Game Notes: Warriors at Bulls
The Bulls didn’t win this game, the Warriors lost it.
by Bryan Crawford
The Chicago Bulls got a much needed victory against the Golden State Warriors on Friday night, snapping a four game losing streak and a streak of nine losses in their last 10 games. The win didn’t stop the bleeding as some like to say; it just changed the bandage.
The Bulls are still hemorrhaging, still bleeding internally, and one win against a team that in all actuality should have beat them isn’t really going to matter much. After the game in the Bulls locker room, it didn’t seem to matter much to those guys either. They still have the same problems, and those problems are glaring.
They lack energy and effort on defense, their offense is pretty much non-existent, and mentally guys seem to have checked out. It’s that bad here in the City of Wind right now and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. If there was any one game from the Bulls this season where the numbers told the real story, it was this one. This was a game that Chicago should have lost and were it not for Golden State shooting 17-50 (34 percent) in the second half and overtime, it would’ve been Chicago’s 10th loss in 11 games.
The Bulls locker room prior to games these days is a virtual ghost town. Friday night was no different. The only player there was Joakim Noah who was getting dressed to go through his pre-game shooting routine. He did speak to the sparsely assembled media crowd and was very open and honest about what his team needed to do in order to turn things around. “We need a win in a really bad way,” said Noah. “We have to find a way to get the [team] spirits up… we do get in funks, especially when things aren’t going our way and I feel like we get down on ourselves and that’s been a re-occurring pattern. We just need to find a way to get out of that, learn from it, and win.”
One of the more interesting things that he had to say came when I asked him what he could draw from, coming from a winning program at Florida, that he could share with his teammates during their current struggles. The answer that he gave seemed to be one of support and belief in his teammates, but less of a belief in head coach Vinny Del Negro and his system. “We’re a capable team you know, and we have talent; enough talent to win some games. Even when I was playing on those championship teams in college, a lot of people doubted us but one thing that we did, we all believed in each other and our abilities and we believed in the system. So it’s important that, you know, we believe in each other and if we can do that, we’ll put ourselves in a better position to win games.”
From a scoring perspective, this was a pretty good quarter for both teams. The Warriors and Bulls both shot the ball very well and were extremely efficient from the floor.
Against an up tempo offensive team like Golden State, I questioned Vinny Del Negro’s choice to start Brad Miller. But to the surprise of everyone, Miller was the best player on the floor for both teams in the quarter. He went 5-8 from the field, scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Those are usually end of game stats for Brad Miller, not 1st quarter ones.
The Warriors countered with balanced scoring from their starters who pretty much went the entire way. The real story though was the points in the paint. The Bulls scored 20 to the Warriors 4. But that really isn’t surprising against a jump shooting team that lacks size on the interior and the only guys with a semblance of an ability to score in the low post (Andris Biedrens and Ronny Turiaf) didn’t play due to injury. After one, 28-26 Warriors.
If you’ve ever wondered what crappy shooting looks like in an NBA game, this was the quarter to watch. The Warriors and the Bulls were a combined 16-48 from the floor. The Bulls shot 7-23 from the field (30.4 percent) and the Warriors shot 9-25 (36 percent). It was one of those quarters where you were watching, but not really paying attention as shot after shot clanked off the rim and things quickly became uninteresting.
Monta Ellis led the way, scoring 11 points in the quarter for Golden State. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well—he only made three shots of the eight he took—but he was very aggressive and got to the free throw line, shooting 5-6.
For the Bulls, for whatever reason they went away from dumping the ball down in the paint but in a surprising turn of events, John Salmons made up for it and actually came to play. He also scored 11 points to lead the Bulls in scoring for the quarter, and he shot 4-9 from the field. Unfortunately, it would be the last John Salmons sighting of the night as he wouldn’t make another shot, going 0-6 the rest of the way. In typical “salmon” fashion, as has been the case all season, John went back to swimming upstream. At halftime, Golden State leads Chicago 51-44.
This quarter has been the Bulls Achilles heel all season. They play hard and compete for the first 24 minutes of games and then come out of the locker room after halftime completely flat. On this night though, it was a different story.
Their energy was good and the Bulls actually shot the ball very well. They shot 50 percent in the quarter (12-24 from the field) and outscored the Warriors 25-19 who couldn’t seem to get anything to fall shooting a horrific 8-21 from the field. Vinny Del Negro, in a rare moment of coaching coherence, finally went back to exploiting Golden State’s lack of an inside post presence and got the ball to Joakim Noah in the paint who then proceeded to dominate Mikki Moore, Vladimir Radmanovic and Anthony Randolph.
This fired up Noah who scored 8 points in the quarter and grabbed 6 rebounds and the rest of his teammates—especially Luol Deng who went 5-5 and scored 11 points—seemed to feed off his energy. It was the first time in a long time that the Bulls actually looked and played like a winning basketball team should. Still, they couldn’t overtake the Warriors who managed to maintain a 70-69 lead at the end of the quarter.
This quarter played out just like the second did as both teams shot horribly from the field going a combined 15-41. Joakim Noah’s strong play in the 3rd quarter carried over into the final period as he scored 6 points and grabbed 3 rebounds. And in another surprise, just like John Salmons in the 2nd quarter, there was a “Kurt” Hinrich sighting. I always laugh every time I hear Vinny Del Negro call Kirk by the wrong name because you’d think that by now he’d know how to say it right.
In any case, Hinrich played the entire quarter and although he only made three shots and scored 6 points, it was when he made those shots and scored those points that made all the difference. His first basket came early in the quarter and actually gave the Bulls the lead. His next two scores came later, during crunch time, and each tied the game when Chicago trailed. It was only his second game back coming off a thumb injury that sidelined him for two weeks and going back to the Atlanta game on Wednesday night, he’d played horribly for seven straight quarters. But he somehow managed to right the ship so to speak and came up big when his team needed him the most. The Warriors on the other hand still couldn’t get anything going and had multiple chances to win this game, but their shooting woes continued (7-19 from the field) and the game would be tied at 87 at the end of regulation, forcing OT.
Chicago put Golden State away as the Warriors couldn’t manage to throw a rock in Lake Michigan even if they were standing on the shore at North Ave beach. They shot a putrid 2-10 from the field which ultimately became their undoing. The Bulls outscored the Warriors 9-4 in the extra session and got a much needed victory besting their counterparts 96-91. And surprise, surprise, Vinny Del Negro lives to see another day as an NBA head coach.
After watching the Bulls struggle for so long, it didn’t dawn on me until I went into the Warriors locker room that they’re just as bad and they aren’t taking losing any better than the Bulls are. Initially, I went into Chicago’s locker room first. I mean, I had to right? They won.
But after speaking with Derrick Rose, I hustled back over to Golden State’s locker room and when I got there, it had cleared out. I’d never seen that before. There were only two people in there when I walked in; Anthony Morrow and Monta Ellis. I spoke with Monta because now that Stephen Jackson is gone, he’s the unquestioned leader of this team. Plus, I knew him from the days when I lived in Jackson, MS and we have mutual friends.
He wasn’t too pleased with the loss: ”It’s tough man, but it be like that. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but they [the Bulls] just made shots at the end.” He went on to say, “We could’ve taken better shots, including myself, but it is what it is. We just gotta move on and get the next one.” Professional athletes, especially NBA players take a lot of heat for being so highly paid and when they lose, a lot of times in conversations I hear people say, “So and so doesn’t care because he makes all of that money.” But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
These guys are all competitors and they all want to win. And no matter how much money they make, losing still sucks. Believe that.