Futile fourth quarter sends sloppy Bulls to defeat

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Futile fourth quarter sends sloppy Bulls to defeat

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011
Posted 12:02 a.m. Updated 1:25 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

OAKLAND All good things come to an end.

Maybe it was the irregular travel schedule, their delayed elation at beating the blizzard out of Chicago or more realistically, playing an unorthodox opponent that caught them on an off night, but the Bulls (34-15) simply didnt have it Saturday night, dropping a 101-90 decision to the Warriors (22-27) and snapping their six-game winning streak.

The challenge is to be ready no matter what the circumstances are. Sometimes its back-to-back, sometimes youre off for three days and then you play, so the challenge is to make sure you have that edge right from the start of the game, whatever youre faced with and I thought we eased into the game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team gave up 100 points for the first time since a Christmas Day loss at New York.

WATCH: Rose crumples, tosses stat sheet

I thought it was an offensive game to start and when you do that against a team like this, youre asking for trouble. Down the stretch, when we had the lead, we quick-shot the ball a little bit.

Although the Bulls were proficient scoring the ball in the early going not exactly the most impressive feat against the defense-optional hosts the game was played at the Warriors pace, with both teams seemingly producing points at will.

For some reason, Golden States defensive scheme consisted of allowing Bulls veteran Kurt Thomas (eight points, six rebounds, four assists) to shoot open 15-foot jumpers his bread and butter which permitted the big man to provide Chicago with some scoring punch. After a slow start, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (14 points, 10 assists, nine turnovers) briefly got going, mixing his acrobatic drives, pull-up jumper and unselfish distributing to maintain the visitors slim edge.

On the home teams end of things, high-scoring guard Monta Ellis (33 points, five assists) was his typical aggressive self on offense and was aided by power forward David Lee (13 points), who used his face-up ability and shooting range to make an impact.

At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a narrow advantage, 25-23.

I thought the first quarter was pretty good. I didnt think we eased in. I thought it was easy in the first quarter, observed Carlos Boozer. Maybe we had the impression it was going to be easy the whole game.

Improved defense and a shooting clinic put on by reserve swingman Kyle Korver (11 points) helped Chicago widen the gap early in the second quarter, prompting a Golden State timeout for adjustment purposes.

Whatever moves Warriors head coach Keith Smart made apparently worked, as Golden State quickly cut into the deficit it didnt hurt that backup Ronnie Brewer missed a wide-open dunk in transition and Carlos Boozer (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) picked up a technical foul leading Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to put his own halt to the proceedings.

Warriors swingman Dorell Wright (20 points, six rebounds), already having a productive outing, put the home team in the lead temporarily by splashing a three-pointer midway through the stanza, completing an 8-0 Golden State run.

The contest then evolved into a back-and-forth affair, with the two squads exchanging baskets in dissimilar fashions, as the Bulls mostly scored in the paint second-year backup Taj Gibson (eight points, eight rebounds) came off the bench with his typical energy while the Warriors stuck with their perimeter-oriented style as the first half went on.

Atypically for Rose, he struggled miserably with turnovers (he had seven in the half) and creating offense, leading to a helter-skelter flow that benefited Golden State, sending the rowdy Oracle Arena crowd (equipped with a live jazz band in the upper reaches of the building) into a mild frenzy.
The Warriors threw a brand new defense at Derrick Rose by doubling him up top and not letting the point guard control the ball. Rose acknowledged after the game that, as a result, he wasn't able to get into any kind of rhythm. (AP)
Rose was just out of sync. The way that they doubled was kind of weird, said Rose. When I came off the pick, two people were on me. If I made the little slip pass, somebody was sticking Carlos. It was just tough. A tough night.

It was just something that weve never seen before, he expounded about the Warriors defense. I couldnt get a feel for the game because they didnt let me. I couldnt split, when I dragged it out, they were coming out with me. Every pick-and-roll, they trapped and I guess thats what Ive got to get used to.

Added Boozer: They tried to get the ball out of his hands, which is the smart thing. Once he has the ball, the other team is in trouble. Were not going to take anything away from them. They did a good job executing their game plan. We made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of turnovers. We didnt capitalize on some of their gambles, he went on to say.

The next time we see this kind of defense, well be ready for it.

At the intermission, the visiting Bulls trailed, 48-47.

Things didnt go smoothly for Chicago immediately after the break particularly for Rose, who appeared out of sync but with their star struggling, Luol Deng (18 points, six rebounds) and especially Boozer responded. Boozer, after being corralled around the neck by Lee who was assessed a flagrant foul for his actions became a dominant post presence, propelling the visitors to a 14-2 run to begin the third quarter.

Thats when were supposed to take control of the game and slow the ball down, get what we want, instead of playing their game, Rose remarked about that critical juncture of the game. They want to play up and down, we were taking quick shots, playing stupid. But were going to learn from it and hopefully you wont see this performance anymore.

Golden State eventually fought back the only way they know how (scoring more points), battling back to once again make it a tight-knit affair. Second-year point guard Stephen Curry (23 points, eight assists, six rebounds) took his turn carrying the load for the Warriors, using his skilled blend of scoring and playmaking to bring the home team back, with Wright complementing his efforts.

With only 4.9 seconds left in the period, Golden State pulled off a slick inbounds play Wright threw an alley-oop pass to Ellis, who finished a nifty reverse layup while airborne and backwards to give the home team a 73-72 lead through three periods of play.

Building on their momentum, Golden State took control of the contest, going on a 16-2 run to start the final frame, further inspiring the raucous, sellout audience. Chicago was completely out of sync, unable to stop the Warriors offensive attack or successfully put the ball in the basket.

The visitors extended drought lasted through the midway point of the period, when Deng was fouled going to the basket and subsequently split a pair of free throws. Although Dengs second attempt resulted in an offensive rebound and eventual Brewer layup (he was fouled on the basket, but couldnt capitalize on the three-point play opportunity), Chicago was unable to use the rare positive moment to make a sustainable comeback, despite Golden State not decisively putting the game out of reach.

To the Bulls credit, they continued to battle late, but it simply wasnt enough. After a Korver triple cut the deficit to seven points with under a minute to play, Ellis hit a tough fadeaway toward the end of the shot clock with 24.8 seconds to go, effectively ending Chicagos slim hopes at a miraculous finish.

It was just one of those games where it wasnt going our way. Tried to force it, concluded Rose. We didnt stop them. They were getting everything that they wanted, they were playing with a lot of confidence. We had a chance to break the game open. We were up by a large amount and our defense didnt hold them.

If our offense wasnt going, weve got to depend on our defense. Our defense is what makes us a good team and tonight that wasnt us tonight.

Chimed in Boozer: Golden State made it more of a perimeter-type of game, more perimeter jump shots. They double-teamed D-Rose right when he came into the pick-and-roll and got the ball out of his hands.

The game just got a little bit more clogged up on offense for us and then on defense, we just didnt get any stops. Sometimes you can look at the offense so hard, you forget about the other side, he continued. The way they play, they make you rush a little bit and I thought at times, we rushed a little bit tonight.

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.

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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

With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

The Bulls are focused on their own basketball these days, and in winning two of three they may have righted a ship that was headed toward another playoff miss.

But with just eight games remaining in the regular season they're also aware of where they stand in a closely knit Eastern Conference. As 

Entering Tuesday night the Bulls sit one-half game behind the Miami Heat for the No. 8 seed in the conference, while just 3.5 games separate the fifth-seeded Hawks and tenth-seeded Hornets.

With the Bulls in the middle of so much movement that's bound to change a half dozen times between now and April 12, Fred Hoiberg and his team admit they're paying attention to what the rest of the league is doing.

"You almost have to this time of the year with all the outlets, being able to watch every game with (NBA) League Pass," Hoiberg said at Tuesday's practice. "You do keep an eye on what other teams are doing. But at the same time we talk every day about how it's up to us. We've got to go out and play with purpose, play with energy every time we step on the floor, and give ourslves a chance to win."

The Bulls have done just that lately. 

An ugly skid in which they lost eight of 10 in March saw them fall out of the East playoff race, but crucial wins over the Pistons and Bucks - albeit with an ugly home loss to Philadelphia - have the Bulls back in solid playoff positioning.

Though they trail the Heat for that No. 8 spot, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker over Miami (2-1 season series advantage) and have a far easier remaining schedule down the stretch. In fact, the Bulls' remaining opponents have a combined win percentage of .390, the easiest remaining path in the East. It's different in Miami, where Erik Spoelstra's group has the third most difficult remaining stretch in the East.

Throw in injuries to Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside and it's looking likely that the Bulls will catch Dwyane Wade's old team by season's end. The Bulls' only two games against teams with winning records are the Cavaliers (8-10 since February began) and the Atlanta Hawks (losers of seven in a row).

[WATCH: Jimmy Butler puts Benny the Bulls on last after draining trick shot]

After that the Bulls get bottom feeders in New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Orlando and Brooklyn twice. Then again, the Bulls have had issues against some of those teams, as they tout a 7-4 record against those squads (with losses to New York twice, Philadelphia and Orlando).

With Wade out of the lineup the rest of the year the backcourt tandem of Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo has picked up the slack. Rondo is looking more like the player who signed a two-year, $30 million deal this past offseason, averaging 12.4 points on 51 percent shooting and 7.4 assists in 31.1 minutes since being moved back to the starting lineup on March 13.

"I just try to look at what we're doing and control what we can control," Rajon Rondo said. "We're not playing other teams that we're racing against so we got 8 left and we want to take advantage of all eight.

"I would love to get back to the playoffs. That's the goal. That was the goal when I came here was to make the playoffs, nothing else. So we got a little bit more work to do.

Jimmy Butler claimed he hasn't been focused on what other teams around the Bulls are doing, but knows that making the playoffs has added value. Though the Bulls would likely be the No. 8 and seed and face either the Celtics or Cavaliers, with so many young players on the roster that experience can pay dividends down the line.

"You get to see how important every possession is, the way you've got to lock in, the challenge of playing the same team the possibility of seven times, it just shows the mental growth that you're gonna have to withstand and hold through a seven-game series," Butler said. "It's a lot harder than the regular season, I'll tell you that much."