CHICAGO – Symbolically at least, the changeover crew at the United Center should have left the hockey boards up for Game 3 of the Chicago Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Given how significantly the intensity and physical play were dialed up for Game 2 in Miami – a 115-78 Heat victory that not only stuck the Bulls with the most lopsided loss in their NBA playoff history but punked them, too – the shift to Chicago’s home ice, er, court figures to ratchet up again.
“Because of the technicals and ejections, there might be a perception it’s going above and beyond basketball – it’s not,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have two physical teams. Type A personalities.”
Two alpha dogs that don’t particularly like each other. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” LeBron James said. “We have to carry that same aggression, that same attitude into Game 3.”
The Bulls got worse than they gave in Game 2, from the scoreboard, from the stats sheet (pounded 56-18 in the paint, coughing up 28 points on 19 turnovers), from the referees (six technical fouls and ejections of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson) and from Miami in general in first strikes and aggressiveness. The Heat presumably won’t show up Friday night with Birdwoman – the snarling blonde matron who displayed her singular talent in Noah’s face – but they will have Birdman Andersen, as well as a roster full of defending champs and first-time ring seekers eager to meet their first serious road challenge of the postseason (Milwaukee, for two quick games in Round 1, was embarrassingly hospitable in every way).
Meanwhile, the Bulls — already undermanned without Luol Deng (illness), Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf) and Derrick Rose (knee rehab) – will have to calibrate their physical play; they don’t have the manpower to absorb needless ejections, technicals or personal fouls. They will, however, have crowd muscle in their packed, raucous arena.
For fans at the United Center, upraised middle fingers are part of the daily commute, so they’ll be antsy to up the ante or, at least, the decibels. And as far as that league-wide trend this season of Heat “hate” dissipating – in apparent appreciation of James’, Dwyane Wade‘s and other Heat players’ excellence, along with more folks in Miami garb infiltrating more buildings – let’s just say Chicagoans never got that memo.
It’s a potentially combustible mix: a road team determined to not get pushed around the way it did last time in the UC (the end of Miami’s 27-game winning streak), some cranky hosts ready to assert home court, a boisterous, Friday-night crowd primed to play some role in the series and three referees bringing fresh eyes to a pivotal contest toting two games’ worth of baggage.
Somewhere within that Chicago will have to find ways to protect the rim better – a 41-28 rebounding disparity and no blocks/few altered shots against the Heat’s heavy interior attack proved fatal, even before all the jawing and theatrics at ref Scott Foster and his crew.
“I don’t want to put it on the officials,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If it doesn’t go your way, you can’t allow it to impact your next play. You can’t allow it to get you sidetracked so you don’t do your job. You have to have the ability to do your job all the time. You have to have great concentration.”
One area of concentration for Miami after Game 1 was Nate Robinson, the fireplug Chicago guard who was a reasonable Rose facsimile that night (27 points, nine assists, 10 free throws). Heavy defensive attention from James never was needed, but the Heat’s own point guards and other defenders made life more miserable for Robinson. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four turnovers to two assists.
“They’re the world champions for a reason and they played like it,” Robinson said. “We just flat-out sucked.”
At the other end, Miami had to be please that it played fast, hit 3-point looks that clanged off in Game 1 and shook some extra rust off Wade, who scored eight of his 17 points in the decisive 30-15 third quarter. He shot 7-11, hitting his final six after a 1-for-5 start.
In personnel, the series grinds on as a mismatch – Miami boasting three of the top league’s top 20 players (and No. 1 overall), Chicago missing three guys from its preferred eight-man rotation. In intangibles, the Bulls do have the homecourt edge now, though United Center was where the Heat snuffed Chicago’s postseason in Game 5 of the 2012 East finals.
“It’s more than just not liking them,” Noah said. “It’s just two teams that want to win.”
So expect contact. Expect booing. Expect basketball. Expect whistles. Expect whining. Expect double-digit leads and comebacks. Expect single-finger salutes, too – right now the series stands 1-1-1.
If there’s any player participating in the Eastern Conference semifinal series between Chicago and Miami who could afford to lose 15 pounds in a week, it might be the Heat’s Chris Andersen. And even then only if it was all ink.
Instead, it was Bulls forward Luol Deng reporting that sudden weight loss — just one of the ill effects of his battle first with illness and then with complications of a spinal-tap procedure performed last week to rule out viral meningitis. Deng, a two-time All-Star, has not played since Game 5 of the first round against Brooklyn, his condition worsening and requiring multiple trips to the hospital after his body was found to be leaking spinal fluid from the initial diagnostic procedure.
He underwent a “blood patch” treatment to stop the leak but told reporters at the Bulls’ practice facility in north suburban Chicago that he had lost 15 pounds and still was suffering from headaches as his body heals from the ordeal. As Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reported:
Deng appears to be on the mend, but his body is low on spinal fluid, which surrounds and helps protect the brain. There’s really no telling when he might be able to play basketball again.
“I wish whatever you take out, you could put it back in,” Deng said. “It’s just your body’s got to make the fluid back up. I’m doing everything I can. I’m staying hydrated. The biggest thing is, really, eating. I’ve got to try to get my appetite back and eat as much as I can.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau called Deng’s status day-to-day, but there’s no chance he’ll play in Friday’s Game 3 against Miami at the United Center. After that, the teams will get two days off before Game 4 on Monday, and even that seems unlikely for a return.
Not having Deng – an all-purpose player on whom Thibodeau leans more even than a healthy Derrick Rose – is just one of Chicago’s manpower problems. Rose remains out — despite countless rumors, criticism and backlash defenses — from the knee injury he suffered April 28, 2012. Rose’s replacement, Kirk Hinrich, had a second MRI exam on the calf bruise that has sidelined him since Game 4 vs. the Nets.
Then there was forward Taj Gibson, who was waiting to hear if the NBA would further penalize him after his ejection from Game 2 at Miami Wednesday. Gibson probably will be fined for his profane outburst at referee Scott Foster and slow departure from the court but it’s possible the league could suspend him for a game.
The Bulls’ suffered the worst playoff setback in franchise history at AmericanAirlines Arena Wednesday, falling 115-78 as the defending champion Heat pulled even at 1-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Who’s your favorite playoff underdog, the Warriors or Bulls?
Steve Aschburner: The Bulls. Being based in Chicago, I’ve seen this team more than any other — and most of the time, it is overcoming some injury, mishap, illness or absence. It’s no longer just a Tom Thibodeau phenomenon, their coach stubbornly and without excuse driving them through adversity. It’s the whole team manning up without Derrick Rose, without Kirk Hinrich, without whomever, and new guys without much track record for grit (Marco Belinelli) or selflessness (Nate Robinson) pulling on the same rope as if they’d been in that locker room for years. From Game 7 in Brooklyn to their Game 1 on Miami’s court, the underdog Bulls already have experienced a level of exhilaration and accomplishment that talented, three-star championship teams never know.
Fran Blinebury: You love these “Which of your children do you like best?” questions. Let’s face it. While we can admire and respect the work ethic, the attitude and the intensity of the Bulls, what little kid ever grew up in the backyard or on a schoolyard fantasizing about grinding out possessions and getting bloody fighting for rebounds? In the game of our dreams, it’s all about being Steph Curry hitting ridiculous, unbelievable shots from anywhere on the court, Jarrett Jack being utterly fearless, Klay Thompson getting it done at both ends and everything being played at warp speed. I’d be happy to watch the Warriors play into June, July, August or September.
Joakim Noah (by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)
Jeff Caplan: No question it’s the Bulls. Hey, I love the Warriors just like everybody else, but they’re essentially a young, healthy team (Brandon Rush was lost at the start of the season) on the come and led by an emerging superstar. They’re a great feel-good story, but the Bulls have proven time and again to be the ultimate warriors. How in the world is this banged-up and depleted club, one that keeps absorbing blows — a spinal tap gone wrong for Luol Deng, I mean, WTH? — in the second round and up 1-nil on the champs. Because nobody outworks the Bulls. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’llgo Golden State, even with the running start of Bulls 1-0 and Warriors 0-1. Chicago is pretty special at dealing with, or even ignoring, adversity, but is still bigger underdogs than Golden State. The Warriors are closer to the Spurs in talent level, have the hottest hand of the postseason (Stephen Curry) and are doing fine at ignoring as well. The Warriors had more of a chance from the start. One game doesn’t change that, for either option.
John Schuhmann: Well, the Bulls are the true underdog, aren’t they? They’re facing the defending champs, the world’s best player, and a team that had lost just two of its previous 43 games before Monday. They’re a M.A.S.H. unit of injuries and illnesses. They’re carried offensively by a guy who’s barely taller than Sekou. Their best (active) player has a ponytail, wears le coq sportif shoes, and shoots a jumper like he’s playing paper football. And they have the most disheveled-looking coach in the league! This is no contest.
Sekou Smith: This is a tough one. It’s like asking who do you like better, Miss America or Miss Universe. You’re right no matter who or what you choose. I love the Warriors’ style and the fact that Steph Curry can turn a game upside down in minutes with his scoring and shooting. But my pick is the Bulls. Any team capable of doing the things they’ve done, under these circumstances, has earned my attention and the favorite status. Tom Thibodeau has turned the bottom third of his roster into a wicked playoff machine over the the past five days. They’re doing it with defense, fueled by the relentless Joakim Noah and the surprising Jimmy Butler. But they’ve also got the best fourth quarter scorer in the playoffs (Nate Robinson) driving the bus late in games. How can you not love what the Black-and-Blue Bulls are doing?
Lang Whitaker: The Warriors are obviously fun to watch, but it’s hard to root against the Bulls. They’ve got more guys missing than they have healthy, or at least it feels that way. Also, the Bulls have a cast of characters who we’ve seen try and fail with other franchises, from Nate Robinson to Marco Belinelli, so it feels as though there’s some great quest for redemption. Also, it doesn’t hurt that their coach, Tom Thibodeau, looks like he’s being played by the King of Queens, Kevin James.
MIAMI – The Chicago Bulls were healthier and, back then, had the NBA’s newly named Most Valuable Player on their side. The Miami Heat were still a relative work in progress, talented and scary but also sorting and sifting near the end of Big 3, volume 1.
The Bulls whupped that crew by 21 points in the opener of the 2011 Eastern Conference championship series, held the home-court edge and looked for a couple days as if they were headed for the Finals.
Ahem. The Heat won the next four games, the first two by double digits each, the next in overtime, the last with a 19-4 rush over the final 3:36 to win by three.
The Miami team of postseason 2013 is more dangerous and highly evolved, with the league’s best player at the peak of his powers. Chicago is missing three guys (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich) from its preferred eight- or nine-man rotation. So there really shouldn’t be a problem, should there?
Yes, the Heat dropped the opener of the teams’ East semifinals series Monday. But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest have trailed in five of the 10 playoff series they have played since coming together in the summer of 2010. But they have roared back four times – three times last spring against Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City. Only against Dallas in 2011 did they slip behind (3-2) and stay behind.
That should alleviate any hand-wringing about the here and now, right?
“We’ve been there,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our experiences have taught us a lot of things, but that does nothing for us right now. We have to fight for our playoff lives.”
The challenge for the Heat on Tuesday, practicing in advance of Game 2, was to find the right line between unruffled and overreacting. Some considered the Bulls’ 93-86 Game 1 victory a wake-up call, a shock to their system, a shot across the Miami guys’ bows. Others felt the Heat played well, that too much was made of James’ facilitating first half (just two points scored) and that extreme adjustments would be the biggest mistake the defending champions could make at this point.
“When you lose a game, your ears seem to work better,” said forward Shane Battier of the team’s mood in practice. “You seem more open for adjustments and you see to tune up the effort a little more in the next game.”
Said James: “We executed, we missed shots, we had good looks. … It ain’t about X’s and O’s in this series. It’s about the will and determination to win the series. For both teams.”
That didn’t stop Spoelstra from immersing the Heat in a lengthy video session. But what it confirmed again and again was that they got a lot of good, even open shots that they simply did not knock down. By James count, six of Battier’s seven 3-pointers were wide open, as were three of Mike Miller‘s four. Combined they made only three of those 11.
That had more to do with the outcome in James’ view than his alleged lack of aggression. He scored 22 of his 24 points after halftime.
“My shooters have gotten us to this point. They’ve made shots over the season,” James said. “I’ve got trust in them. We still had a chance to win the game, no matter what I was doing in the first half or not.
Spoelstra, James and the others did see some breakdowns offensively in the game’s final minutes and an unacceptable brand of defense (35 points allowed) in the fourth quarter. When James and Wade attacked the rim, they looked more interested in avoiding Bulls center Joakim Noah as a shot-blocker than they did in forcing the issue physically. As a result, James got the foul line less often than his defender, Jimmy Butler and Wade didn’t shoot a free throw at all.
Still, Wade said, “There were a lot of encouraging things throughout the game. That was the kind of game where you’re not playing as good as you want to be, but good teams find a way to grind it out and get the win.”
Chicago played harder and got rewarded. The Bulls, if they’re smart, will remain on the run because they have manpower issues and a roster stretched thin by injuries. Hinrich (calf bruise) still was limping after their team meeting Tuesday at their downtown Miami hotel and said he’d had only marginal improvement from rest and treatment.
Deng (spinal tap complications) still was in Chicago, posting on social media a photo of himself in his hospital bed that was a mystery to some in the Bulls’ camp (was that taken during Game 7 vs. Brooklyn? Or Game 1 Monday?) The best option with the All-Star forward would seem to be patience until Game 3 at United Center or later. As for Rose, that remains a “no,” with the faintest hint of “you’re-kidding-right?”
So the Bulls will try to remain a moving target, with the Heat likely to challenge Noah, attack Butler and pressure Nate Robinson more. Obviously, they don’t want to be satisfied with getting one of two at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We’ve played this team a lot so we know their tendencies pretty well. But every game of thes playoff series is chess,”Noah said. “We’re going to go back to the film room, see the things that we could have done better. … it almost becomes like you know their sets before they even run them.
“We’ve been in this situation before where we won Game 1 .We were all very, very excited about it. And they ran us over.”
MIAMI – As usual, the Chicago Bulls are undermanned, so they should have the Miami Heat precisely where they want them.
Only the Heat are wise to that game. As far as the defending champions are concerned, the Bulls not only have Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich available for Game 1 and each subsequent contest in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, they might as well have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Norm Van Lier.
“We don’t play the personnel, we play the jerseys. We play the team,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, avoiding any discussion of specific absent Bulls players. “This team proved that no matter who’s in the lineup, they’re going to be competitive and they’re going to do the little things that’s going to give them the opportunity to win games.”
With Rose (knee surgery) a constant all seasons and Hinrich (bruised calf) a game-time decision, Deng is the most pressing and serious. The illness that led to his precautionary spinal tap led to a complication that sent him back to the hospital over the weekend. Deng’s plan, after the Bulls’ Game 7 first-round victory at Brooklyn Saturday, was to meet the Bulls in south Florida for the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But he was not in Miami Monday for shootaround sessions and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t know if Deng would travel in time for Game 2 or await the series’ shift to Chicago.
That wasn’t anything that the Heat players were willing to engage.
“No change,” forward Chris Bosh said when asked about Deng. “It’s all the same. I’m tellin’ ya, that’s how you get beat. You think that just because Deng’s not playing, you look at the other guy and change your mindset. That’s when things start to go wrong. So we can all learn from Brooklyn’s mistake.”
With Deng, with Rose, with Hinrich, with whomever, Bosh said, Miami is approaching the series as if all Bulls are ready to hit the streets of Pamplona.
The All-Star power forward did watch Game 7 of Nets-Bulls, however, in which Chicago produced one of the great upsets in recent NBA playoff history. Star-laden teams never get the chance to know the exhilaration of giant-killing quite like that.
“Yeah. I mean, my days in Toronto I know what the underdog feels like but we never had a chance to win a playoff series or anything like that,” Bosh said. “Honestly, I don’t want to be in that position.
“It really just comes down to playing the game. You can’t really worry about who’s the underdog and who’s the favorite. If you sleep on those guys, if you think you just have to show up to win the game, you’re wrong. Chicago has a work ethic. They’re going to play together, they’re going to make it tough. And if you underestimate them, you will get beat.”
The Heat and the Bulls split their four meetings this season. Miami last played on April 28, and it’s eight-day layoff is the longest between series of its three-season run since Wade, Bosh and LeBron James joined forces in 2010.
MIAMI – So much of this NBA season for the Chicago Bulls, especially in these playoffs, has been about missing Derrick Rose.
Not anymore. At this point, it’s all about what Derrick Rose is missing.
The script officially flipped Saturday night when the Bulls pulled off their stunning, wholly unexpected Game 7 upset of the Brooklyn Nets. Rose was there but he was there in a suit again, no more a part of what really mattered in the arena than the guy wielding the T-shirt cannon.
Wait, that’s not quite right – Rose did play a role in making it remarkable with his very uninvolvement. The Bulls did not have their leader and their superstar, again, in circumstances that should have doomed them – and then they went about their business as they have all season. Or in Joakim Noah‘s case, with some frenzied, divine, determined intervention.
No Derrick? No problem. No problem too great, anyway.
A too-familiar sight: Chicago’s Derrick Rose cheering, not playing. (by Gary Dineen/NBAE)
Rose was in a suit and Kirk Hinrich was in a suit and Luol Deng was back home in Chicago, and still the Bulls beat the offensively gifted and favored Nets to advance to the playoffs’ second round. It was merely the latest in a season of highlight nights and indelible memories missed by Rose during his recovery from knee surgery last May.
He missed the victory in Miami in January in Chicago’s first meeting with the defending champions and assorted undermanned victories before and since. He missed the Bulls’ run of three straight overtime games in four nights, two on the road, two of which went their way. He missed the game at United Center in late March when the Heat, after stomping pretty much the rest of the league, had their winning streak stopped at 27 games (second-longest in NBA history) by a team, wow, still missing its star.
Because Rose and the team’s front office committed to a cautious approach to his rehab and return – the Bulls and their medical staff overseeing but ultimately empowering Rose and his advisers to make the decisions – the laconic icon hasn’t been a part of anything all season. Even as his absence has defined and made this season special for those who have been a part of it.
Now, Rose is missing this, at least four games and as many as seven against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest. It could have been a classic. Remember when Rose took his stand about not working his cell phone in the offseason and recruiting help by courting his competition, it came across as a direct response to the AAU buddy-ball brainstorming of James, Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Neither the Heat nor Rose was fully formed when the two sides met for the first time in the postseason in 2011, but the storyline now, with Rose’s very MVP-ness that year being questioned again, would have been must-see: Some guys want to play with the best, other guys want to beat the best.
The storyline, as is, is pretty compelling. It’s underdogs and Cinderella and, frankly, it’s sad. Because Rose is missing out on the full experience of what his Bulls teammates are. Guys like Rose never fully know what it feels like to be overlooked and underrated because, no matter how humble and unassuming they might be (and that’s no act with Rose), they are their teammates’ swagger. Stars like Rose don’t know what it’s like to have their chances dismissed. Stars like Rose look into fans’, friends’ and family eyes and see hope twinkling.
Maybe one time in the pros, before the end of Rose’s rookie year in 2009, he might seen doubt in people’s eyes. But then he had his coming-out party as a future NBA star, the seventh-seeded Bulls pushing the mighty Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round. Since then, Rose has been the man; when he plays and, without interruption for more than a year now, when he doesn’t.
In the end, Rose is missing a lot. Early in the Brooklyn series, Bulls forward Taj Gibson talked about Rose’s view and words from the bench. “He was just eager,” Gibson said. “He was just saying like, he can’t wait to get back, he can’t wait to play. And just critiquing the game, talking about what we needed to do, what kind of plays. He knew a lot of the sets coming out so he would just scream out plays. He was just hyped talking about good stuff.”
As frustrating as it is for Bulls and NBA fans to wonder what this Eastern Conference semifinal series might be like with Rose involved, as puzzled as they all are by his erring on the side of caution or his timidity or his whatever it is, they can assume that Rose is frustrated too. Or should be.
So don’t be disappointed by Derrick Rose. Be disappointed for him.
If ever there was going to be the perfect, if overdue, moment for Derrick Rose to return to action for the Chicago Bulls, it would be a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs, with his team desperate for help, facing the Brooklyn Nets in a hostile building …
Stop. Rose won’t be walking through that door for the Bulls Saturday night, even if he does have more spring in his step than Willis Reed did 43 years ago on the other side of the East River, limping back for a Game 7 and straight into sports mythology. The Captain only stuck around long enough to hit two shots and inspire the New York Knicks to their first championship. Rose would seem to have that much in him, in what would likely be a 15-20 minutes limit whenever he actually does return to action. And of course we’re wasting our time and our typing here.
After all, Rose’s extended layoff from knee surgery last May – we’re at 51 weeks now – could have had its perfect ending in Game 6 Thursday at United Center, where a packed arena’s warm embrace for however long he lasted might have been enough to propel the Bulls into the second round already. It could have come two weeks ago, synchronized to the start of a postseason he missed last spring. It could have come last month or sometime after the All-Star break, when word began leaking out from behind the practice curtains that, in 5-on-5 scrimmaging, that the 2011 MVP was looking as good as ever.
The arc of Rose’s repair and rehabilitation from ACL surgery has gone from anticipatory to antsy to anticlimax. It has overstayed its welcome in the Windy City, like the occasional stubborn winter, and as with the Chicago Cubs’ ridiculous drought, a numbness and a whole lot of scoffing is settling in for some folks. If they did not laugh, they would cry.
But there’s more floating out there than jokes. During the Game 5 telecast Monday, TNT analyst Steve Kerr was critical of Rose for his refusal to take that last big step of rehab, testing all that work and dedication where it matters most, in an NBA game, for a team in need. Multiple Bulls players have been pushing through bruises, pain and illness, while Rose still monitors the repair of a year-old injury (April 28, 2012, to be exact).
“I know I’ve kind of changed my mind,” Kerr said on-air. “I’ve really supported the Bulls and Derrick with the way they’ve handled it. I think you err on the side of caution. But I think where the Bulls are now with this series with [backup point guard] Kirk Hinrich struggling with the calf injury — if Derrick is OK and there’s no threat to further injury, I think he’s got to play.”
It’s that kind of talk, not just from Kerr but all over sports-radio airwaves and the Internet, that has dinged Rose’s reputation. As beloved in his short career as any Chicago sports star save one, Rose’s hesitancy to play until he’s fully “comfortable” or regains “muscle memory” has some people questioning his courage, his character, his commitment, you name it. It is as irrational as it was inevitable with a layoff this long, fan stuff of impatience mixed with the coverage of the other hobbled Bulls as “gamers.”
Rose told reporters at the Bulls’ shootaround Saturday in New York that he hadn’t heard the criticism. “That’s my first time hearing about it,” he said in another too-rare media moment. “I barely turn on the TV. I’m with my son all day so that’s about it.”
None of the second-guessing is coming from the organization or his teammates. Coach Tom Thibodeau and Hinrich, as all of them have for months, gave Rose absolute votes of confidence Wednesday. Still, the Bulls and Rose failed each other by failing to keep everyone – not just themselves but the media and the fans – in the loop. They let him, his agents, his family and his sneaker partners (adidas) dictate the terms of communication, kept at a trickle, that bled away empathy and heightened suspicions. Monthly sit-downs with Bulls reporters would have provided better feedback, kept Rose’s affable personality front and center and calmed if not satisfied the locals.
The Bulls also should have avoided distractions, speculation and all this angst by shutting down Rose’s will-he-or-won’t-he return about six weeks ago. Did they really want to overlay the learning curve of his return onto their playoff preparation, risking other guys’ roles and rhythms? Did they seriously consider throwing him raw out there against a Brooklyn backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson? Would they seriously put Rose as red meat in front of the Dobermans from Miami, if they made it to the next round?
Come on. Who’s believes this stuff?
There would have been nothing wrong had Rose and the Bulls tossed the entire 2012-13 season aside and simply let everyone know the plan, assuming they had a plan. If this truly was matter of, physically and mentally waking up each day and gauging his health and his confidence, OK, fine. Even that would have gone done better if not for the elaborate, expensive series of shoe commercials – “The Return” – that made it look as if Bulls fans would be getting Rose as “Rocky” sooner rather than later.
The long, unsatisfying NBA season in Chicago is nearing an end. When Rose does come back in October, he’ll turn this all into a win-win: Show rust and people will nod, agreeing finally (and probably wrongly, since rust is part of these things whenever) that he needed another five months. Play great and the uber-cautious strategy will seem like genius, and the teeth-gnashing of this spring will fade away.
It’s just difficult for a lot of folks over the next few hours or days knowing that – with Hinrich’s calf, Luol Deng‘s illness, Joakim Noah‘s plantar fasciitis, Taj Gibson‘s knee and Nate Robinson‘s towel-and-bucket routine Thursday – the healthiest guy on the Chicago roster might be Derrick Rose.
DEERFIELD, Ill. – The timing was impeccable. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said for the third or fourth time that guard Kirk Hinrich‘s bruised left calf was healing, Hinrich emerged for a cluster of reporters to limp 20 yards toward the locker-room hallway at the team’s Berto Center practice facility Wednesday afternoon.
Long John Silver, Fred Sanford and Jabba The Hutt would have been glancing over their shoulders, laughing, in a foot race. If the Brooklyn Nets have anyone on their bench with whom Hinrich in his current condition can keep up in Game 6, it’s coach P.J. Carlesimo. Maybe.
So it’s a long shot Hinrich — who injured his leg in Chicago’s triple-overtime victory in Game 4 Saturday and sat out the Nets’ Game 5 victory at the Barclays Center Monday — can play Thursday night at United Center. He only ditched a walking boot Wednesday, has yet to test his left leg by running or jumping and said he would have to improve further for his “game-time decision” to go thumbs-up.
That puts instant-offense guy Nate Robinson, the team’s third preferred option at point guard after Derrick Rose and Hinrich, in the likely starter’s role again.
Thibodeau also delivered the news that forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson were sick and skipped the practice, further thinning the ranks if only for Wednesday. He didn’t sound optimistic about rusty veteran Rip Hamilton, who hasn’t played since the series’ opener, making an appearance in Game 6, though.
So naturally, it was time to ask about Rose. Hey, he’s moving way better than Hinrich.
“There’s always a chance,” Thibodeau said straight-faced. Then a twinkle appeared in his eyes for what would be a fresh quote on the stale subject. “Small as that might be.”
Chuckles all around. But it scarcely could get smaller at this late date. Rose — whose ACL surgery on his left knee know requires a year reference (April 28, 2012) — still hasn’t felt comfortable enough in his recovery, apparently less for physical reasons than trust and confidence in his game, to return. To do so suddenly for Game 6 or even if his teammates advance to the next round against Miami would be like turning from a standing stop onto a freeway where every other vehicle is going 80 mph, no merge lane, nothing.
That hasn’t stifled impatience and criticism from within the team’s fan base, which has watched a parade of other players — from Hinrich throughout the season and Gibson (strained knee) to center Joakim Noah‘s ongoing plantar fasciitis — gut through discomfort while less than 100 percent.
Thibodeau and Hinrich both said again that the Bulls have Rose’s back.
“We know what kind of guy he is, we know what kind of teammate he is. We don’t feel that way,” Hinrich said. “I haven’t heard one ill word said [among teammates] about it.”
Said Thibodeau: “There’s a big difference between the type of injury he’s had and all these other injuries. We certainly appreciate what all the other guys are doing. But Derrick has had a very serious injury. It requires time. He’s 24 years old. We’re not going to rush him back. When he’s completely comfortable, that’s when we want him out there. If that means we wait another game, if that means we wait till next year, so be it. We want him completely comfortable. We’re not going to make that mistake.”
Criticism from outside of Chicago tossed at its native son, one of the most competitive and popular performers ever for the city’s pro sports teams, means nothing, the Bulls coach said.
“Derrick owes it to do what’s right. And the more I’m around him, the more I’m impressed by this guys’ character. He’s not being swayed by anybody. He’s not quite there, and we made that clear to him from the beginning — we’re going to support him in every way possible. I would never question him. Ever.”
There are four factors when it comes to scoring efficiency: Shooting from the field, turnovers, free throws, and offensive rebounds.
The Nets shot 50 percent from the field and 6-for-17 from 3-point range. Check.
The Nets committed just 11 turnovers, zero in the fourth quarter. Check.
The Nets got to the line 23 times and connected on 20 of the 23 attempts. Check.
The Nets grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and turned them into 24 second-chance points. Check.
All those checks enabled the Nets to survive a gut-check. They rebounded (literally and figuratively) from Saturday’s heartbreaking loss in Game 4, answered some questions about their heart and resilience, and put themselves in position to bring this series back to Brooklyn for Game 7 on Saturday.
And don’t let the final score fool you. The game was very much up for grabs late in the game. After leading by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, the Nets were up just one after Jimmy Butler began the fourth with a 3-pointer. They were still up only five with a little over four minutes to go.
At that point, any observer still had Saturday’s collapse – a 14-point lead gone in less than three minutes – fresh in their mind. But this was a different night, one in which the Bulls couldn’t stop the Nets, who didn’t go more than two straight possessions without a score over the final 32 minutes.
“The difference tonight was that we were able to sustain it for essentially a full 48 minutes,” Brook Lopez said afterward. “We really came together as a team, played through the entire shot clock, and turned our good looks into great looks.”
Brooklyn scored at least 25 points in each quarter and went off for 33 over the final 12 minutes. And they got critical contributions from everywhere.
Deron Williams clearly knew he could take advantage of the absence of Kirk Hinrich and a mismatch with Nate Robinson. He pushed the ball down the floor, got the Nets into their offense early, and took Robinson into the paint, totaling 23 points and 10 assists.
Lopez took advantage of the Bulls’ heavy strong-side defense by flashing from the weak side and attacking the basket. He shot 10-for-14 in the paint and registered 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Andray Blatche was good Andray Blatche on this particular night, mostly staying in control and scoring 10 of his 13 points in the critical fourth quarter. The Lopez-Blatche combo was a plus-14 in eight minutes on Monday and is now a plus-38 for the series.
And the much maligned Gerald Wallace came up huge in the final minutes, opening the game up with a sequence in which he drained a corner three, stole a Nate Robinson pass, and turned it into a breakaway dunk on the other end.
This is who the Nets can be. They ranked ninth in offensive efficiency this season, but have the personnel to be a top-five team on that end of the floor. They have three guys – Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson – they can run their offense through. With Hinrich out and Joakim Noah still somewhat hindered by plantar fasciitis, they have distinct matchup advantages. And with the Bulls so limited offensively, they have plenty of opportunities to run the floor. They registered 21 fast break points on Monday.
It’s just a matter of energy and execution, keeping the ball and the players moving. If you have the talent, there are ways to beat the Bulls’ defense. The Nets have now played well offensively in three of the five games in this series.
“I believed we would respond,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “As disheartening a loss as Saturday was, there have still been enough good minutes in this series.”
Indeed. Though they’re down 3-2, the Nets have now outscored the Bulls by 17 points over the five games. If they can keep that point differential moving in their favor on Thursday, they’ll have a Game 7 on their home floor, and Saturday’s collapse will be long forgotten.