Questions abound after Bulls loss in New Jersey

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Questions abound after Bulls loss in New Jersey

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
Posted 8:45 PM Updated 10:45 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEWARK, N.J.In a game that will be examined for its myriad subplotsfirst and foremost, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus decisions will be scrutinizedit came down to Chicago finally getting burned after playing with fire (as Thibodeau and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose each have quipped following too-close-for-comfort losses to inferior opponents) over the past few weeks. A reserve-led comeback and a typical Rose clutch performance wouldnt be enough to overcome a lackluster effort Wednesday night, as the Bulls (23-11) fell to the Nets (10-25), 96-94, in the two teams second matchup in less than a week.

After a better-than-usual start to the previous nights winalthough Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wasnt entirely satisfiedChicago was once again lethargic to open a contest. Facing the inferior Nets for the second time in less than a week, the Bulls opponent appeared clearly motivated, not easily intimidated and ultimately effective in the games early going.

Finally deciding to clamp down on defense, New Jerseys easy opportunities ceased for the time being and on the other end, a pair of consecutive circus layups by Rose (21 points)who else?sparked the visitors offense, enabling Chicago to make it a neck-and-neck affair. That being said, the Nets clung to a one-point lead following the first quarter, 25-24.

All the games are tough. They got some guys back, they play hard and they played us well in Chicago, so I knew it was going to be a tough game. We didnt establish ourselves defensively to start the game, so it was going to be a long night for us, said Thibodeau.

Added Rose: Not starting off well really hurts us. Teams get confidence. We cant do this in this league. Anybody can beat you, no matter what their record is.

Luol Deng (17 points, eight rebounds), continuing his recent spate of hot starts to gamesperhaps a byproduct of his growing comfort level with Carlos Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists)but his efforts were countered by the strong finishing and rebounding of Nets reserve Kris Humphries (20 points, 11 rebounds)typically New Jerseys starting power forward; top draft pick Derrick Favors got his first career start.

The rookie departed after picking up two quick foulswho brought the Prudential Center crowd to its feet with his explosive dunks and blue-collar production. Chicagos bench, however, rallied, quickly erasing the deficit and turning the tables on the home team to snatch the lead out of the young Nets grasp.

With Thibodeaus regulars back in the contest, the Bulls werent quite able to pull away from New Jerseydespite a clear advantage in talentdue to those dreaded defensive lapses. Through two periods of play, the Bulls held a 47-46 lead.

A 4-0 Nets run to start the third quarter immediately raised Thibodeaus ire, resulting in a 20-second Bulls timeout. New Jerseys onslaught didnt stop, however, as Bulls turnovers, easy transition opportunities and displays of athleticism from Humphries and Favors contributed to Chicagos woes.

Continued defensive breakdownsNets point guard Devin Harris (18 points, 11 assists) was seemingly able to penetrate the lane at will to either score or find an open teammate, while center Brook Lopez (14 points) gradually found his groove against wily veteran Kurt Thomasexacerbated the situation, permitting New Jersey to build a slight cushion. Humphries personal exhibition, in particular, was surprising to see, but Chicagos overall defense was subpar, as the likes of Stephen Graham (11 points) and Sasha Vujacic (13 points) did damage.

With poor shot selection, a lack of cohesiveness and general ineptitude all playing roles in the Bulls nightmarish three quarters, New Jersey took a 78-65 lead into the final period.

Deng and an all-reserve unit, started to gradually chip away at New Jerseys winning margin in the fourth quarter by playing with more energy, attention to detail on defense and focus on offense, with Deng, reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer and backup point guard C.J. Watson leading the charge. Thibodeau stuck with his bench for extended minutes for a second consecutive nightalbeit in vastly different circumstances; Deng played with the second unit on the previous evening, toobefore reinserting Rose into the contest with 4:02 to play.

Boozer, the teams major offseason free-agent acquisition was noticeably absent from the fourth-quarter comeback. Thibodeau shared his thought process afterwards.

We struggled all night and at the end, we were in such a big hole, we were searching for anything that could get us going, so we went small to see if the guys could generate something and it worked pretty effectively. When youre doing that, youre sacrificing some defense, too, Thibodeau reasoned. We were in such a big hole and they were playing zone, so we had to keep shooting on the floor. That was the main reason we put Lu at the four, to get more range shooting out there to see if we could spread them out and take advantage of them that way.

They were small on the perimeter. They were playing Jordan Farmar and Harris and Vujacic, and we had a hard time matching up. Thats why we went small, to see if that would helpI thought Humphries played with a lot of energy off the bench. Their rebounding of second shots hurt us badly, he continued. Well, the big thing was they were behind big and they were zoning, so the group that went inwe were playing Luol at the four, which gave us another perimeter playerso it was more effective for us against the zone. Thats why we did it and when that group cut the lead down and we were in positionthey tied the game upwe were just going to finish with the group that was going well.

Obviously offensively, Boozer helps a lot more, but also the matchup with Lopez. Thats what I was concerned with going down to the other end.

A quiet Boozerin sharp contrast to his usual upbeat demeanorspoke with reporters following the games conclusion.

Youve got to talk to Thibs about that. That was a coaching decision, said Boozer, whoas he did when he was injured to start the seasonsupported his teammates wholeheartedly from the sidelines. I want us to win and Im always going to cheer my teammates on, no matter what.

Rose, along with Boozer, one of four Bulls captains, tried to quell any controversy in the aftermath.

Of his own extended stint on the bench, he said, Of course its going to be hard, but they were out there doing good. They got us back into the game. There were a couple possessions where we could have got the lead, but we didnt. But we had a lot of opportunities to win this game.

Regarding Boozer, Rose remarked, Yeah, we were surprised, but were not going to try to coach. Were going to go out there and do our job and thats to play. Were just going to leave all the subbing and everything up to him.

Although the Nets, propelled by Harris ability to get to the rim and New Jerseys rebounding margin, didnt wilt instantly, Roses knack for stepping up in the clutch began to manifest itself down the stretch. A swashbuckling jaunt to the rimplus the foulhere, a 3-pointer there, a fast-break assist and the Bulls were back in it, cutting their deficit to a single point as quickly as the All-Star point guards first step blows past defenders.

After the Bulls an errant Watson 3-pointer, Lopez was fouled and split a pair of foul shots to give New Jersey a two-point lead with under a minute to play. Following a Chicago timeoutthe teams last, called with 49.7 seconds to goDeng was eventually fouled, but missed both of his chances from the charity stripe.

Ive got to make them. They fouled and in a position like that, I expect myself to make those free throws. Ive been struggling with my free-throw shooting this year, said Deng, who denied fatigue was an issue, despite playing over 40 minutes on back-to-back nights. I cant be in that position and miss clutch free throws.

On the subsequent possession, the Nets were unable to capitalize and on the ensuing trip, Watson was fouled on a long-range jumperruled to be a two-point shotwith 11.1 seconds remaining. Watson calmly buried both attempts.

I thought it was a three, but Lu told me it was a two, so I was kind of disappointed, said Watson. I wasnt really looking, but I thought it was a 3-pointer. I didnt really know; I couldnt tell.

Out of a timeout, Lopez couldnt convert a lob pass and Vujacic gathered the carom to hit a miraculous shot in traffic with 5.3 seconds on the clock.

Youve got to come up with the loose ball. C.J. made a good play to get a piece of the ball and weve got to scramble and come up with it, and we didnt. Give them credit. They came up with it, said Thibodeau.

Rose chimed in: It was like a blur, where they threw the oop, C.J. hit ittapped it awayI thought that we were going to get the rebound for sure, but Sasha got it and he made a great layup over Kurt.

Rose pushed the ball down the floor and attempted a contested triple to try to escape Newark with a win, but it fell short.

We allowed them to set instead of getting the ball in quick and obviously, if you can attack before theyre set, you have more room and space. But that was a tough play at the end of that game, Thibodeau explained. We allowed them to shoot 49 percent. They got the big loose ball at the end that won the game for them. Youve got to defend and rebound on the road.

We didnt defend, we didnt rebound well and we were low energy most of the game. In the fourth quarter, we dug down, we got some stops and we played with more energy. That gave us a chance.

Rose elaborated about the final shot: The way that they were playing me, it was going to be hard for me to drive. They were cutting down the elbows, just forcing me to pass and I just took the shot.

They tried to trap meBrook and Devin tried to trap me at the half-court lineI had to get past them and by that time, my mind was rushing. Im like, What to do? What to do? I picked up the ball, I pump-fakedI was going to passthen I just shot it. Next time, I should know what to do, he continued. It hurt, not having the timeout, but if anything, I can get up the court in a couple of seconds. I think I took a bad shot towards the end, but things like this help you for the long run, when you get into situations like this again. I think I could have got all the way to the basket.

Rose went on to say: This is the second game we lost a team thats under .500, but right now, it hurts. But we cant hang our heads down. Weve got to continue to play. Weve got to get off to good starts againweve got to get out and run, get easy baskets. Were not getting any easy baskets. Everything has to be tough, contested and everything. We dont want that. Weve got to make the game easy again.

Im going to shake this off, go out there and try to win the next game.

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.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

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