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Bulls fail to curry favor with Steph in loss to Warriors
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 7
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Kirk Hinrich had such a good view he may as well have been charged admission.
One time Stephen Curry was just ambling over the midcourt line as Hinrich was digging into his defensive stance and ready to get up on Curry. Instead from about 30 feet Curry put up a three that was good!
OK, Kirk got closer. He bumped and he banged Curry, he pushed him toward help and then slipped for just a split second and, boom, up went another three and good!
“Right now, thinking about it,” said Hinrich as he glanced at the box score after the Golden State Warriors’ 102-87 win over the Bulls Thursday behind Curry’s 34 points on 13 of 19 shots, “I don’t think our defense was bad. It wasn’t like we were making a bunch of mistakes out there.
“You can’t give that guy any cushion,” said Hinrich with a rueful smile. “One time I was kind of in no man’s land as he was bringing it up and he nailed it from about 30 feet. He’s got every shot in the book. You know going in he’s going to hit shots. He does it on every team in the league. You’d like to hold him to a worse percentage than 13 of 19. I don’t know what you do. Guard him as tough as you can and let the chips fall where they may.”
And they came up craps and crappy for the Bulls after the Bulls had one of their best starts of the season at 23-8 seven minutes into the game with the Warriors missing injured starters Andrew Bogut and David Lee. The Bulls were without Carlos Boozer, a late scratch as he hurt his calf warming up for the game. Taj Gibson started and matched his career high with 26 points along with 13 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season, five as a starter.
The Warriors looked like a beaten and disinterested team early as Hinrich had nine first quarter points making four of four shots. D.J. Augustin came in and made three of three in the last four minutes of the quarter. The Bulls looked like they might blow out the Warriors as Gibson spun out two shots with the Bulls ahead 15 and the Warriors coming up empty on six consecutive possessions. But the Bulls couldn’t capitalize. They still led 29-16 after one, though the Warriors were back in. The Bulls got their lead up to 34-18 early in the second quarter.
But some lazy ball handling, which would lead to 17 turnovers the Warriors turned into 23 points, gave the Warriors hope. And then Curry gave them life and simply shot the Bulls out of the game.
“I was smack dab right there in his face,” said Gibson, who also had four assists, two blocks and two steals. “Thibs is looking at me like, ‘Good D.’ You have to live with it. We were trying to cool him down. It’s hard to shut him off once he gets in that zone.
“He was lighting it up. It was like a video game. That’s how hot he was,” marveled Gibson about Curry. “Great contests. We look at Thibs with a shot going in. It was, ‘Good D.’ He had great offense; he’s a phenomenal shooter.”
Curry got plenty of help in the Warriors-return-to-small-ball game as Klay Thompson had 22 points, 15 in the second half, and Harrison Barnes off the bench had all 11 of his points and three of three long distance three pointers in the fourth quarter when the Warriors broke open the game after the Bulls still were within four with eight minutes remaining.
“You’ve got to make some shots,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought it was still winnable down the stretch and we didn’t get it done.”
The loss dropped the Bulls back under .500 at 24-25 with one more game remaining on this road trip, Sunday afternoon against the Lakers. The Warriors moved to 30-20 as they battle for a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference, where they are sixth. The Bulls are sixth in the Eastern Conference.
They at least know how to take advantage of geography.
But they couldn’t take advantage of a shorthanded Warriors team that may actually have benefited from their big men being out. The Warriors’ history has been to play fast and loose and small. And lose in the playoffs quickly or not get in at all while being a lot of fun to watch. They’ve moved into the top third in defense this season, an historical rarity for them. But their small ball game after initially being befuddled became befuddling to the Bulls.
“They played small and that usually works to our advantage when they play like that,” said Joakim Noah. “We didn’t adjust well to that. Switching the pick and roll, I should have done a better job being aggressive. I think I over passed a lot tonight. I think we could have done a better job (getting inside). They did things we are not used to. That switching the pick and roll was a different look for us. We’ve got to do a better job scoring when they put us in those situations. I should have been more aggressive (on mismatches).”
The Warriors don’t usually switch the pick and roll because their big men, Bogut and Lee, are not that mobile. Unlike the Noah and Gibson, who are among the league’s best going outside and giving the Bulls’ defense the unique advantage. But the Warriors instead took advantage of the lack of a post game by Noah as they continuing switched a smaller player onto him, like Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala, and Noah kept looking to pas the ball outside. As terrific as Noah is in outhustling big men, the strategy was effective. It’s similar to what teams did in the past to counter Dirk Nowitzki before he learned to take the smaller man inside. Noah remains uncertain about doing so and scores primarily with faceups and rolling hook shot drives.
Noah did have a career high 11 assists along with 10 rebounds and seven points. But he also committed four turnovers trying repeatedly to fit passes into tight interior spots. And he didn’t take advantage of his size on offense. Jimmy Butler added 15 points and nine rebounds and Hinrich had 15 in just 25 minutes as he remains on a playing time limit for health reasons.
The Bulls did outrebound the Warriors, but just 45-39 with a Warriors team playing primarily guards and creaky Jermaine O’Neal at center.
Gibson did have those 26 points. But he began to tire late going just under 46 minutes with his arm perhaps aching a bit with 23 shots. He made nine. Gibson got to the free throw line eight times and made all eight, showing that he can be an offensive power forward as well.
Boozer’s injury is not considered serious and he should be able to play Sunday.
“It was a freaky sort of thing,” explained Thibodeau. “He was jumping around before the game in the locker room, getting ready to come out and tweaked something in his calf. He was dressed and ready to go. We had gone through everything. He was fine. He was fine this morning. So it’s just one of those things.”
No more jumping! OK, kids!
Gibson showed he’s ready at any time as Thibodeau admitted it was 20 minutes before the start of the game when he learned Boozer wouldn’t play.
“I was just focused on playing my minutes and contributing,” said Gibson. “I got the call to start. You never know with this team. You’ve always got to be ready.
“I’m a pro,” said Gibson when asked about being the late insertion into the starting lineup. “I appreciate being in the NBA. I appreciate wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey. I just go out there and do my job; however many minutes I’m going to get. I’m going to be cheering (if I’m on the bench). If I’ve got to go out there and start, I’ll do my job the best way I can. And try to keep getting better. Every day in the NBA is fun. I love playing the game. I have fun playing the game. The opponents respect me as far as being a player and it’s a joy playing.”
It began joyously for the Bulls in one of the best quarters of the season, a virtual domination as they shot 60 percent with Hinrich and Augustin a combined seven for seven and Gibson battering away inside and establishing deep post position. Golden State even came out in a zone to try to keep the Bulls outside. But Gibson was too strong as the Bulls surged out 23-8.
“I thought the start of the game was good,” said Thibodeau.
But again in having an apparent advantage with Golden State playing so many guards and the Bulls not taking advantage other than Gibson, the Warriors continued to come up with loose balls on odd bounces around the rim and on long three pointers.
“There were a lot of scramble plays where we couldn’t come up with the loose ball,” lamented Thibodeau. “The scramble three, I thought, really hurt us. They probably had five or six of those. When you’re small like that and you’re shooting the long threes, you’ve got to get to those. And if they do come up with them, you’ve got to scramble back to men (on the perimeter). You can’t just stay in the paint.”
The Bulls did get hurt on a few of those, though the game turned in a brutal stretch in the second quarter first with a lazy cross court pass from Gibson that Andre Iguodala stole for a slam dunk that awakened the crowd, which tends to be the loudest in the NBA. Then after Gibson scored inside on a Noah high post pass to make it 40-30 midway through the second quarter, the Bulls committed six turnovers in the next seven possessions, mostly with Mike Dunleavy and Noah forcing passes inside to Gibson. Curry began to find his range with 16 second quarter points as the Warriors blew by the Bulls to a 50-46 halftime lead.
“He’s a hell of a player,” said Noah. “I think we could have done a better job of trying to blitz his picks and put two on the ball. Barnes was huge, gave them great energy. There were things that we could have done better, but you’ve got to give credit when credit is due. Just a tough loss.”
In the third quarter it was mostly Thompson as Hinrich shadowed and bumped Curry wherever he went and the Bulls hedged and double teamed Curry at times. But the Warriors began to swing the ball. And as much as the Bulls hustled outside, it was too late. And when the Warriors did miss, the Bulls were generally out of position for those scramble balls the Warriors repeatedly turned into scores. They had a dozen offensive rebounds, which is unusual against the Bulls and especially for such a small team.
“It’s rough when you play with a big lead, especially against a team like that that loves offense,” said Gibson. “Defense kind of eased up a little. They were making tough shots. We were getting tips on the ball; there were a lot of scramble plays and they’d get a shot off. A lot of those were second chance plays. It was a tough one. When Curry gets hot and you try to shut him down and then Klay gets hot it was tough. The shots they were making… they were making fadeaways, long range pullups with a hand in their face. It was unbelievable.”
The Warriors led 76-66 after three and then after the Bulls got a little fourth quarter run going to pull within 81-77 behind Gibson, the Warriors shot back ahead on back to back Barnes threes, one after another of those lost scramble balls, and a Curry three point clincher.
“We wanted to come out and set the tone and I think we did that,” said Hinrich. “We wanted to be into them and make it a physical game. They responded and made shots.”