Against NBA's elite, Bulls must be almost perfect
December 12, 2012, 12:28 am
It was one of those losses that afterwards, the reasons for it were given in a code of sorts. After his team’s 94-89 loss to the Clippers at the United Center, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau talked about “dancing with the ball” and “staying disciplined,” the type of thing coaches say about teams that are either mistake-prone or outclassed.
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In the Bulls’ case it’s more the latter when facing the league’s elite, such as the Clippers, their opponent Tuesday evening. When the Bulls don’t execute to near-perfection on both ends of the floor and key players like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have off nights scoring the ball, they face an uphill battle against even moderately talented squads, let alone the high-flying bunch that’s attempting to become Los Angeles’ true glamour team.
Offensively, despite Deng and Noah not giving them much, the Bulls compensated for it with a surprise performance from long range -- one of the NBA’s worst three-point shooting teams, they were 10-for-20 from deep Tuesday -- and on the defensive end, mostly fared well against their explosive foes. But a crucial stretch before halftime during which the Clippers’ “Lob City” moniker became accurate, as well as fourth-quarter lapses and of course, their season-long ball-security issues rearing its ugly head spelled defeat for the Bulls.
"They just made tough plays," Taj Gibson said. "It seemed like we were in the hunt, we cut it down to a couple points, but Blake and Chris just made tough plays. Matt Barnes played a great game and we’ve just got to do better closing out quarters and finishing games."
"We were disappointed, especially in that second quarter. The momentum changed, we didn’t close out the right way. They got a lot of dunks, got a lot of momentum going, especially in the half-court set.”
“Every loss is tough to get over, especially at home. But we’ve got to put it behind us. We’ve got a lot of games still to come. We’ve got to leave tonight, get on a plane, play Philly [Wednesday], then come back, play Brooklyn.”
Gibson’s sentiments were echoed by his teammates throughout the Bulls locker room. But in reality, while they battled valiantly, this isn’t one of the games on the schedule that most observers would pencil in a "W" in the win-loss column.
Coming off Saturday’s home win against the Knicks -- sans Carmelo Anthony, though that isn’t an excuse because New York defeated defending-champion Miami on the road, without the superstar’s services -- the Bulls were deservedly flying high and despite the late start to the contest, they hung tough with the Pacific Division leaders all night.
But already missing injured point guard Derrick Rose, as well as a proven veteran scoring presence in sidelined shooting guard Rip Hamilton, maybe it’s expecting too much to think that these Bulls will come out on top in marquee, primetime showdowns with the league’s best.
Sure, their defense has made great strides as of late -- Noah has elevated his game, Deng has shown that he’s capable of being a go-to player, sharpshooter Marco Belinelli has found his groove as a starter and the second unit is starting to come around -- but even with all of that going for them, over the course of an 82-game regular season there will be nights when they execute Thibodeau’s game plan to the best of their abilities, enough to beat most opponents, higher-level foes will simply overwhelm them when it counts.
That isn’t to say they should take a defeatist approach (as recent examples like the Miami Heat losing to the lowly Washington Wizards show). Instead, the Bulls should take heart in the fact their defense alone can beat truly inferior teams and depending on performance, they have a right to think they can beat middle-of-the-pack clubs. They know from the experience of winning the most regular-season games over the past two seasons that when a superior team, laden with firepower and having designs on bigger fish decides to finally put its foot down, sometimes there’s nothing that can be done about it.
That’s what eventually happened Tuesday with the Clippers’ depth -- another aspect of the loss that could be hauntingly familiar to Thibodeau when he reviews the tape, after having one of the NBA’s top benches prior to this season -- putting the visitors over the top.
But as players are fond of saying, the best thing about this league is that the games come so quickly, so Wednesday evening in Philadelphia the Bulls will have a chance to take out their frustrations on the 76ers, the team that ousted them from the postseason last spring, but is likely still smarting over losing in Chicago last week. For the Bulls, despite landing in the wee hours of the morning after departing the Windy City just after midnight, that’s a winnable affair -- one which they don’t have to be perfect to be victorious.
One of Thibodeau's mantras is "striving for perfection," something that rang hollow the past two seasons, when they could be awful and a tour-de-force effort from Rose or just having a better bench than some team's starting lineups was enough to cement a victory, particularly when backed by the league's best defense.
Now that's no longer the case. And while the Bulls won't be flawless every evening, knowing that they can come close, compete with the best and -- unlike Tuesday -- if they get the right breaks late, they can win games they're not supposed to, is something they should take heart in.
Even if they won't admit it.
, Chicago Bulls
, Tom Thibodeau
, new york knicks
, Derrick Rose
, Los Angeles Clippers
, Taj Gibson
, Miami Heat
, Aggrey Sam
, Philadelphia Sixers