Bulls' 'Big 3' combine for 80; 76ers still prevail

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Bulls' 'Big 3' combine for 80; 76ers still prevail

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
Posted 8:40 PM Updated 10:14 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

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.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."