Bulls can't overcome huge deficit, gain ground

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Bulls can't overcome huge deficit, gain ground

Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted: 9:36 p.m. Updated: 11:59 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

For once, the Bulls dug themselves a hole deep enough that they couldnt climb out, falling to the 76ers, 97-85, Monday night at the United Center, ending both their 15-game home winning streak and four-game overall streak.

With the loss Chicago failed to gain ground on the Boston Celtics, who went down in Indiana, 107-100, thus keeping their lead at two games in the Eastern Conference.

Weve got to make the necessary corrections real fast because things can change very quickly in this league, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau cryptically stated. When you practice well, you play well. When youre not putting a lot into practice, youre not going to have an edge in the game. If you dont have an edge in the game, youre putting yourself in a bad position.

Thibodeau angry after loss

We came out flat and we tried to make a run in the third, but you exerted so much energy there that you didnt have enough to finish, continued the coach, who cited defense, rebounding, turnovers and free throws as some of his teams issues on the evening. There wasnt one phase of the game where we were doing the things that we should be doing. We put ourselves in a bad position.

For the third consecutive game, the Bulls got off to a slow start and while the Sixers didnt immediately take advantage, sloppy turnovers and poor defensive transition eventually allowed the visitors to get out to an early 19-10 advantage.

The likes of center Spencer Hawes (14 points) and sharpshooter Jodie Meeks buoyed Philadelphias offensive attack with their perimeter marksmanship, while versatile swingman Andre Iguodala (19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and second-year floor general Jrue Holiday (12 points, six assists) orchestrated the show.

I dont think theres a reason for the Bulls slow starts. Its not one or two guys. Its the whole starting unit. Weve got to come out and play harder. Thats really it, said Bulls center Joakim Noah. Everybodys playing for something. Theres really no excuses. Weve got to learn from this loss, move on and get better.

I dont think its a question of somebody hitting some shots. Its just the way we started the game. We didnt come with the right fight to start the game, he continued. I dont want to sound like Im blaming anybody. Its collectively.

The Sixers lead grew to double digits as the first quarter went on, as Hawes ability to step out, a sound defensive strategy and Bulls lapses in the same area allowed Philadelphia to take control of the game. Chicagos errant shooting from the field and out of sync, lackluster initial showing, had the Sixers holding a 27-13 lead at the conclusion of the opening period.

I saw on tape tonight when I was watching the Bulls games, something I thought we could do against them offensively and Spencer really took advantage of it, got us off to a great start, explained 76ers head coach Doug Collins. "Thaddeus Young was shot out of a cannon in the first half. He was so quick. I sent him a text last night about 12:30 and I said, I know youre going to bounce back and he said, You can count on me.

Chicagos Bench Mob was much more energetic than the starters with the exception of holdover Luol Deng (10 points, nine rebounds), who was aggressive on the offensive end, although the unit couldnt counter their Philadelphia counterparts, mostly due to the individual stylings of the aforementioned Young (21 points, seven rebounds). The efficient third-year southpaw used his quickness off the dribble and finishing ability around the rim to score 17 quick points and generally wreak havoc with his high activity level in an 11-minute stint.

The visitors lead swelled to over 20 points, dismaying the United Center crowd on Latin Night part of the NBAs Noche Latina initiative and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau countered the young Sixers athleticism by employing the smallish, jet-quick backcourt of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (31 points, five assists) and his understudy, C.J. Watson.

When youre not playing the way that youre normally playing, its going to be tough. Every game, its going to be tough for us because teams are fighting for a spot and we know that we have a spot, but we cant come out the way we came out today, noted Rose. Every game youre not going to come back. You dont even want to be put in that position, where you have to come back or be down 20, especially to a team like that. Give them confidence, you never know what they can do.

We relaxed and you see what happened.

The pairing enabled the Bulls to more readily get out in transition and utilize more defensive pressure. As a result, Rose and Carlos Boozer (15 points, nine rebounds, four assists) both came alive late in the first half, but the Bulls still trailed, 53-37 at the break, with Sixers power forward and former Bull Elton Brand (13 points, nine rebounds) and the continued deluge of Bulls unforced errors turnovers and missed free throws alike all contributing to the disadvantage.

Los Bulls couldnt get it going after the intermission, exchanging baskets with the Sixers (or coming up empty on offense after a defensive stop), who continued to display good ball movement and play a tough, disciplined and active brand of defense, eventually forcing Rose into 10 turnovers by himself.

WATCH: Rose blames himself for loss

Hes so aggressive offensively, we tried to be aggressive with him. Jrue Holiday didnt score a lot of points, but he was the main guy on him, explained Brand. We just tried to make it tough for him because hes one of the top MVP candidates in the league, so its hard to just stop him.

Countered Thibodeau: Derricks seen that a lot. It was no different than what weve seen in the whole second half of the season. Hes aggressive. I thought he was getting hit on his drives. He wasnt getting calls, so we ended up with turnovers.

Rose himself was extremely frustrated afterwards; as is his habit, he takes every loss personally. This time the statistics backed it up and with turnovers being the bane of his existence, he heaped responsibility for the loss on his own shoulders.

We came out sluggish. This one was definitely on me. I didn't come out with intensity. I played like crap, said Rose. Just careless. Some of them were me driving, kicking the ball off my expletive foot. Just careless. I'm going to learn from it, watch video and I should be all right.

I think my turnovers definitely changed this gameI was dribbling the ball off my foot, hand or whatever. It was bad.

Brand continued to give his former team fits, but Rose put the Bulls on his back and with Boozers low-post presence and Noahs (10 points, 13 rebounds) glasswork, Chicago fought to try to make the deficit more manageable.

Philadelphia, however, had other plans, using their balanced attack to weather the storm and trapping Rose forcing other Bulls to make plays, a strategy that was successful enough to help the visitors maintain their comfortable double-digit lead.

But toward the end of the period, a Rose and Noah-propelled Bulls surge sliced into the deficit to make it a single-digit affair, 69-64, after three quarters, following a Kyle Korver jumper from the corner with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Thibodeau elected to start Rose in the final stanza indicative of the importance of the stretch and it paid off, as the third-year Windy City native got to the rim and finished, willing the Bulls into making it a close-knit affair, putting further pressure on Chicagos guests.

A combination of Bulls miscues and timely scoring by the Sixers, however, was enough for Philadelphia to again extend its cushion heading into the games stretch run, following a pair of consecutive Hawes mid-range jumpers.

A final push was in order and the Bulls appeared up for the challenge, first making it a two-possession game before yet another Hawes jumper and a Holiday fast-break layup off a Bulls turnover made it a 90-80 game with 1:46 left.

Perhaps the effort to get back into the game sapped too much of their energy, but uncharacteristic turnovers and a lack of hustle in the clutch paved the way for Philadelphia to cruise to victory in the final minutes with flair, as Iguodala and reserve guard Lou Williams (10 points) wolfed down a pair of back-breaking dunks in transition.

Its been coming. Were not happy with the way we played. Weve got nine games left, said Deng. We cant start games like that. Just take the positives out of it and use it as a wake-up call. The last few games, weve been winning, but weve got to get back to Bulls basketball, how weve been playing all year. No one is happy in this locker room and everybody is going to take it upon themselves to come out more aggressive and play harder.

Not taking anything away from Philly they played well tonight but we were a little careless with the ball. Weve got to be more decisive. They showed us different defenses. Its all right. We didnt play well. Well bounce back.

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.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.”