Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
Vinny Del Negros return to Chicago was a success.
But, it almost wasnt.
In his first game in the Windy City since being fired by the Bulls (16-9) following last seasons playoffs, Del Negro led his new team, the lowly Clippers (7-21) to a rare win over his former squad, 100-99, Saturday evening, escaping a furious, last-ditch Chicago attempt to the steal the game away from the visitors when Derrick Rose missed the second of two foul shots with 0.8 seconds to go that would have put the contest into overtime. Roses miss robbed the Bulls of extending their seven-game winning streak in the first game of center Joakim Noahs extended absence due to thumb surgery.
Perhaps shell-shocked by playing without Noah for the first time this season, the Bulls allowed the Clippers to put them on the wrong end of a 10-2 score to start the contest. While Chicago responded after a timeout called by Tom Thibodeau, the visitorsled by dynamic rookie power forward Blake Griffin (29 points, 12 rebounds), who notched his first highlight of the game, a high-rising finish of a Baron Davis (16 points, seven assists) alley-oop pass, less than two minutes inhad the out-of-sync Bulls playing catch-up early.
I didnt like any aspect of our defense because I thought we didnt come out with the right intensity to start the game, so they got going," said Thibodeau, Del Negros successor as the Bulls current head coach. "Theyre a tough team, theyre a talented team and they played extremely well. I thought they got off to a good start28 in the first, 33 in the secondand if you allow a team like that to get that confidence on you, then theyre hard to slow down...In that game, our problem was our intensity to start. In this league, I think youve got to come ready every night and if you dont, youre asking for trouble. So, we came out with the right mindset, we didnt establish ourselves defensively, we didnt establish ourselves rebounding-wise, took a lot of shortcuts, did a lot of reaching. When you do that, youre not going to win.
I think the biggest problem was our intensity to start, so its hard to judge whether it was the lack of size, which it may have been, but I think our overall intensity was poor. We dont bring the right intensity to start a game and we dont have an edge to uswe have to be a defensive team first, we have to be a rebounding teamif we dont establish that, then were just trying to trade baskets; thats not going to work for us. Thats why you want to be consistent in your approach as you prepare for each game. You want to practice well, you want to study, you want to know your opponent and you want to be ready to play. You have to keep your priorities right. Our preparationyesterday in practice, today in shootaroundthats when you get ready to play. If you dont guard against distractionsyou can make an excuse for every gameweve got to get it done.
Taj Gibson, Noahs replacement in the starting lineup, picked up two quick foulsforcing him to the bench for rookie center Omer Asik, who defended and rebounded welland later left the game permanently after suffering a concussion.
I dont remember what happened, to tell you truth. All I remember is being in the training room and Im sitting up, said a woozy Gibson afterwards. I remember just running down the court. I dont remember what happened.
I dont even know. Youve got to talk to the doctors about that because everything is coming and going with my mind right now. I feel fine, but youve got to talk to the doctors about everything. They can tell you more than I can tell you right now. I really dont remember the play. Most things are in a blur right now.
Chicagos other starter in the post, Carlos Boozer (25 points), was the teams saving grace in the early going (he scored 11 of the teams first 13 points), keeping the Bulls deficit manageable. Luol Deng (17 points, eight rebounds) soon joined the party, helping to jump-start the teams offense and close the gap.
Dengs contributions gave way to Derrick Roses (34 points, eight assists, six rebounds) usual scoring and distributing, as the All-Star point guard spurred the Bulls to overtake his former coachs new team, 31-28, after the first period.
The Clippers gaudy shooting from the floor to open the second quarterthe teams field-goal percentage rose to nearly 70 percentenabled them to surge past Chicago. Reserve sharpshooter Rasual Butlers (11 points, 3-for-6 from 3-point range) marksmanship provided a big boost, as did Griffins exciting and efficient aerial displays to finish inside and backup bruiser Craig Smiths (13 points, six rebounds) rhino-like tactics.
Again fighting an uphill battle, the Bullsaided by swingman Ronnie Brewers typical energetic contributions off the bench, along with fellow backup Asiks solid rebounding, defensive presence and surprising passing abilityfought to cut their new deficit, but the efforts of Butler and Griffin in particular kept the Clippers slim cushion intact.
I like the matchup between Blake against anybody, really, Del Negro later quipped about his star rookie, who notched his 15th straight double-double performance. Hes so athletic and strong.
Chicago trailed, 61-53, at the break.
As a team, we came out kind of flat, but weve just got to transfer that to the next game, see whats wrong, just try to play harder, just come out and play the way that we know how to play and thats defense first, and get out and run, said Rose. Were missing assignments and we cant do that, and rebound the ballmissing assignments on defense, we cant afford to do that, but I guarantee well get it together.
Unforced turnovers and generally uninspired play were persistent issues after intermission, as Noahs consistent energy was sorely missed. Although Rose manufactured offense for Chicago, his individual performance wasnt enough for the Bulls to avoid briefly slipping into a double-digit hole, mainly courtesy of Griffins athletic forays.
But Rose continued to put the pressure on the Clippers defensesomething Del Negro was previously accustomed to regarding positivelyand as quickly as his rapid-fire bursts down the court, brought the Bulls back, halving the visitors lead. Unable to effectively sustain their momentumBoozers fourth foul on a dubious charge call, as well as a banked Griffin 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock (his first ever from long-range in the NBA) were culprits in thatand the Bulls were down, 83-76, heading into the final stanza following a Rose triple late in the quarter.
A ragged start to the fourth period didnt bode well for the Bulls, especially after Boozer picked up his fifth foul shortly after Thibodeau reinserted him into the contest. Thibodeau used the backcourt pairing of Rose and backup point guard C.J. Watson to facilitate things on the offensive end, and while the duo had decent results scoring the ball, the Bulls were only able to inch closer to the Clippers, then allow them to build another cushion, but never catch or surpass them.
Boozer returned midway through the quarter for Chicagoas did the Clippers Davisbut the Bulls, despite improved defense, couldnt immediately slash the visitors winning margin, despite Griffin picking up his fifth foul on a charge. However, an Eric Gordon (15 points, six rebounds) technicalwith an offensive foul and subsequent outburst preceding itand a Boozer dunk off a nice feed from veteran Kurt Thomas (making a rare extended appearance; the 38-year-old did a solid job on Griffin) gave the Bulls some momentum with just under three minutes to go.
After squandering a few offensive possessions down the stretch, the light finally clicked on for the Bulls, as Rose and Boozer fueled their last-ditch attempt to pull out a victory. Following a Rose three-point play, fan favorite Brian Scalabrinein for Thomas, who fouled outstole the Clippers inbounds pass and immediately called a timeout with 35.6 seconds remaining and the Bulls down by four.
Out of the timeout, Rose drove and found a wide-open Boozer for a layup with 31.2 seconds left to cut the lead to two points. Davis missed a layup attempt on the Clippers next trip, giving Roseafter losing the ball on the ensuing rebound; the Bulls maintained possession with six seconds to goone final chance to once again play his familiar role as Chicagos savior.
The South Side native drove from halfcourt and weaved his way to the hoop, getting fouled with eight-tenths of a second on the clock. Rose hit the first, but bricked the second off the left side of the rim, leading to Clippers center DeAndre Jordan securing the rebound and the games conclusion.
A dejected Rose, while he lamented the missed opportunity to send the game into an extra session, rationalized his final shot.
I thought I was going to hit them. Thats basketball. I hope I get put in that position again. I know Im not going to miss them, said Rose. I felt it came a little bit short, but Ive got to look past this as a player. If I get put in that position again, I know Ill knock them down.
Things like this are going to happen. I think this is my first miss like this since high school, he went on to say. Thats what you want as a player. It looks good on your resume. I brought my resume back down, missing one, until I show you all that I can hit those shots.
Added Thibodeau: I thought he made a great play. I dont think we played well, but I thought in the end, we did the things to put ourselves in the position and I thought Derrick attacking the basket the way he did and drawing the foul, it was a great play and it didnt work out for us this time, but Im confident itll work out next time. He puts a lot of time into his free-throw shooting.
Deng chimed in: Rose made some unbelievable plays to get us back in the game and its just a free throw. I know hes upset, but theres a lot of games. We lost that one, but it cant come down to a free throw. Its the whole game. We put ourselves in that situation.
Boozers take on Roses miss was even more definitive.
Im not even talking about that. He makes that free thrown nine out of 10 times. Hes already won I dont even know how many games for us. Were not going to sit here and dwell on that, said the Alaska native. Well put it back in his hands on Tuesday and hell knock them down. Im not worried about that. Hes not worried about that. Our team isnt worried about that. So, well move forward.
On the game itself, the Bulls werent nearly as optimistic, though determined to bounce back.
We just couldnt find a groove. Defensively, we played terrible tonight, letting them get easy basket dunksthats usually not how we playand just breakdowns. Hopefully we just take it out on the next team, said Rose.
Deng concurred: I dont think we clicked the whole game. I think we made some individual plays, defensively, Derrick made some good plays, but not one time out there did I think we were on the same page and we cant do that. Were good enough to play the Clippers like we didIm not taking anything away from thembut I just thought we werent a team like weve been the last seven games, especially defensively.
They had a good game plan. They ran a lot of pick-and-rollsthats what they doand we had a hard time stopping it. Whether its that or us, we just know when we bring our defense, we can play with anyone and tonight, we couldnt do that against the Clippers.
His former coach was just happy with a victory, only the second away from home on the young season for his even younger new team.
Theyre all big. We havent had a lot of luck and sometimes youve got to make your own luck, said Del Negro. Anytime you can win, on the road especially, it builds confidence and the guys have been working hard. Its a good shot in the arm for them.
However, he wouldnt quite take the bait when asked by reporters if the win was more significant to him for obvious reasons.
Probably just because of the situation of me coaching here the last couple of years, added Del Negro, before finishing wrapping things up with a familiar phrase. Its about playersweve been in a lot of games.
Theyre fighting, theyre competing.
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.