MIAMI—As disappointed as he was about the Bulls’ Game 4 loss Monday night to the Heat, Joakim Noah did grasp the significance of being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team.
“It’s an unbelievable honor. To be considered one of the best defensive players in the league, it means a lot to me. I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates, my coach,” the All-Star center said. “But as great as it is, right now it’s bittersweet with the ‘L.’”
Noah, the first Bulls player to receive the honor since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen during the franchise’s championship era, isn’t giving up hope that the team can turn things around, despite facing a 3-1 series deficit to Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals heading into Wednesday’s Game 5 at American Airlines Arena.
“Just executing the game plan. We’ve got to execute better. They executed very well, defensively and offensively. They have great players,” he said of what adjustments the Bulls needed to make going into the elimination game. “I think that it’s exciting to play against the best. They put a lot of pressure on us with their defense, they execute very well and I think for us, we’ve just got to not put our heads down and we know that we can compete with this team. We didn’t do that tonight, we didn’t make shots. But I feel that if we go down there and get one in Miami, that would be great, and come back here for Game 6.”
Experienced Hamilton believes Bulls have a shot
In addition to making a reappearance in the Bulls’ rotation in Game 4, veteran Rip Hamilton had plenty to say about the approach needed at this juncture of the season.
With his extensive playoff experience, which includes a 2004 NBA championship while with the Pistons, the shooting guard has seen a lot over his long professional career, so even the severely depleted Bulls roster and being on the brink of elimination is something he understands.
“Playoffs are rough, it’s hard. It’s tough. It’s not the first game or second game. When you’ve got to battle the same team over and over, and it’s a seven-game series and you’ve got to defend and you’ve got to play both ends of the floor,” Hamilton said in reference to the undermanned Bulls’ predicament. “It’s hard work and it’s not like regular-season games. You can get fatigued and you can get tired fast.”
But as ailing as they are without starters Kirk Hinrich and All-Star Luol Deng, not to mention banged-up versions of Noah, Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson, as well as a fatigued Jimmy Butler, Hamilton believes the Bulls can come back against the talented Heat, as long as they don’t try to do it in one fell swoop.
[BULLS: Hamilton trying to stay positive in limited role]
“Well, you’ve got to take one quarter at a time. You can’t try to hit a home run,” he explained. “It won’t happen because you’ll put too much pressure on yourself.
“They’re the defending champs. They’re on a roll. If you just watch them play, they play well together, they play in a good system. So for us, we just can’t play hard. Playing hard is great and everything, but you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to make shots, you’ve got to defend, you’ve got to get the loose balls. You play hard, you’ll stay in the game. But that doesn’t always win games. You’ve got to figure out how to execute offense and score because they do a great job on defense of taking away what you want to do. All great teams do that, so you’ve just got to figure out different ways to score,” Hamilton went on to say. “It’s a seven-game series and it’s hard. It’s not easy and certain plays that we have done early in the series, especially in the Brooklyn series, weren’t there tonight.”
Bulls plan to make adjustments in Game 5
After being thrashed by the Heat in a game that featured franchise playoff lows in points and field-goal percentage and points in a quarter, it’s fair to say that the Bulls have some corrections to make by Wednesday night.
However, while some things will be tweaked, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau insisted that the team will take the same approach that’s served them well during his tenure in Chicago into Game 5.
“It’s the same. You analyze what happened in the game, make your corrections and get ready for the next one. We’ll just keep our focus right there. I don’t want them looking backwards, I don’t want them looking ahead. Just lock into the game that’s ahead of us, concentrate on winning that game. So we know we’re capable of playing a lot better than we did,” Thibodeau said. “I believe in this team. I think they’ve shown all year they have a tough mindset. We’re all disappointed in the way we played tonight and we know how good they are. We have to play our best game.
“How you start games, readiness to play, preparation, I think that’s huge, critical. I think we obviously have to do a much better job of getting ready and when that ball goes up, we’ve got to be at our best,” the coach added. “There’s going to be nights where you don’t shoot it well. You’ve got to do those other things to keep your team in position. You can’t allow the frustration of missed shots take away from all the other things you can do to help your team win.”
Thibodeau’s players also believe that although they know they must come out more prepared, with greater intensity and executing at a higher level, their blue-collar style of play will have to be in effect in order to give them a chance to succeed, no matter what the circumstances are.
“We’ve got guys stepping in like Jimmy, myself, playing heavy minutes. But that’s no excuse. We’re ballplayers. We’re ready, no matter what,” Nate Robinson said. “Just spacing. I’ve just got to beat the double team before it gets to me. Advance the ball, just quick movement. It can’t be me making the pass. It has to be one of the bigs, big-to-big. But we’ll make adjustments. It wasn’t necessarily just traps. We missed a lot of open shots. A lot of shots we usually make, we missed and that was the difference. There were times where we got four, five stops in a row and we couldn’t score. That takes a toll and whether they’re getting free throws or they’re getting layups and they make one shot to our three, four, five misses in a row, there’s the game.
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Gibson chimed in, reflecting on what went wrong for the Bulls from the outset: “In every other game, it was like a battle. The first quarter, it was a battle. It was always neck and neck, and that’s one thing you can’t do in playoff basketball, especially on home court. You can’t get in a big hole early. One thing you try to do if you’re the away team is to come in, try to knock the home team in the mouth, get a big lead, let them know and let the referees know that you’re here to play and ready to play physical. That’s what they did early in the game and we got ourselves in a hole. We tried to fight back, but by that time, it was tough.
Hamilton saw Miami’s focus on trapping Robinson and either getting the ball out of the diminutive scorer’s hands or harassing him into turnovers as a focus, more than even the point guard’s nightmarish 0-for-12 shooting night.
“All day. I told him that in Game 1 against Brooklyn, but Brooklyn didn’t do it. You’ve got to expect them to trap you. When you’re a scorer and you’re going against great defensive teams, they’re going to do everything possible to take you out of the game, o now you’ve got to figure out different counters and read their defense and find different openings. That’s the playoffs. They do an excellent job of scouting everybody and that’s what makes great players,” the veteran explained. “Miami, they’ve done it since [LeBron James] got there. Boston will do the same thing. With great defensive teams, they commit everything to the strong side, so you have to go to the opposite side. When they do that, they gamble a lot and ‘Bron’ is a freak of nature.”