strictly a stand still long distance shooter, Anderson was terrific shot faking and beating defenders with his pull up. In the Pelicans mixed, small ball and perimeter lineups, the Bulls did a lot of switching with Gibson and Noah taking guards on the pick and roll and Noah coming out to play Anderson. It was a tough game for Boozer with outside shooting big men. He had four points and didn’t play after the third quarter as his scoring has declined the last week with Gibson getting more play in the post along with Deng.
“Taj is playing at a really high level now,” said Thibodeau. “Scoring the ball, playing great defense, getting deep post position, protecting our basket, playing well. As the game went on, Jo got into a rhythm; he had a tough cover, chasing a four, switching onto guards.
“I liked the fight,” said Thibodeau. “I don’t like the end result right now, but I think it will get better as we figure out exactly what we are doing. I thought (we) made a lot of big plays that put us in position to extend the game. Got down five and came right back a couple of times like that. So I liked the fight. Guys are changing roles right now, and we are figuring that out. I like the makeup of our team. I think it’s a together group. We’re all disappointed now that we’re (not) finishing games out and getting the wins, but I believe they will come. We’ve got to keep fighting the good fight; put everything we have into it and the results will be good.”
It seemed like it might be as the Bulls stayed ahead much of the fourth quarter with Noah and Gibson strong on the boards early in the quarter (15-8 fourth quarter Bulls rebounding edge), Gibson with a powerful slam on a Noah pass for a 91-88 lead and Noah with a dunk on a pick and roll with Deng for a 102-101 lead with 33.1 seconds left in regulation.
Holiday then missed a pullup. But the Pelicans fouled Dunleavy with 21.1 seconds left and he missed one of two to leave the Bulls just two points ahead before Holiday got a switch on Noah and made a tough 18 footer over Noah’s outstretched hand.
Deng couldn’t get the good shot, so it went to the first overtime where the Bulls went ahead by three and looked to have the game again when Gibson made back to back blocks with that lead. But Gordon’s three was debilitating and again the Bulls with Deng couldn’t get off a good last shot.
Overtime No. 2 saw the Pelicans race ahead 118-113 with 2:10 left and you thought after the long trip and emotional letdowns this Bulls group was out of energy.
“We had a tough trip,” agreed Deng. “I’m not going to say I wasn’t tired out there. I was tired; a lot of guys were. Our team and their team. They had a back to back. It made (for) a lot of fatigue and mental mistakes at the end. But it’s only the 16th game of the season. It’s still early in the season, so fatigue is not a factor.”
The Bulls showed that fighting back with Deng with a slashing score and Dunleavy with a three to tie the game at 118 with 56.9 seconds left in the second overtime. It was Anderson again making a 17 footer against excellent Noah defense and after the Bulls fell behind 122-118 on a Holiday putback with 17 seconds left, Deng was fouled and made two free throws and Hinrich drew a charge against Anderson clearing elbows in the inbounds with 16.9 seconds left.
Hinrich then missed an open three with 6.2 seconds left in the second overtime that could have put the Bulls ahead by one, pounding the floor in disgust as the ball sailed out. But it was ruled off the Pelicans and Hinrich made that nifty pass to Deng for the layup to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left in a truly amazing turnabout. It seemed they might get back home successfully.
But the forces of the Pelicans’ nature were too much even as the Bulls took a 126-124 lead with 2:17 left, though they’d already missed two of four free throws in the third overtime. Noah reached in to create a jump ball. The Pelicans got it and Gordon missed. But Dunleavy missed a 22 footer of his own before the Bulls again lost a key player in transition as Anderson ran to the right corner and got a pass from Tyreke Evans to make another three. As he got open, the crowd began to groan, so sure of Anderson’s play. That put New Orleans ahead 127-126 with 1:14 left in the third overtime.
Noah drove, getting stuck with the ball as the Pelicans defended the cutters and Noah missed with 39.9 seconds left. But then Dunleavy reached in to strip Gordon. The Bulls got out on an awkward three on one, but lost the ball, which again was called off the Pelicans. But Gibson missed a short inside shot trying to get a poor pass up. So the Bulls still trailed by one with 18.9 seconds left in the third overtime.
They fouled Anthony Morrow, who made one of two for a 128-126 lead with 8.5 seconds left. And then came Noah’s unlikely running hook to tie the game with 4.5 seconds remaining. Until Holiday made it a bad Holiday start for the Bulls and not much thanks to give for yet another tough loss.
“I’m emotionally drained,” said Gibson. “It’s frustrating. Especially to come up short after putting so much into the game. Guys were putting their hearts and soul into the game, really going after it. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way no matter how you go after it.”
But it is the Eastern Conference, which was 23-59 against the West after the Bulls loss to the Pelicans.
“You look at the East,” said Gibson. “The East is really up and down. You get two straight wins you’ll be in third or fourth place. We’ve got to get a groove going.”