Bulls' mentality must change in a hurry

981337.png

Bulls' mentality must change in a hurry

The key number after the Bulls Saturday-night loss to the Suns at the United Center wasnt the 97-81 final score.

Its the teams home record, which fell to 10-10 on the season after losing to the second-worst team in the Western Conference, previously losers of 12 consecutive road games and playing in their fourth game in five nights.

Making the defeat even more jarring is the fact that just the previous evening, the Bulls played mostly brilliantly in taking down one of the Eastern Conference elite teams, the Knicks, in the hostile environment of Madison Square Garden.

It can happen once in a great while thats part of the game but its too much, so I have to figure it out. My job is to have us ready and we have to play with more intensity, more of an edge and were not doing that, so we have to correct that, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterwards. We have to be ready for everybody and we have to know everybody, inside and out. We have to do better with that. I have to do better with that. I have to make sure were ready. Ive got to get intensity out of our team. Ive got to take a hard look at everything right now.

Its a team-wide thing and when youre having success, you do that together and when youre struggling, you do that together. We have to circle the wagons. Weve got to take a hard look at everything that were doing and everyone has to do it, starting with me, so Ive got to get more out of our team and thats my job, he continued. Theres no such thing in the NBA as a non-marquee team, in my eyes. If youre a player in this league, you are a great player and everybody that youre playing against, every team that youre playing against, is capable of beating you and so, I think the teams that ultimately have great success, it comes down to the degree of how hard youre willing to play each and every night, the degree of how smart youre willing to play each and every night and the degree of how together youre willing to play each and every night, and thats what separates teams. Every team in this league is extremely talented, from top to bottom, so its your willingness to make that commitment for each other, understanding readiness to play, how important the first quarter is and its easy in this league, to get sidetracked and distracted.

When you have the right type of commitment thats necessary to win, you dont allow that stuff to get in the way. Youre ready whenever they tell you to throw the ball up, youre ready. If they say, were playing at midnight on the roof, you should be saying, lets get the ladders. Thats the way it is. Youve got to have the right guys.

Thats certainly a mouthful especially the classic, get the ladders remark but all of it is pertinent. Thibodeaus players, while phrasing things a bit differently, share similar sentiments, particularly the holdovers, who are used to the Bulls giving a consistently hard effort on a nightly basis, regardless of the competition, and dominating at the United Center.

Weve got to fix it. I think if we all knew what the problem was, wed try to do something. But shootarounds are the same time. Weve got to compete, compete harder, play together and play for one another. But I think that it just was not a great effort tonight. They played very well. The way we competed was not great, Joakim Noah said. Its not any given night. Thats the problem. Were 10-10 at home. Thats not very good; thats very average, so theres obviously a problem if were going on the road, beating some of the best teams and coming home against lower-echelon teams, and not competing,

I think its okay to be wrapped up in big wins and I think youre supposed to be happy after you win. When its the big game, we come ready to play. We have to make a conscious effort as players, as coaches everybody I feel like we complain way too much. When things arent going our way, we have to find a way to stick together more because its just too negative. We have to support one another when things arent going well because right now, things arent going our way. Its like its the end of the world and you have to move on to the next play, and unite together because I dont feel like were doing that right now.

Luol Deng, who uncharacteristically picked up a technical foul in the contest, chimed in: I just think we could play a lot harder than we did tonight. Whatever you want to call it relax or thinking that were that good and were just going to walk over them its a lot of things. The bottom line is its an NBA team, theyve got good players, youve got to respect that, come out and get the job done.

Its a long season. Every team has their problems or their issues, whatever you want to call it, and what makes you a good team is recognizing those things and getting better at it. I think right now were showing up in the big games and games like tonight, especially at home, where weve got to dig deep and find a way to be a better team because so far, we havent been, he continued. Every team, if you go up and down the league, even the team with the best record, they have something theyre not good at or something that they need to improve, and I think right now, we need to tackle that. At the beginning of the year, it was playing the whole 48 minutes. I think were getting better at that and now, its games like this weve got to get up for.

Whether its the Suns or Knicks, the Heat in Miami or the Bobcats at home on a holiday, the Bulls game-to-game mentality must change in a hurry. In the past, they didnt play down to competition and defended home court, regardless of circumstances, and to a man, one got the feeling from observing the competitive bunch, if Thibodeau informed them that they had a game at midnight, theyd be willing to get the ladders.

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

If the Bulls were doubting Thomases before Sunday afternoon, Isaiah made them pay for it dearly with each turn of his hand, each herky-jerky dribble and each devastating floater.

Perhaps wiser to their errors, the Bulls will go into Game 5 in Boston with an Isaiah of their own in the starting lineup, as Isaiah Canaan will make the start at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

Having been banished to the inactive list and end of the bench, Canaan's best moments under the United Center lights had been one-on-one matchups with his teammates hours before the real games began.

So being tossed in with 2:15 left in the first quarter and the Bulls already behind 13 points presented both opportunity and some nerves given the stakes. Having played a total of 92 minutes since the calendar turned to 2017, beggars can't be choosers.

"Throughout the season you just wonder when that opportunity is going to come," Canaan said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. You never can see what it may be, from going from not playing for the second half of the season mostly to playing in the most crucial time of the season in the playoffs, I guess God just sent me a sign to mentally be locked in and really battle your faith."

He responded by pressuring Thomas in a way Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams couldn't with any effectiveness, probably due to his quickness and similar build to Thomas.

"My job is to make his job miserable," Canaan said. "He's a great player and he can find different cracks, but I'm just going out there trying to interrupt their timing, try and milk as much time as I can off the shot clock and just keep him uncomfortable. Not let him get settled in for what they want to run, so I'm just out there to make him uncomfortable and speed him up."

Canaan scored 13 points in 33 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers and being a +11 while on the floor, so it's easy to see why Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn't going to mess around with the Grant and Carter-Williams combo that hadn't done much of anything in the friendly confines of the United Center over the weekend.

"I really thought he did a good job picking up the ball and pressuring the pickup point a full 94 feet," Hoiberg said. "I thought his initial ball pressure was good. We have to get off to a much better start if we want to have any chance of winning another game in this series. That's two games in a row now we've gotten ourselves down 20 points and fought all the way back."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bulls playoff tickets right here!]

Still, Thomas scored 33 points and exploited a once-aggressive Bulls defense that seemed to be on its heels for most of the second half against Thomas, leading to Hoiberg's claims about Thomas carrying the ball to give himself an advantage in his hesitation moves.

Hoiberg wouldn't revisit the topic before Monday's practice and praised the Celtics guard who's battling through the devastating loss of his sister, who died right before the series opened in Boston last weekend.

"I'm a huge Isaiah Thomas fan. He's as big a competitor as we have in our league," Hoiberg said. "Obviously, he's as tough a guy to guard as we have in our league. I think the world of the kid, especially what he's going through now, how he's fought through that and like I said last night, he's a warrior to go out there and do what he's done so far in this series."

Thomas has averaged 25.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting with six assists and four rebounds per game. At times, the Bulls' size has bothered Thomas at the rim, particularly Jimmy Butler coming over to help alter his share of attempts, but since the Celtics have altered their approach Thomas has found easier traction to the basket.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens inserted Gerald Green in the starting lineup and the move has worked masterfully, with Green scoring 18 points with four 3-pointers and one highlight-worthy baseline dunk.

It's rendered Robin Lopez effectiveness to a minimum, as he was an unsung hero on the offensive glass in the first two games, meaning Stevens' move to play smaller was a risk, albeit a calculated one.

The Bulls didn't adjust at all to it in Game 4 after the Celtics won decisively Friday night, but changes besides Canaan have to be in store if the Bulls hope to come home looking to clinch a berth in the second round as opposed to fighting off elimination in Game 6.

"It changed it entirely. Obviously when it was big-big, we dominated them," Dwyane Wade said. "Dominated them defensively, incredibly. They made adjustments, we didn't need to because we were up 2-0. Then coming off Game 3, we felt watching the film we played with low motor, not enough energy so we didn't feel the gameplan was the key. 

"But it was coming out of Game 4. So now it's a few adjustments we hope to make and hopefully it makes a difference."

Fast Break Morning Update: Celtics even up series with Bulls

update.jpg
USA TODAY

Fast Break Morning Update: Celtics even up series with Bulls

Preview: White Sox open series with Royals tonight on CSN

Bulls comeback falls flat as Celtics tie series at 2-2

John Lackey struggles as Cubs drop series finale to Reds

White Sox snap skid by forcing, capitalizing on Indians' mistakes

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg criticizes officiating on Celtics' Isaiah Thomas

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

Road Ahead: Cubs look for revenge against Pirates

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls