The Chicago Bulls ended their season on a high-note, winning in comeback form over the historically bad Philadelphia 76ers (10-72) 115-105 at the United Center Wednesday night. The Bulls ended the season a disappointing 42-40, a record that would’ve made the playoffs in the East most other years.
- The strangest thing happened Wednesday night: The Bulls were going through the motions and getting beat down by one of the worst teams in NBA history 60-39 in the 2nd quarter, the lead was 24 at one point, and then the crowd started to boo mercilessly.
- Except instead of digging themselves an even bigger hole, they began to click and showed some energy, knowing down 3’s from all over the court and playing pretty stifling defense at times. The result was a demanding 32-4 run by the Bulls to put them up 71-64 and they never looked back.
- The comeback charge was led by Nikola Mirotic and Justin Holiday. As for Mirotic, the forward shot lights out from deep, 7/11, on his way to 32 points. We knew Mirotic could knock down a few shots, but it was the rest of his game that impressed those in attendance. The Montenegro native stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, four assists, five steals, and even three blocks. Mirotic making the hustle plays seemed to spark the rest of his team to do the same. The fact that he only turned the ball over only twice in 39 minutes is just an added bonus for Niko on the night.
- The other spark plug on the night was Justin Holiday. The guard dropped a career-high 29 points in the win over the Sixers and must have impressed Fred Hoiberg with his ability to run the offense. Holiday showed great court vision and made the right decision with the ball more times than not on Wednesday. Holiday also proved to be a two-way player causing havoc on the defensive side of the ball with his length, and athleticism. The season-finale was a strong audition from a player hoping to stay in the rotation for next year.
- It wasn’t just Mirotic and Holiday knocking down threes on the night. The Bulls as a team shot 63% (15/24) on the night as the Bulls pleased their coach by finding open jump shots early in the shot clock on a consistent basis. The key to this was the quick ball movement and unselfish basketball. Once the Bulls started their comeback there was little standing around on offense and everyone was making the extra pass on the perimeter to set up an even more open shot. The result was the Bulls putting up 99 points over the final three frames.
- One of the bright spots for the 76ers was Robert Covington. The Bellwood, Illinois native must relish playing against his former hometown team. Covington put up 25 points the last time these two met and was just as good last night. Covington put away 27 points on 7/17 shooting, including 7/7 from the charity stripe and was the reason the Sixers had such a big lead early in the 2nd quarter.
- Coming up: The 2015-2016 season comes to a close as the Bulls fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. This is a crucial offseason for Gar Forman and John Paxson to correct the dysfunction within the organization.
- A note from DRaT editor Jake Weiner: Thank you so much to everyone that joined us for our coverage of all 82 Bulls games this season. It’s been a depressing year for Bulls fans, but we’re so glad to have been able to share the ups and (mostly) downs with all of you. We’re looking forward to joining you all again next season!
It had been a long time since a Bulls game in April meant absolutely nothing, making Monday’s viewing experience particularly bizarre. As much as I’ve loathed watching this team during this disappointing and infuriating season, I’ve always rooted for a positive outcome in their games. But when the Pacers officially eliminated the Bulls on Sunday, they also eliminated my ability to care about the outcome of the final two games. Alas, I still paid close attention to the festivities in New Orleans as the Bulls collection of scrubs outplayed the scrubs in Pelicans jerseys.
- More significant than who played for the Bulls in game 81 was who didn’t play. Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, E’Twaun Moore and of course Joakim Noah all sat due to injuries of varying degrees. Fred Hoiberg started Jimmy Butler at point guard and let the All-Star guard do pretty much whatever he pleased with the reins in his hands.
- Butler scored an efficient 23 points against the Pelicans, shooting 8/11 from the field and 6/7 from the line. Butler has struggled mightily with his three point shot all season and it was good to see him take – and make – just one shot from beyond the arc. Jimmy was able to waltz to the rim at will all night against a porous Pelicans defense and did not waste many possessions with bad jump shots.
- Butler managed to dominate the ball without over-hunting for his own shot. Jimmy tallied 11 assists in a game he was the primary ball handler in 28 of 29 of his minutes on the court. Aaron Brooks was the only true point guard available Monday night and he only shared the court with Butler for about 70 seconds at the end of the first half. Butler’s ability to penetrate and draw help – often from two defenders – led to easy kick outs to open shooters and cutters.
- Despite the high assist total, I would hardly categorize this game as strong support for the “Point Jimmy” argument. Yes, Butler recorded double-digit assists in a game the Bulls were desperate for offensive creation. But the reigning Most Improved Player still has a lot to learn about running a good pick and roll, a necessity for any lead ball handler. Butler has a tendency to peak around screens instead of jet past them, mucking up the offenses timing and limiting the effectiveness of the rolling screener. Butler attempted only one pass to the strong rolling Cristiano Felicio, a mistimed bounce pass that ended up as one of his four turnovers in the game.
- Speaking of Felicio, the Brazilian rookie continued to take advantage of his opportunity to impress the organization ahead of the fast-approaching off-season. Felicio scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in his third career start. Cristiano shot 6/8 from the field, with half of his attempts coming from 20 or more feet from the hoop. Felicio struggled on defense, often failing to rotate off Omer Asik to impede driving guards, but that type of timing and personnel knowledge comes with time and experience. I’d rather see the giant gummy bear splash some silky jumpers than make a few more hard rotations to the rim.
- Doug McDermott played just 24 minutes, shorter than the time Justin Holiday and Tony Snell spent on the court. McDermott has too often been relegated to decoy status down the stretch and attempted just one three pointer against New Orleans. In a game where the outcome truly did not matter, it was disappointing that Hoiberg did not make more of an effort to include the second year wing in the game plan. McDermott’s defense is and will continue to be very bad, and if the team isn’t going to maximize his offensive abilities, then I don’t know what they’re doing.
- Coming up: the Bulls finish off the season tomorrow night by hosting the 76ers.
The Bulls technically aren’t eliminated until they lose another game or Indiana wins one, so Saturday night’s matchup with LeBron James and the Cavaliers still mattered. As is often the case, the Bulls brought their A-game for LeBron and co., pulling out an impressive 105-102 victory. Of course, it’s far too little, too late, so plenty of Bulls fans are just annoyed by this type of performance. Let’s take a look at how they did it.
- The Spring of Cristiano Felicio continues. Felicio was 7/7 with 16 points, five rebounds, and two blocks in 23 minutes. He provided a real defensive presence and was perfect from the field, slamming down several dunks. Fred Hoiberg rightfully rode Cristiano down the stretch, as he played nearly the entire fourth quarter. The Bulls were +12 in Felicio’s minutes and -9 in Pau Gasol‘s.
- The Bulls’ success with Felicio in the game is classic addition by subtraction. Pau puts up gaudy rebounding and block numbers that largely amount to empty calories. His slowness getting back and moving defensively sink the unit. His offensive production is overvalued as his post-ups slow down the flow and he takes a high percentage of long mid-range shots. Felicio does all the little things defensively and stays out of the way for the most part on the other end. The Bulls will be a better team without Pau in the starting lineup.
- Good news! The Bulls have the rights to Cristiano Felicio next season for under $900,000, making the 23-year-old Brazilian a legitimate find. The Bulls will also have matching rights after next year, so Felicio will be on the team for a long time if things go well. A fun silver lining to a season that’s been anything but.
- Bobby Portis and Felicio made up the frontcourt for almost the entirety of the fourth quarter comeback. The Cavs led 82-79 after three, but the Bulls stormed ahead to a double-digit lead before a late flurry from LeBron James made things interesting.
- Ultimately, the James-Kevin Love frontcourt didn’t get the job done, as Tyronn Lue elected to go small for that stretch. Tristan Thompson never came in throughout the Bulls’ onslaught, and I wonder if that would’ve stopped the bleeding.
- Both LeBron and Love were phenomenal, though. James finished with 33 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes. He nearly willed the Cavs all the way back at the end, drilling multiple three-pointers at critical times. He was 4/5 from distance on the night, a far cry from his 30.2% clip on the season. Kevin Love notched 20 points and 13 boards.
- Jimmy Butler turned it up late to secure victory. He finished with 21 points, six boards, and three steals. Derrick Rose had a tough night, adding only 10 points while posting a -20 in 32 minutes.
- Nikola Mirotic tallied 13 points and six rebounds in only 17 minutes. He’s really started to look like a valuable player since coming back from his appendicitis. He’s shot 43.7% on threes since the All-Star break and is up to 38.2% overall.
- J.R. Smith was lights out, scoring 24 points with seven three pointers. He’s quietly been one of the most prolific three point shooters in NBA history, and some nights he’s just going to roast you from deep. The Bulls are lucky J.R.’s hot shooting didn’t sink them.
- Mike Dunleavy still looks like a corpse, which is unfortunate.
- Coming up: the Bulls head to New Orleans tomorrow night.
The Bulls came into the game tonight absolutely needing victory, and they could not deliver, falling 106-98 to the Miami Heat. Down three games to the Detroit Pistons and three and a half to the Indiana Pacers, although not mathematically out of it, the elimination number is one. Tonight, we got the version of the Bulls that can’t play defense; although putting it on one man’s shoulders is rarely appropriate, it’s hard not to point directly at Pau Gasol. Normally, here would follow a string of videos demonstrating his inability to move laterally, box out, help, switch, or contest effectively, but I’ll spare it – there will be plenty of videos next year. Instead, I’ll show all the things I’m excited about.
- I never thought my first BULLet Point would ever be about Cristiano Felicio, but it is. With Taj Gibson out (ribs), Felicio was called upon to fill in once again. He has plenty to work on, but he’s a big body who has grown tremendously in a short timespan, and does a lot of little things right: screens, rebounding, effort and loose balls, and even fast breaks. He led the team with +8 in 14 minutes. Here are some of the videos I captured of his good work:
- I said I wasn’t going to pick on Pau, but I lied. Gasol had 21 points and 12 rebounds but led the team with a massive -17. Here he is struggling with communication on a switch, followed by an inability to contest a drive, and finally Bobby Portis securing an offensive rebound by securing good position, another foreign concept to Pau:
- Okay, back to the things I’m excited about… the Bulls played some Hoiball tonight on offense, converting on primary and secondary breaks through layups and threes, and taking early and open shots. Fred Hoiberg‘s after timeout plays (ATOs) were also effective, plus he utilized Derrick Rose with the second unit for a few stretches, which shook things up in a good way. Rose came out to start the second quarter, but then rested in two short spurts instead of one, still playing 17 minutes in the half. It was nice to see, but too late in the season.
- I never get tired of Rose driving. He ended with 17 points and three assists on 7/16 shooting in just under 36 minutes.
- Doug McDermott didn’t have a great night, but at least he (sort of) tackled Hassan Whiteside and was (wrongly) given a flagrant foul. This was the Bulls’ first flagrant foul of the season, coming in the 79th game. It was also Doug’s first flagrant or technical foul in the NBA, and he had no technicals in his 145 games at Creighton.
But that second angle though…
- Aaron Brooks was given the DNP tonight by Hoiberg. Honestly, if all that happened in this offseason was getting rid of Pau and Brooks, I would be happy. As for exploring the other moves available to the Bulls – that’s for another day.
- The Heat won their 46th game of the season, moving them into a tie with the Celtics for 4th. Dwayne Wade notched 21 points, along with six other Heat players in double figures, including all five starters, as the Heat shot 47.8% from the field.
- Coming up: The Bulls take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in what is likely to be a meaningless game.
Anyone who is still watching Bulls games at this point is undoubtedly familiar with all the different versions of this team. There are the “National TV Chicago Bulls”, a team that plays with effort and energy on both sides of the ball. There are the “Can’t Miss Chicago Bulls,” a team filled with marksmen who spread the defense out and take advantage of their shooting ability at all five positions. And then, there are “Not Really In The Mood Chicago Bulls,” the team that probably has the largest slice on the pie chart of which group has shown up the most this season. It was on prominent display Tuesday in Memphis.
- The Bulls looked flat on offense from the opening tip. The lack of ball and player movement in the first quarter – following an off day – was downright embarrassing. Over and over again, the Bulls settled for contested jump shots early in the shot clock after just one or two passes, never settling into any type of rhythm or flow. For a team wrapping up it’s 78th game of the season, the Bulls tonight played like a group of complete strangers.
- Despite the groggy start on offense, the Bulls were able to hang tight for the first eight minutes of the game. Zach Randolph made just one of his first six field goal attempts while being defended by Bobby Portis in the post. But when Portis was subbed out for Nikola Mirotic and Randolph found himself switched onto Pau Gasol, the Grizzlies quickly built a lead they never relinquished. Z-Bo came on strong after his cold start and eventually finished with a game high 27 points on 10/19 shooting. The veteran power forward also grabbed 10 rebounds, five offensive, to go along with four assists and two steals. Randolph brutalized Gasol in the post all night, proving that excellent footwork and body control can more than make up for a lack of height and athleticism.
- Fred Hoiberg did not take advantage of the opportunity to play Doug McDermott big minutes against a team lacking any threat on the wing capable of punishing Doug on defense. On a night the Bulls desperately needed an injection of energy into the offense, Doug McDermott played just 24 minutes off the bench. McDermott scored 7 points on 3/5 shooting and was a complete afterthought in the game plan. The beautiful hammer plays that the Bulls were frequently running during McDermott’s hot run in late February and early March were absent from the playbook Tuesday. It’s hard to watch one of the only guys on the team who is clearly a part of the organization’s future become a non-factor in a must win game.
- A man who looked strikingly similar to Jimmy Butler started at shooting guard for the Bulls and failed to score a point until the game was far out of reach in the fourth quarter. The Butler impostor finished 2/8 from the field and lacked any sort of explosion going to the rim or intensity on defense. After the real Jimmy put on a 9/10 performance against Milwaukee on Sunday and a heroic triple double the night before that, it’s a shame this two-bit impersonator filled in against the Grizzlies.
- Nikola Mirotic’s hot shooting streak continued. Mirotic was the only Bull with any accuracy from deep in this game and accounted for six of Chicago’s 11 made three point shots. All nine of Mirotic’s field goal attempts came from behind the arc, which is totally fine if he’s splashing home 2/3 of his attempts.
- Derrick Rose finished with a line of 12 points, five rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers. Rose, who played his one year of college basketball in Memphis, shot a very poor 5/15 from the field, including 0/3 from three. Rose attempted only one bank shot all game, a shot I’ve noticed he has gone away from recently after it using it with great success in prior months. Rose is at his best when he makes up for his decreased athleticism with intelligent shot selection. That was not the case Tuesday.
- It’s one thing to lose big to the Memphis Grit-n-Grind Grizzlies of the last half decade. This is not that team. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are both done for the season, and the Grizzlies have had to find production from unusual places to maintain the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Against the Bulls, Jordan Farmar started and scored 15 points on 50% shooting. Vince Carter scored 17 points in 24 minutes on an array of difficult jump shots. Some dude named Xavier Munford knocked in a pair of three pointers. While talent is the most important factor in a team’s success in the NBA, the Grizzlies showed Chicago how consistently putting forth your best effort for 48 minutes can make up for any gap in player pedigree. If the Bulls can’t muster the fight to take down this banged up team, they don’t deserve the make the playoffs.
- Coming up: the Bulls head to Miami on Thursday night.