Game Notes: Blazers at Bulls
The Bulls get a big win while suffering an even bigger loss.
by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
The last two weeks of the Bulls schedule was the easiest they’ll have it. Seven of the eight games during that stretch were against sub-.500 teams. They beat the Knicks twice along with Minnesota and Philly the week prior. This past week, they had Washington on the schedule, Indiana twice and the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland would be the only team with a winning record they’d faced during that time frame. It would also be the toughest game they’d have to play too.
Not very many people felt like the Bulls could beat Portland, including myself. The Blazers blew the Bulls out by 24 in their first meeting back on November 23 but to their credit, the Bulls have come a long way since then. They’re a much different team now and also a lot better than they were three months ago. Still, with the Blazers coming into the game at almost full strength (both Roy and Camby would play hurt) and with Luol Deng nursing a minor knee injury and Joakim Noah battling a severe case of plantar fasciitis, it was hard to imagine the Bulls could win the game.
But that’s exactly what they did… At a huge cost though.
Nate McMillan is one of the class guys in the NBA and he was also one of the most gracious and most accessible coaches I’ve seen come to Chicago all season. He came out a lot earlier than all of the visiting coaches who have come here in the past and he also answered the most questions of any visiting coach as well. One of the topics of discussion was he and Vinny Del Negro being college roommates at North Carolina State (which I wasn’t aware of).
He spoke very highly of him and also revealed that when Vinny was hired as head coach of the Bulls and in the process of assembling his assistant coaching staff, he sought advice from McMillan. “I talked to him about hiring his staff and I felt the guys he was looking at like Bernie [Bickerstaff] who was my first NBA coach and Del [Harris] were good guys to start off with. Some coaches wouldn’t do that because they would be afraid of looking over their shoulders. Vinny was trying to do the right thing to help himself; to get the best assistants out here to help him.”
Being that I really respected McMillan when he was a player and now as a coach, the fact that Del Negro actually took the initiative to reach out and seek help from him made me respect Vinny a little bit more.
Del Negro also had good things to say about McMillan and the time they spent together in college. “He’s a good guy. We go back a long way. We were just kids back then trying to find our way. Nate’s a couple of years older than me, but he’s a good guy. He definitely controlled the music in the room that’s for sure.”
I’ll bet he did Vinny.
Ahh, what could have been.
During the 2006 NBA Draft, John Paxson was obviously so smitten with Tyrus Thomas who was coming out of LSU as an athletic albeit very raw freshman, he decided to trade the draft rights of LaMarcus Aldridge whom the Bulls drafted with the second overall pick to Portland who selected Thomas with the fourth pick. Tyrus had a very tumultuous career here in Chicago and just never quite reached the potential the team felt he had in him. He was just traded to Charlotte a little less than two weeks ago and to date, Aldridge has not only had a better career in his four years in the NBA, he’s also the better player.
He certainly showed that last Friday night.
He was completely unstoppable. Brad Miller and Taj Gibson had no way to contain him as he torched the Bulls for 10 points in the quarter (4-6 from the field). Playing mostly outside the low block, Aldridge killed the Bulls mostly with jump hooks and 12 to 15-foot jump shots and they just didn’t seem to have any answer for him. He was the lone bright spot for the Blazers though who had a rough shooting quarter. Brandon Roy didn’t even score and at one point left the game and went back to the locker room with some sort of ailment, but he would return.
Meanwhile, the Bulls shot the ball lights out. They were 13-20 from the field as a team and Derrick Rose was abusing Andre Miller. Again. We all remember this and I know Miller hasn’t forgotten, so he was trying very hard to stay in front of Rose without getting embarrassed. But DRose didn’t even attack him like that this time; instead he worked Miller with the jumper. In fact, that’s the only shot he took with the exception of one missed layup. But you could see his confidence growing with each shot and you got the feeling it was going to be one of those nights for him. And it was.
Bulls lead Portland 31-22.
It is still the LaMarcus Aldridge show. He dropped another 8 points on the Bulls in the quarter on 4-4 shooting and by halftime, he led all scorers with 18 points. To counter, Vinny Del Negro played Hakim Warrick virtually the entire quarter to try and neutralize Aldridge and while he couldn’t stop him defensively, Warrick did counter him offensively, dropping 9 points of his own on 4-6 shooting from the field.
But there was a new development, and that was the matchup between Derrick Rose and Jerryd Bayless. McMillan put Bayless in the game strictly to try and make things tough for Rose and his strategy seemed to work. The refs did call a couple of ticky-tack fouls on Bayless on the defensive end, but not only did he get under Rose’s skin, he gave the Blazers a boost offensively as well, scoring 8 points on 3-4 shooting.
Portland outscored the Bulls 29-21 in the quarter and by halftime, the Bulls found themselves up 52-51.
LaMarcus Aldridge is still killing the Bulls. It’s gotten to the point now where it’s bordering on ridiculous. Can anybody stop this guy? He dropped another 8 points on 4-7 shooting which would give him 26 points on 12-17 shooting through three quarters. He’d outscored Taj Gibson and Brad Miller by himself 26-16. Had it not been for Hakim Warrick’s offensive production (15 points through three quarters) he would’ve literally destroyed the Bulls bigs all by himself too.
But that’s not the story. This Derrick Rose/Jerryd Bayless thing is starting to heat up.
Derrick only scored 4 points during the first half of the quarter. But when McMillan put Bayless in with just under six minutes left on the clock, he went back to putting pressure on Rose both offensively and defensively and Derrick responded in kind. It was like the switch got flipped and Derrick felt as if he’d had enough and started going right back at Bayless. They both gave each other 7 points during the 5:56 of playing time against one another and it was the most aggressive 14 points you’ve ever seen. From the outside looking in, it appeared to be personal. Derrick had now found his motivation and he was in “seek and destroy” mode.
This is getting good.
After three, Bulls lead 80-79.
Foul trouble all but killed DRose vs. Bayless in the fourth as Nate McMillan was forced to go with Andre Miller for virtually the entire quarter and Derrick completely busted him up. He gave Miller 12 points on 6-9 shooting as Andre looked completely helpless out there. And LaMarcus Aldridge finally slowed down too, scoring only 2 points in the quarter.
It’s all good though, he gets a well earned pass from me. He was probably tired from going to work the way he did over the three previous quarters.
But in a nip-and-tuck fourth, the game came down to the final 16 seconds of regulation when Brandon Roy hit an absolutely huge shot to tie the game at 103 coming out of a 20 second timeout. Derrick Rose would then get the ball to take the last shot. He dribbled out the clock with about 5 seconds left and then made an aggressive drive to the basket for a layup at the buzzer that would’ve won the game.
But the ball seemed to just hang on the rim and then came out and the entire United Center was stunned, including Rose.
Game tied at 103 at the end of regulation.
It was all Luol Deng who pretty much put the game away himself. He scored 7 points (3-3 shooting) in the extra session including a breakaway dunk to seal the victory for Chicago.
Bulls win 115-111.
Although it was a big victory, it came at a huge sacrifice for the Bulls. Vinny Del Negro had planned on playing Joakim Noah (8 points, 11 rebounds) limited minutes, but with the back-and-forth nature of the game and the way LaMarcus Aldridge was playing, Del Negro was forced to leave Joakim out there a lot longer than he had planned. Joakim played 27 minutes and literally limped out of the shower area after the game. He could barely put on his socks.
Noah said that he wouldn’t be traveling with the team to Indianapolis and would miss Saturday night’s game. “I’m not feeling great. My foot is hurting a little bit, but I’m happy we won the game today. I probably won’t travel with the team tonight and just get some more treatment on it [his foot]. That’s it.” When asked about his extended minutes Noah added, “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer [regarding playing time]. It’s that time of year. Obviously, if it was October or November, I would sit out for six weeks. But we don’t have six weeks.”
Said Del Negro after the game on Joakim’s minutes, “We probably got a little greedy, but I asked him how he felt and he said he felt good. But I could see he got a little fatigued. His length made a big difference for us against Camby and Aldridge, but he’s sore right now.”
It was reported later that Noah would be out indefinitely and that deals a major blow to the Bulls who probably have the toughest final seven weeks of any team in the League.
Truly a bummer.
And about the Rose vs. Bayless matchup, Derrick dropped 33 points in almost 47 minutes. Meanwhile, Bayless scored 15 points in only 22 minutes. Had they played equal time—foul trouble notwithstanding—we might’ve been talking about one of the best 1-on-1 point guard matchups anybody’s seen in a long time. I asked them both what was going on out there and each said it wasn’t anything personal it was just two competitors going at it.
“We’re in the same class. We came in together,” said Rose. “It wasn’t anything personal. We haven’t played against each other in a while. It was just fun going out there and playing against him.”
Offered Bayless, “I’ve known Derrick since 6th or 7th grade. We were definitely trying to go at each other but it was nothing personal.” He added, “Derrick’s an All-Star this year, so everybody knows about him. Right now is the first time I’ve really started playing. I’m trying to get to where he’s at. But I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a great player and a great person too and I hope he keeps on doing what he’s doing.”
Now that’s what you call a “Brotherhood.”