Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
Posted 8:40 PM Updated 10:14 PM
By Aggrey Sam
PHILADELPHIAThe supposedly defense-first Bulls (23-12) are officially in a funk on that end of the floor, allowing the 76ers (15-21)a team they beat by 45 points last monthto use hot shooting to defeat them, 105-99, Friday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. Additionally, the plague of low energy, the most common rationalization for the malaise infecting Chicago, has finally reared its ugly head, manifesting itself in a two-game losing streak.
After being demolished in the aforementioned previous meeting, Philadelphia came out with clear determination and much better offensive execution. However, despite the Sixers shooting the ball efficiently from the fieldsecond-year sharpshooter Jodie Meeks (24 points, 4-for-7 3-pointers) sparked the home teamthe Bulls, by virtue of Carlos Boozers (31 points, 13 rebounds) strong inside play, held a slim early advantage.
While young floor general Jrue Holiday (19 points, six assists) did his best to keep the point-guard matchup competitive, Derrick Rose (27 points, nine assists)with able scoring assistance from Boozer and Luol Deng (22 points, five rebounds)was too much, getting to the basket and finishing almost at will, inspiring awe from the sparse Wells Fargo Center. After a quarter of defense-optional basketball, Chicago led, 30-28.
Chicagos reserves once again propelled the team, extending the lead, with Dengwhom Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau typically pairs with the second unit to start the second quarterand Taj Gibson leading the way. Still, the home team remained within striking distance.
Meeks and reserve scoring guard Louis Williams (20 points) both gave the Bulls issues on the defensive endPhiladelphia went with a three-guard set, with Holiday joining the duoresulting in the Sixers cutting into the deficit. At the intermission, the visitors maintained a tenuous 56-54 winning margin, following a Williams near-halfcourt jumper at the halftime buzzer.
Explained Rose: We gave them confidence in the beginning and they thought that they could take those shots and the shots that they were taking, they were hitting. If you give anybody in this league confidence, theyll knock anything down.
Added Thibodeau: From A to Z. Our catch-and-shoot defense wasnt very good, containing dribble penetration and then challenging shots; youve got to challenge shots. Sometimes were right there and if we dont challenge shots, theyre going to make them. They got in rhythm early on us. When a team gets confidence, its much harder to slow them down. Theyve got their confidence going and we had a hard time all night.
"The energy level was better tonight from an offensive standpoint, but defensively, we have to correct it. We have to get back to being a defensive team first."
The third quarter began with a sluggish pace; neither team could truly establish a rhythm and both defenses were as porous as the first half. Chicagos proved to be the more yielding of the two, as Philadelphias balanced attackMeeks, Holiday, veteran Elton Brand, big man Spencer Hawes and ex-Bull Andres Nocioni were all productiveeventually led to the Sixers overtaking the visitors to seize control of the contest with a 20-4 run.
When you play a team and they shoot over 50 percentwell over 50 percentits hard to beat them on their home court and even if theyre on your home court," Boozer said. "If you let a team shoot 50 percent and above, youre not going to win too many of those games. Weve got to play better D. Weve got a lot of big-time games coming upobviously Boston tomorrow starts us offso weve got to correct that defense overnight."
Ill be honestlistenthey had a couple of wide-open ones, but most of their shots were contested. You saw the halfcourt that they hit; we were right there in their face. You saw a couple other shots they hit. We did a decent job contesting them. They had a couple open shots, but for the most part, we were right there in their face.
Gaudy Philadelphia shooting numbersaided by a lack of defensive intensity on Chicagos partand stagnant Bulls offensive possessions were the main culprits in the turning of tables and Meeks torrid outside shooting bust the game open, as the Sixers went up by double-digit margin. In an upside-down microcosm of the two teams first matchup, nothing went right for the Bulls and everything the Sixers threw up seemingly dropped through the nets, resulting in a less-than-energized Chicago squad trailing, 86-74, at the conclusion of three periods.
Thibodeau again enlisted his reserves in an effort to bring the Bulls back, but they were unable to significantly chip away at the large deficit. Boozer, appearing determined to redeem himself from the teams previous outing, was a consistent force, but he couldnt do it alone and untimely turnovers didnt help the situation.
With Philadelphias suddenly inept offense, however, Chicago still had a chance to escape with a win, provided some shots started falling and the necessary defensive stops persisted. But after a few blown offensive trips and back-to-back Williams baskets with a little over a minute made it a three-possession game, the Bulls appeared to be out of luck.
Things like that, weve got to grind it out and get that win, said Rose. Theyre a teamI know theyve been in some close gamesbut I dont think that theyve won as many close games as us. We cant be in that position anyway.
Following a timeout, reserve C.J. Watson drained a corner 3-pointer to cut the Sixers lead to five points with exactly a minute remaining. On the subsequent possession, a Philadelphia turnover resulted in Rose getting fouled and hitting both free throws with 37.6 left.
A stop was needed on Philadelphias next trip and while the Bulls defense obliged by forcing a Williams miss, Nocioni came back to haunt his former squad by snatching an offensive rebound. He was fouled with 15.9 seconds to play and calmly nailed both of his foul shots, effectively ending the game.
They were hot all game," Thibodeau said. "We made a little run in the fourth quarter, but they got what they wanted all game. Thats how they got separation and were fighting out of a hole. Even at the end, weve got to come up with that rebound. That rebound at the end of games is a critical rebound. Our problems were caused much earlier than that. First quarter, allowed them to get going. Third quarter was a huge problem. Fourth quarter, we were scrambling to get back and it was better.
Boozer chimed in: Our offense isnt really the problem. Tonight, we shot over 50 percent, we had 99 pointsenough to winbut we didnt get enough stops to win. First and third quarter were bad again. Weve just got to do a better jobpoint-blankand weve got to do it overnight.
Rose searched for the answers to the teams recent woes.
If youre not playing defense, its going to hurt you and we didnt do it tonight, said the All-Star point guard. Its not even the offense. Our offense is going to be there. Its just defense. Weve just got to get back to our basics. Get back to where we have an edge on the defensive. But this loss definitely hurt us.
Im confused, but weve just got to find a way, where everybodys on the same page. Pushing the ball, getting easy baskets, then coming down and locking people upthats what we have to do. But right now, were not playing like ourselves. Were not stopping people and scoring at will. Weve just got to get back to ourselves. Weve got to be this grimy team when we come out. Defense is the first thing that were doing. Offense is just going to come. Weve got enough people on this team where offense is going to be there...We cant panic. We just lost two in a row.
If they can cure what ails them, perhaps the streak ends there. It won't be an easy task, however, with visiting Boston in town Saturday night.
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.