Game Notes: Nets at Bulls
The Bulls lose to the 1-19 Nets? Del Negro, please!
by Bryan Crawford
When the New Jersey Nets were 0-18, I told a few of my media buddies that if they were still winless by the time they came to Chicago to play the Bulls that they would get their first ‘W’ of the season in the United Center. I was almost right. For the Bulls, last night’s loss isn’t as bad as if they were the first team that New Jersey beat to snap the longest losing streak in NBA history, but being their second victory of the season isn’t much better. Besides, this game shouldn’t have even been this close and it has started to raise questions in Chicago about Vinny Del Negro’s job security.
Coming off a 32-point drubbing to the Toronto Raptors over the weekend, you’d think that a loss like that would’ve woke the Bulls up and that they’d come out firing on all cylinders against the Nets. Yes, this is professional basketball and no, you can’t take any team lightly in this league, but having a New Jersey squad come to town, given their struggles this season, one would be under the assumption that Chicago would be motivated to lay the smack down on the Nets and take some of Saturday night’s frustration out on them. Wrong.
Vinny Del Negro decided to go with a bigger front line and started Brad Miller over Taj Gibson and initially it seemed like a good decision as the Bulls played pretty well in the 1st quarter. They shot the ball pretty well from the field (43.5 percent) and had pretty good production from the starters. But New Jersey countered everything that the Bulls threw at them and shot pretty well from the field themselves (46.2 percent) and their bench outscored the Bulls bench 6-3.
The most ominous sign of things to come for me came when I realized that John Salmons, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah played the entire period while only Chris Douglas-Roberts and Brook Lopez went the whole way for the Nets. New Jersey leads 26-24.
Even though the Bulls actually outscored New Jersey 30-28 in the 2nd quarter, they trailed the Nets the entire way, only tying the game with 3.5 seconds left at the end of the quarter on a Luol Deng three-pointer. It was at this point that you started to get the sense that Chicago was going to lose this game. Like Beanie Sigel said, You could feel it in the air. The biggest spark for New Jersey came in the form of Rafer ‘Skip to My Lou’ Alston who actually destroyed the Bulls in the quarter and took some of the pressure off of Devin Harris who played all 12 minutes but only scored 2 points on two free throws.
For the Bulls, Taj Gibson played well as he started and played the entire second quarter, scoring 10 points, grabbing 2 rebounds, and blocking 2 shots. For Joakim Noah, it was a quarter that I’m sure he’d like to forget. His line: no shot attempts, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 1 steal. Tie game, 54-54.
I remember during the days of Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the 3rd quarter was usually when they put teams away. After halftime they would come out on a seek-and-destroy mission and rip the opposing team’s heart out. But those days are long gone and the 3rd quarter for this current Bulls squad was an absolute disaster. The Nets jumped on them from start to finish, outscoring Chicago 26-16.
What seemed like a feeling became almost a certainty as you knew that the Nets were going to beat the Bulls. The Bulls shot 31 percent from the field and had 9 turnovers that New Jersey scored 12 points off of. You can’t win games like that in this league. Not even against a team that has only one win on their record. 80-70, Nets.
This was the only quarter the Bulls looked like they were playing to win, outscoring the Nets 31-23. You almost got the sense that Chicago would be able to pull out a victory. Vinny Del Negro had no choice as he was forced to play Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng the entire quarter. Taj Gibson virtually played the entire quarter as well as he played all but six seconds of that final period.
Rose and Deng responded as they led the way with 11 points apiece and the United Center crowd fed off of their strong play. It was the first time the fans actually came alive in the game and by the end of the quarter as the game got close the entire crowd of 17,872 were on their feet and cheering loudly.
Rose and Devin Harris seemed to be going at it for their “Brotherhood” which made for some exciting basketball. Although Rose outscored Harris in the quarter, Devin proved that it’s not how much you score, but when you score as he came up with some key baskets in crucial moments, specifically his floater in the lane which put the Nets up one, countering Derrick Rose’s floater to put the Bulls up just seconds earlier. The nail in the Bulls coffin however came off an ill-advised John Salmons three-pointer with seven seconds left in the game. I stood there in disbelief as I couldn’t believe that he would even take that shot considering the Bulls were down one and didn’t need it and the fact that Derrick Rose was playing so well and he should’ve had the ball in his hands. Final score, 103-101, Nets.
Newly named New Jersey head coach Kiki Vandeweghe was very pleased with his team’s effort last night. “This was about the guys really coming to play at the end…. When it came down to crunch time, I really was proud of the guys. We dug in, we played as well as we could play their pick rolls, we fought them on the boards, took away their strength, and I’m very proud of the guys tonight.”
It was a very different vibe in Vinny Del Negro’s postgame presser, however.
A question was asked of Vinny about John Salmons three-pointer at the end of the game. He explained that the play was drawn up for Derrick Rose to get the ball in his hands but he couldn’t get open. However, that was not the case. Derrick Rose had actually gotten himself free from Devin Harris off the double pin-down play that was drawn up, but Salmons never even looked his way. Said Del Negro, “I’ll have to look at the film.” The key moment in the press conference came when he was asked about his job security. “I don’t worry about that. I really don’t,” said Del Negro. He added, “I go to work every day just doing the best trying to develop these guys. Those are questions for Gar [Forman], and Pax [John Paxson], and Jerry [Reinsdorf].”
He’s right, those are very good questions for the Bulls front office and it seems like the seed has been planted for Vinny’s firing with that question. Something definitely needs to be done and it needs to be done soon. Part of the problem on this year’s team seems to be the same problem that occurred during the end of the Scott Skiles era in Chicago; the locker room has started to tune Vinny out and that’s never a good sign. I really don’t feel like the team has the respect for him that they should and in a sense, it almost appears as if they’ve stopped playing for him. So after losing eight of their last nine games including a 32-point blowout at home and a loss to a 1-19 team, the hammer has to fall somewhere and it’s almost always on the coach’s head.
Last week it was reported that Vinny had pulled his Highland Park home off the market after having it listed for two months. It came as a shock because no one even knew that he was trying to sell it. But after his team has seemingly hit rock bottom with these last two losses, he may need to re-list it and start looking for some guys to help him move his stuff.