Beyond no-call, losing to Pacers stings for Bulls

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Beyond no-call, losing to Pacers stings for Bulls

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didnt mince words after his teams 80-76 loss to the Pacers.In my eyes, he got wiped out, the coach said Tuesday night, still trying to control his rage at the officials swallowing their whistle at the conclusion of the game. He had a layup. It was a train wreck.But Im not going to put it on the officials. Weve still got to get it done. A tough call went against us.Thibodeau is right, on both counts. His teams lack of execution down the stretch, offensive droughts and inability to defend Pacers swingman Paul Georgewho had 34 points, nearly half of his squads outputkilled them.But in the end, that one play did them in. Trailing 78-76 with 14.1 seconds to go, Thibodeau drew up a beautiful play out of a timeout, with Luol Deng making a backdoor cut and receiving a pass from Joakim Noah on the baseline.Everything was perfect. Deng caught the pass, went up for layup and was met by massive Pacers center Roy Hibbert, seemingly drawing a foul, except no whistles sounded.Ive got to see it again, but I thought I got fouled. I havent seen it yet, said a despondent Deng afterwards. Im mad at myself that I didnt get a shot up. When he contacted me, I lost the ball, but if I would have got a shot up, even if I missed it, I think a teammate could have got the rebound. Thats the one thing Ive got to do better with that play.We designed it for me to cut back door, he continued. Jo made a good play. I saw he overplayed me, I cut back door and its just something I could have done better.It was a great play. Thats my fault. Ive got to finish that.Noah added: It was a non-call. The refs thought that he was straight up. Thats the last play of the game, but we didnt play well. Weve got to win these games and its unfortunate, but weve got to come back and respond tomorrow.Pacers head coach Frank Vogel saw it differently, calling it a heck of a defensive play by Hibbert.Hes the biggest reason why we lead the league in field-goal percentage defense. Its that play, thats the biggest reason. Hes the best in the league at exercising the fundamental of verticality. Hes in his lane and off his feet, making a legal defensive play and earning a no-call, he elaborated. Youre allowed to jump straight up. No matter where you are, youre allowed to jump straight up and absorb contact, and when he learned that and went away from trying to draw charges, like he was doing earlier in his career, he went from not being able to stay on the court to being one of the best defensive centers in the NBA.Regardless of that play, which certainly seemed like a foul to the naked eye at full speed and would have given Deng a chance to tie the game late, the Bulls compounded their issues with a host of mistakes throughout the contest. After backup point guard Nate Robinson led a fourth-quarter comeback to overtake the Pacers, unforced errors and difficulty getting quality shots became their biggest problems.We shot ourselves in the foot, Thibodeau said of his team, which shot 38.4 percent from the fieldIndiana was held to 36.3 percent shooting, but George was 14-of-25 form the floor by himselfand committed 19 turnovers on the evening. Theyre very good defensively. I knew it was going to be that type of game. Theyre a very good help team and youve got to keep the ball moving, and if you try to go one-on-one against them, youre going to have problems. Theyve got length. George is a great defender. Weve got to do better.Usually, turnovers comes down to one or two things. Either its too much one-on-one or trying to make a risky pass and not recognizing whats going on. You have to understand where you are in the game, how the game is being played, is it the fourth quarter, are you trying to thread the needle, are you dancing with the ball. If youre doing those things, its going to lead to turnovers, he added, before launching into why he would no longer tolerate the Bulls using a roster full of newcomers still familiarizing themselves with each other as a reason for their ball-security issues.
We said that in training camp. We said it after the first two weeks. At some point, youve got to say, Okay, weve been together 16 games, seven preseason games. Youre a pro player. Were not using that as an excuse. Weve got to do better.Robinson took the loss especially hard, blaming himself for the teams lack of poise with the ball in their handshis ill-timed alley-oop pass attempted for Joakim Noah stands out, but he wasnt the only culprit. Still, he took the bulk of the responsibility for the Bulls late-game execution.The no-call on Hibbert doesnt define the game. I think we had like 19 turnovers and I had four myself, so thats something weve got to do, take care of the ball down the stretch and for this loss, I definitely take the blame for this one. Just down the stretch, Ive got to be smarter with the ball, make the right plays and got to execute, he said. We got the shots that we wanted, we just didnt make them. Youre not going to make every shot each game. Youve got to play hard. We played through it, got stops when we needed them. Down the stretch, weve got to take care of the ball.We took the shots that they gave us, but I think we could have took better shots, as well, including myself. But for the most part, turnovers. Turnovers killed us today.Just bringing energy to the game, thats something that we all try to do. The game is interesting and youve just got to play it the right way. We try to do that. We try to make the right plays for guys, getting guys in spots where they can be successful and tonight, we just didnt take care of the ball, the diminutive scorer continued. We got every shot that we wanted, each guy on our team. We just didnt make the shots. Theyre a hell of a team. Im not taking that from them at all. But for us, we just didnt make the shots. We got the stops when we needed them and we got buckets when we needed them. We just didnt make them down the stretch.Countered Thibodeau: I dont want to put it all on him. Weve just got to do better. The last five minutes, its got to be better. As a team. Its not any one particular guy.Youve got to make the right play, the right read. Youve got to do your job. If your job is to set a screen, you set a great screen. If youre job is to give yourself up and make a great cut; usually when youre cutting hard, when you finish your spacing, youre going to loosen the defense. I thought the second shot hurt us, so those are things. The turnovers, in a game like this, where its a low-scoring game, those possessions are huge, the coach went on to say. We cant play loose with the ball. Youve got to play strong inside. Were doing a lot of tipping and thats not going to get it done, not against the tough teams in the league, so weve got to do better.
Noah chimed in: We definitely turned the ball over too much. Cant turn the ball over in the last five minutes of the game. Weve just got to get good shots. Some good things, some bad things. But overall, the energy wasnt very good tonight. As a whole, we have to play better. Too many turnovers. I think we could have rebounded the ball better.This loss stung hard in the Bulls locker room, particularly after theyd built some momentum with consecutive wins over two playoff contenders in Dallas and Philadelphia, closing out a home stand that begun so disappointinglysurrendering a 27-point lead to Milwaukee last weekon a similarly negative note. Making it even more poignant is the fact that Indiana is also missing their leading scorer, Danny Granger, and the Pacers are a rival that the Bulls prefer keep little-brother status instead of taking the reins of the Central Division this season, during the ongoing absence of Derrick Rose.Deng stated the obvious: Our games are always close. Give them credit, they came here and got what they wanted. I dont think we played well.With two road games coming up against the dregs of the division, Cleveland and Detroit, the Bulls will have the opportunity to build up their confidence again. Theyll need it with a tough December stretch awaiting them upon their return to Chicago.

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”