Chicago Bulls

Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

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Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Posted 8:34 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ATLANTAThis was one you had to see to believe, but not in a good way.

Even as things unfolded, it seemed impossibleespecially with such a tough-minded, consistent bunchbut somehow, it happened. After leading for the entire contest, Tom Thibodeaus 48-minute foreshadowing came true, as the Bulls were overtaken by the Al Horford-led Hawks in the games final minute Wednesday night and improbably dropped an 83-80 affair at Phillips Arena.

Perhaps Joakim Noah put it best: We tricked it tonight.

Even without being up on the latest slang, Noahs statement is easy to interpret. Chicago blew the game.

The visitors jumped out of the gatesCarlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds) was particularly aggressivewith a 10-0 start in the first three minutes, punctuated by a Derrick Rose (12 points, 12 assists, six turnovers) steal and dunk that led to a Hawks timeout. Not that the half-empty Phillips Arena crowd minded, as the majority of attendees seemed to be Bulls fans, many of whom chanted M-V-P for Rose.

The lead eventually extended to 14-0, as another Rose steal led to a textbook give-and-go fast break, resulting in a Keith Bogans layup as the typically light-scoring shooting guard scored eight first-quarter points. Atlanta finally got on the board with nearly five minutes elapsed in the contest.

If anything, however, the Bulls could have further capitalized on their early advantage. Instead, the Hawksled by Noahs (13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) college teammate Al Horford (31 points, 16 rebounds) and sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (12 points, four assists)closed on their guests as the opening period wore on and while Chicago, aided by the scoring contributions of the ever-active Taj Gibson, didnt completely squander their seemingly insurmountable lead, they held a 28-19 lead after a quarter in a suddenly more competitive affair.

Despite their hot start on both ends, the Bulls struggled with turnovers and general mishandling of the basketball, even when they made hustle plays, kept rebounds alive and made strong defensive efforts. As if they were locked in step with the typically late-arriving crowd at the Highlight Factory (as the Hawks home arena is nicknamed), the games pace slowed to a lull early in the second period, with neither team immediately able to find a rhythm.

When we got the big lead, I thought we got real loose at the end of the second quarter, carried over to start the third. Youve got to play 48 minutes. You dont do that, youre not winning in this league, said Thibodeau afterwards. Youve got to play tough with the lead.

Chicago gradually rebuilt their winning margin to a double-digit level, as the visitors held their hosts to 31.7-percent shooting, while Atlanta doled out only five assists in the first half. Although their red-hot marksmanship to begin the contest cooled, the Bulls got sporadic easy opportunitiessuch as an uncontested Rose double-pump dunk after he grabbed his own offensive rebound of a three-pointerand with their stifling defense, as well as Luol Deng (15 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals) bouncing back after struggling early and Noah impacting the game with his energetic interior play, they took a 50-33 edge into the break.

Atlanta started the third quarter on a 6-0 run, increasing their defensive intensity, employing full-court pressure (a key aspect of which was keeping the ball out of Roses hands), forcing turnovers and influencing Thibodeau to put a brief halt to the proceedings. The game became a single-digit affair, with the home crowd fully engaged and the visitors out of sync.

I think the effort was there. We just came out too loose in the second half. This loss stings, its a tough loss, but our schedule doesnt get any easier and we can learn a lot from this game. Tough way to lose, but it just shows, youve got to play the game for 48 minutes, said Noah. I take full responsibility for not coming out with the right juice at the beginning of the third. They kind of got whatever they wanted to start that third quarter and weve just got to bounce back quick.

Crawford told CSNChicago.com: We felt like we were never out of it. Even though they got up big, they couldnt hit shots and we couldnt either. We felt like at some point, wed start hitting our shots and Al had a heck of a game.

Horfordthe competitive undersized center was the Hawks saving grace early and showed his fiery side in a near-skirmish after taking exception to a hard Boozer foul in the second quarterwreaked havoc on the Bulls interior defense with his ability to not only stretch the defense, but drive to the basket against his close acquaintance Noah, prompting Thibodeau to later call for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and rookie Omer Asik (nine rebounds, two blocked shots).

Horford played great. He was hitting a lot of shots from deep, said Noah of his former teammate. I think he played very well tonight. Great rebounding, running the floor hard as hell. Just an overall great performance.

Still, timely baskets from the forward combination of Deng and Boozer enabled Chicago, which displayed outstanding offensive balance, to maintain a slight cushion over Atlanta for the time being.

A Rose turnover, however, led to a Horford follow-up dunk in transition late in the period, making the contest a one-possession game, much to Thibodeaus ire.

This game was definitely on me, but I think Im definitely going to learn from it and get better from it, said Rose, who shot 5-for-21 from the floor and committed an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Ive got to take care of the ball. Shots werent going down like they normally do.

Careless. Thats on my part. Im the one with the ball the majority of the time, he continued. We let one escape.

Concurred a hoarse and frustrated Thibodeau: They did a good job on Rose. He had a hard time getting going. I thought he had some shots that he normally makes, that he couldnt put down. Thats going to happen sometimes. Then, hes got to do other things.
Al Horford tied a career-high with 31 points, 22 coming in the second half to help Atlanta erase a 17-point halftime deficit. (AP)
Asiks offensive rebounding aside, there wasnt much to be pleased with from a Chicago perspective, as the Hawks cut it to 63-58 with one frame remaining and all the momentum on Atlantas side, despite leading scorer Joe Johnson (12 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) experiencing a poor shooting outing.

Asiks energy, defensive presence and offensive rebounding sparked the Bulls in the fourth quarter, giving them multiple possessions and getting the starters to applaud his effort from the bench. Chicago was able to stave off the home teams charge for the time being and Thibodeau reinserted his regulars into the tight-knit contest with the games stretch run approaching.

Horfords dominant effort continued to bring Atlanta to the brink of overtaking Chicago, but every time the Hawks seemed poised to seize the lead, the Bulls managed a timely contribution from any number of players. However, when Marvin Williams (10 points, four rebounds) blocked a Rose dunk attempt, leading to a Hawks fast-break bucket (aided by a Deng goaltend), it felt like the games turning point.

Kyle Korver, the teams designated sharpshooter nailed a three-pointer with under two minutes to go, but Williamswho had been dormant most of the evening answered with his own corner triple.

We believed in each other. We believe in our coaches and we believe in each other as players. Weve been down before and guys didnt hang their heads. We just kept plugging away, plugging away. Finally the tables turned in our favor and we were able to get a win, Williams told CSNChicago.com. We kept creeping closer and closer and closer. We just kept chopping away at the deficit. I think every bucket that we got and every stop that we got gave us more confidence.

After the Bulls failed to convert on the other end, Noah fouled Horford while attempting to grab an offensive rebound. With the score 79-78 in Chicagos favor, Horford split a pair of free throws to tie the game with 56.9 seconds left. On the Bulls next trip, Rose penetrated the defense and dropped the ball off to Noah, who was also fouled and made one of two attempts from the line to give the visitors an 80-79 advantage with 37.1 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Crawford found Horford cutting to the basket off a pick-and-roll for a powerful dunk, thrilling the crowd and giving Atlanta its first lead of the contest, 81-80, with 29.4 seconds to play. Following a Bulls timeout, a bungled exchange between Boozer and Rose resulted in a Johnson steal and subsequent transition dunk over Rose.

I think he hit me in my head. I think I was trying to take off too quick, Rose explained. Just one of those games for me.

Chicago rushed to get off a late three-point attempt to tie the game, but Rose missed a tough look over Horford. Although Noah got the offensive board and the ball made its way to Korver via Boozer, the long-ball specialist airballed a wide-open look with all zeroes on the clock.

It was the kind of shot you want. It actually felt kind of good leaving my hand, Korver told CSNChicago.com. I was really shocked that it went short, but you get ready to shoot the next one.

Thibodeau refused to place the blame on a singular playat least on the offensive endfor the loss.

We couldnt get stops and we couldnt score. Beat ourselves at the end, said Thibodeau. But the game was lost way before that.

By then, we were struggling so much. We didnt have a good rhythm. Those are miracle shots, he continued. Theyre a good team. We should be able to count on our defense when were not making shots and all we had to do was get a shot at the end of the game there. We had the lead. You get a stop, its your game. We couldnt do that, so we lose.

Summed up Noah: Its on us. Its always tough to lose that way we lost, but I know that we were up 19 points and we got loose. We cant play that way and at the end of the day, the positive about is we know that were a lot better than that and well bounce back because thats what we do.

You learn from your experiences. Losing like thiswe havent had a loss like this all yearbut it hurts and you know what, itll make us tougher in the long run.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bulls the worst team in NBA?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bulls the worst team in NBA?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Shepkowski (670 The Score) and Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap on the panel. Jake Arrieta will return to the rotation to face the Brewers. Can he recapture his pre-injury form? Mike Glennon gets another start Sunday but should he get the hook if he struggles again?

Plus, the guys discuss the one metric that says the Bulls are the worst team in the NBA.

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

A 'woke' Doug Collins returns to provoke thought — and we'll find out who's asleep in Bulls' front office

Doug Collins made it clear, that his return to the Bulls organization won’t result in a return to the sidelines as head coach, meaning Fred Hoiberg has nothing to worry about in the way of looking over his shoulder.

What Collins did admit, though, is he’s back with the Bulls to provoke thought. Anyone who’s listened to Collins as a broadcaster for ESPN or Turner Sports, or talked to him in any basketball capacity, knows he’s not only a hoops lifer but also someone who can have strong opinions, capable of quick dissection of a complex picture in a moment’s notice.

“I’m not here to be a decision-maker. I want to provoke thought. My mind is very active,” Collins said Tuesday afternoon at the Advocate Center. “And I think to get into a room and to bounce ideas off each other or whatever, at the end of the day, Gar, Michael, Jerry, Pax will make those decisions. The beauty of it is is that when there’s a level of trust when you’re talking about things, you can speak openly and honestly with people knowing the only thing that matters is that whatever happens is the best for the franchise.”

Announcing Collins as a senior advisor to executive vice president John Paxson adds another voice to the Bulls’ braintrust and is probably an admission this rebuild will require more than what the Bulls already have, be it in terms of connections, observation and even innovation.

Collins’ connection to Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf, a growing relationship with Michael Reinsdorf and ability to relate with Hoiberg due to the misery of coaching should align a front office to the floor in ways that has been in doubt for the past several seasons.

“Given Jerry's relationship and my relationship with Doug over the years, we thought, hey, let's see if maybe this isn't a good time for Doug to come back into the fold,” Paxson said. “So we approached him and it was very casual, no expectations other than he's been a friend of ours for so long. But the more we kind of dug into the prospects of this and what it means, the more we kept asking ourselves, why wouldn't we do this?”

Collins made it clear he won’t be giving up his family life, as he already has residence in Chicago and his son Chris is coaching Northwestern and a son-in-law coaching a high school team outside Philadelphia.

“The hours and the time commitment that Fred Hoiberg puts in on a day and the energy that he spends and being on the road and being away from his family,” Collins said. “(This) worked perfectly in my schedule when I talked to Pax that I could be a part of something special, the Chicago Bulls, and I love the Chicago Bulls.”

His energy and passion can light up a room, and though he tried his best to say that’s died down at age 66, claiming “I can sit and do a crossword puzzle for three hours now”, people wired like Collins don’t lose their fervor for the game.

“I think there’s this feeling that I’m a guy who’s always on and fired up,” Collins said.

But that fire and passion and presumably a willingness to be uncompromising with the truth should be something that’s welcome inside the Advocate Center. In addition to his acumen, one of Collins’ greatest strengths is his fervor, and it shouldn’t be scaled back.

That’s not how rebuilds work successfully. Lines have to be crossed and people have to be made uncomfortable in their line of thinking, even if it’s Paxson or Hoiberg or general manager Gar Forman.

It’s not hard to see the Bulls following the thinking of the Golden State Warriors when they added Jerry West in an advisory role years ago, resulting in several key moves being made, most notably West’s objection to Klay Thompson being traded to Minnesota for Kevin Love before Love was eventually moved to Cleveland.

West’s guidance played a part in the Warriors’ upward trajectory to championship status, and he hopes to have a similar affect with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Comparing West with Collins on its face is a bit unfair, considering West’s experience as an executive and championship pedigree dating back to his days with the Lakers.

At least with West, he’s not trying to convince anyone he isn’t anything but a tortured basketball soul at age 79. Collins reminded everyone he’s a grandfather of five and at a spry 66, West would call Collins a “spring chicken.”

What Collins can bring is a keen eye for observation, and expecting him to be a passive personality doesn’t quite seem right, especially leaving the cushy job at ESPN that allowed him maximum exposure and a schedule to his liking.

Perhaps the way Collins left the NBA, with a massive gambit in Philadelphia falling flat when Andrew Bynum’s knees rendered him useless and sending the 76ers franchise into “The Process,” left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

Maybe his competitive juices got him going again and the broadcast booth just wasn’t cutting it, along with having a front seat to the injury that changed the course of the Bulls franchise when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012 against Collins’ 76ers.

Maybe the crossword puzzles just couldn’t get it done anymore. After all, the man once cried on the sidelines as his Detroit Pistons beat the Bulls in a regular-season game in 1997. Curbing that passion would be a disservice.

“See how things quickly change? The NBA is cyclical now,” Collins said. “Other than the San Antonio Spurs, over the last 20 years, every elite franchise has gone through this moment. And so now what you got to do, you got to dig yourself back up.

“We got to start doing all the things that are necessary to gain assets day by day, to put all the work, so we’re going to give ourself a chance, when we continue to get better players and more talent, that you’re going to win more basketball games.”

Collins said he has old-school values, all while being caught up with the times that he called himself “woke” as a nod to the current culture.

If he truly is, we’ll also find out who’s asleep in the front office, in desperate need a loud wake-up call.