Bulls 'defense a disaster' despite Noah's return

Bulls 'defense a disaster' despite Noah's return
February 24, 2011, 2:37 am
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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
Posted 8:45 p.m. Updated 10:16 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

TORONTO For James Johnson, revenge was sweet.

A day after getting traded to Toronto, the second-year forwards new team withstood a 19-point fourth quarter by Derrick Rose (32 points, 10 assists) and the Bulls (38-17) dropped a 118-113 contest against the Raptors (16-41) Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

It felt good to win, said a beaming Johnson, who engaged in competitive banter with his former teammates throughout the contest. Just seeing their faces was priceless.

For Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, the games result was no laughing matter.

WATCH: Thibodeau steamed after loss

"We gave up 118 points, offensively we scored more but defensively it was a disaster," said Thibodeau, whose Bulls allowed the Raptors to shoot 58.1 percent from the floor, as well as put up a season-high point total for opponents. We got into an offensive game, we tried to outscore them and thats a recipe for disaster. You've got to be ready to play and obviously we weren't, that's on me.

Its disappointing. Disappointing. Going on the road, you cant win like that, Thibodeau continued.

Carlos Boozer (24 points, six rebounds), who went for 34 points in the two teams last meeting at the Air Canada Centre, was a focal point for Chicago in the early going. Despite Amir Johnsons (17 points, four rebounds) countering him with quick cuts and tough finishes off feeds from Toronto point guard Jose Calderon (six points, 17 assists) in pick-and-roll scenarios, Boozers low-post presence was overwhelming in the early going.

Luol Deng (19 points), matched up with former teammate (as in the day before, when he was traded to the Raptors) Johnson (nine points, five rebounds, three blocked shots), showed his former protg starting in his Toronto debut and wearing a new number (zero), as well as a headband, which is forbidden by the Bulls there was good reason he was nailed to the bench in Chicago, as he had his way with Johnson, then continued his efficient scoring as the opening quarter continued.

With the return of Joakim Noah (seven points, 16 rebounds) the centers touch wasnt there, but he managed to grab a remarkable 10 rebounds in his eight-minute initial stint; he also struggled to defend versatile Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (24 points, eight rebounds) the visitors played at a faster tempo than they had as of late and after the first period, the Bulls held a 29-25 advantage.

WATCH: Noah critical of performance in return

Definitely not the result that I wanted, but weve just got to come with a better edge. Tough loss tonight, said Noah, who struggled to convert offensive rebounds. My timings a little off. Im a little tired.

Opined Thibodeau: He missed a lot of time. Hes rusty. His timing is not there. But weve got to get it done.

Boozer perhaps more sympathetic, as he also struggled after a long layoff; the Bulls were blown out by Orlando at the United Center in the power forwards December Bulls debut took a more positive stance regarding Noahs return.

Monster on the glass like normal, great presence in the paint for us and weve got to try to get him back in the groove, said Boozer. Its going to take him a few games to get his rhythm back. I think on defense, he was pretty good. Got a lot rebounds in a short period of time.

Chicagos second unit put the home team on its heels to start the second quarter, as a flurry of steals converted into layups by Ronnie Brewer (11 points, three steals) gave the Bulls a slight cushion.

Toronto, however, stormed back, with swingman DeMar DeRozan (24 points, four assists) finding his groove and reserves Sonny Weems (12 points), Ed Davis (nine points, five rebounds) and Leandro Barbosa (13 points) wreaking havoc off the bench.

Johnson, in fact, tied the contest at 43 with 4:17 left before halftime, when he threw down an alley-oop dunk from DeRozan in transition for his first points as a Raptor. Chicago regrouped and although the home team kept the pressure on, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 58-55 lead, mostly due to Boozers scoring late in the period.

Toronto made a game of it early in the third quarter, quickly knotting things up, subsequently taking the lead and scoring with enough regularity that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau halted the proceedings to make defensive adjustments.

The torrid-shooting Raptors (their field-goal percentage rose to above 60 percent during this stretch) embraced their guests playing a quicker tempo and with Rose struggling from the floor, Chicago was fortunate their inferior hosts werent up by a larger margin.

Scoring contributions from both Johnsons, DeRozan, Bargnani and Davis mostly fueled by Calderons playmaking kept Toronto ahead by a comfortable margin, but Raptors turnovers late in the period again plagued them, allowing the Bulls to slice into the deficit. Through three quarters of play, the visitors trailed, 85-81.

Chicago continued to gradually close on the Raptors in the beginning of the final stanza, with Rose asserting himself offensively before taking his customary early fourth-quarter rest. Toronto let the Bulls stay within striking distance until approximately the midway point of the period, when they opened up a seven-point lead Weems was key during this stretch prompting Thibodeau to call a timeout with 6:14 remaining, shortly after Roses return.

It seemed as if the familiar story of Rose coming to the rescue would immediately take form a typically lightning-quick, acrobatic drive and finish momentarily quieted the enthusiastic ACC crowd but Toronto had other plans, as DeRozan and Barbosa scored timely buckets to give the home team some breathing room. Chicago countered with Boozer and his inside presence was again too much to handle, helping the Bulls narrow the gap.

Out of a timeout, Barbosa scored on a baseline drive and was fouled, completing the ensuing three-point play with 3:04 to play, making the visitors uphill battle even tougher. But consecutive successful trips to the line for Rose made it a one-possession and after a Raptors turnover, the All-Star point guard nailed an open three-pointer in transition to tie the contest at 107 apiece with 1:59 on the clock.

Following a Toronto timeout, DeRozan scored on a cutting layup, but Rose responded with a layup of his own on the next possession to even the count once again. DeRozan somehow got free off on a inbounds play out of a timeout; he was fouled while attempting a baseline dunk and hit two free throws to give the home team a 111-109 lead with 1:15 to play.

Someones beat, youve got to help, noted a frustrated Thibodeau. Were a help team, we guard with all five, we were a step behind on everything, we lacked discipline and when you lack discipline, its going to lead to all kinds of problems.

History repeated itself the next time down the court, as Rose was fouled on a driving layup. The third-year pro made both attempts to knot up the score at 111 with 1:05 left in the game, giving him 11 consecutive points.

The specific back-and-forth between Rose and DeRozan persisted when the Raptors swingman was fouled with 49.3 remaining and he knocked down a pair of foul shots. Rose was the first to blink, missing a jumper off the dribble.
Derrick Rose drives for a basket in the fourth quarter against Toronto. Rose scored 19 of his 32 points in the final stanza while attempting to lead the Bulls back from an eight-point deficit. (AP)
As impressive as Roses dominant performance down the stretch was, he admitted that his busy All-Star weekend affected him earlier in the contest.

I had to get in rhythm. Not really practicing in four days, then coming back and practicing for a day and a shootaround, it was hard. My shot wasnt there, my rhythm wasnt there and I wasnt trying to force shots, Rose explained. I was letting my guys really handle the game. Then, towards the end, thats when I was trying to get to the line and drive the ball.

Defensively, we just werent there. When we needed stops towards the end, we just couldnt get it and you know us, towards the end, thats where our defense really gets better. But tonight, we just didnt have it, he continued, describing where he felt the Bulls were lacking on this evening. If we would have stopped them at least one or two times towards the end, I think that we would have won this game, but offensively, I think we were there.

Toronto took advantage of the opportunity when Amir Johnson went to work in the post, converting a point-blank shot over Boozer with 16.6 seconds to go, giving the home team a 115-111 advantage. Amir Johnson then blocked a Rose layup attempt and James Johnson was fouled.

The former Bull split the pair of ensuing free throws and after Noah threw away the inbounds pass following a Chicago timeout, it was all academic, especially after Weems knocked down two foul shots to make a comeback virtually impossible.

I know everybody would think that my motivation was playing my former team that wouldnt give me minutes, but I would definitely say the opportunity - a team that wants to fight for you, to get you and have you playing right away, that just shows what kind of trust they have in my game and me, and thats what gave me the motivation, not to let them down, said Johnson, who learned he would start after the Raptors Wednesday afternoon shootaround.

The game felt just like Bulls practice, really. The hardest thing about todays game was not trying to outlet it to Derrick.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.