Note-A-Bulls: Sixers embarrass the Bulls at the UC 117-107 thanks to Saric’s big night

While most of the country was focused on the Sweet 16 Friday Night, the NBA still offered a slate of 10 games. This included your Chicago Bulls, who faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center. Coming off an 18-point win Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls hoped to earn their first “winning streak” since winning four straight back in February. This is a game the Bulls must win if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Despite the Bulls mediocre play, the UC was filled on Friday. Robin Lopez squared off against Richaun Holmes of Philadelphia, with Lopez winning the tip. Bulls basketball was on the air with Neil Funk and Stacey King. The first five minutes of the game were very much in the Bulls’ favor. They were able to jump out to a 16-6 lead, earning three assists on six field goals made. Nikola Mirotic started the game where he left off Wednesday, leading the Bulls early with seven points. However, the Sixers answered with going on a 6-0 run after they took a timeout at the 7-minute mark. This led Fred Hoiberg to take a timeout, hoping to break the Sixers’ run. Following the timeout, the Bulls jumped back out to an eight-point lead thanks to the work of Mirotic. Mirotic found Denzel Valentine for a three that hit nothing but net to give the Bulls that eight-point lead (26-18). However, the Sixers would answer the Bulls run (surprise). The quarter ended with the Sixers going on another 6-0 run, with the score 28-24. Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 11 points. He and Mirotic accounted for 21 of the Bulls 28 points.

The second quarter started out slowly for the Bulls. They started out the quarter two for seven and allowed the Sixers to get a six-point lead. That lead was cut down to as little as four, but the Bulls couldn’t regain the lead. Once Paul Zipser air-balled a three from a fairly good look, you knew things were about to get ugly. Sean Rodriguez, the backup point guard of the Sixers, was putting on a show. He helped Philly push their lead to nine, and had nine points in nine minutes played. The Bulls were letting the Sixers get to the basket at will, allowing 34 points in the paint at the 3:20 mark in the second quarter. At that stage in the game, the Sixers had 49 points. The minutes continued to shrink, and the Sixers lead continued to grow. After Rodriguez created his sixth assist of the game, the Sixers extended their lead to 17! Yes, the Philadelphia 76ers led the Bulls by 17 at the United Center. OK. Now that you read that again, let’s get back to the game. The final thirty seconds of the half were no different than anything else in the game thus far. At the end of the first half, the Sixers led 59-46, shooting an absurd 57.8 percent from the floor. Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 20 points. However, the only other Bull to be in double figures was Mirotic with 10.

The third quarter started out just how you thought it would. In the first two minutes of the quarter, the Sixers pushed their lead to 20. The point guards of the Sixers continued to cause trouble for the Bulls. T.J. McConell had four of the Sixers first four points in the quarter. It was getting so bad that Stacey King was comparing Rodriguez and McConell to John Stockton. This pathetic defense is just inexcusable against a team like the Sixers. With just under eight minutes to play in the third, the Sixers led by 22 POINTS, shooting 63 percent. The only bright spot was (take a wild guess) Jimmy Butler. However, Butler could only do so much. It was essentially one-versus-five. As a result, the score wasn’t in the Bulls favor. I would try and write something positive, but there was just no content. The Sixers continued to just shove their lead right down the Bulls’ throats. After three, the thrashing continued as the Sixers led 93-71. Butler had 31 of those 71 points. The Sixers had 66 (hey-hey!) points in the paint after the third.

The fourth quarter started out fairly well for the Bulls. They started out the quarter on a 9-4 run, which cut the lead down to 17. However, with only nine and a half minutes to play in the game, the Bulls would need to put on quite the show to make the entire comeback. The momentum was pushing in the Bulls favor. They continued to chip away at the Sixers’ lead, as they were able to cut it down to ten after Butler found Bobby Portis for a mid-range jumper. That assist was Butler’s eighth of the game, he was getting close to a double-double. However, this little spurt of momentum wasn’t enough. The Sixers did what they needed to do to not let the Bulls get back in the game and eventually came out with the win. The final score was 117-107. Butler finished with 36 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

This game was no different than any other Bulls game this season when facing a bad team. They didn’t show up to play, they got down big, tried to come back, and eventually lost. They continue to just go in circles, showing no signs of change. It’s unacceptable to be down 26 points against a team with the resumé of the Sixers, let alone your home court. With the loss, the Bulls fall to 34-39 on the season and are two games back of the Miami Heat for the eight seed. The Bulls are off until Sunday, where they’ll look to bounce back against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.

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Note-A-Bulls: A blown 4th quarter lead leaves the Bulls on the outside looking in of Eastern Conference playoffs

In a game that had tons of presage hype, the actual contest itself didn’t fail to deliver, unfortunately it was the Toronto Raptors gobbling up the good side of the headlines after the Bulls lost to Toronto for the first time in 12 games 122-120 in OT. After the unfortunate passing of one of the great GMs in NBA history, Jerry Krause, mastermind behind the 90s Bulls dynasty all of yearn for, there was still an important game to be played.

Sitting a game and a half back of the 8th seeded Heat, the Bulls were playing in a tough arena against a good team, albeit one that the Bulls hadn’t lost to since New Year’s Eve 2013 in the Raptors. After 3 1/2 quarters, it appeared as if the Bulls would pick up a marquee road win and continue to terrorize the confused Raptors. But then, with 6:39 left in this one and the Bulls up a comfortable 15, DeMar DeRozan showed up and the Bulls forgot out to put the Ball through the cylinder.

The result, the Bulls shooting just 3/20 from the field over the next 11+ minutes of play including overtime, in a stretch that saw them score just six points over a full quarters worth of time. Give Toronto credit, they put the pressure on the Bulls with aggressive play and by hitting their shots to force the Bulls to tighten up.

The aftermath of this one is just as ugly as the game itself. The Bulls now sit in 10th place in the East, 2 games back of the Heat, with just 11 games remaining on their schedule. Robin Lopez will most likely be suspended due to a fight with Serge Ibaka we will take a look at later. And finally, adding injury to insult, Cristiano Felicio, the Bulls back-up to Lopez, went down hard on his tail-bone in the 4th and appeared to be in a considerable amount of pain so missed games for him are not out of the question. The Bulls will need a quick and decisive turnaround to put this game behind them if they want to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

  • The reason the Bulls had such a large lead late was due in part to the incredible play of Rajon Rondo. The Kentucky product had an astounding first half scoring 19 points on 7/8 shooting including a shocking 3/4 from deep. Rondo also added five dimes and even got to the line in the first two frames. Frankly put, this was the best half of basketball Rondo played all year.
  • Instead of creating spacing issues in this offense, Rondo was able to create space for those around him. Due to his prolific shooting effort, he was able to suck defenders into the lane with him as he either found a back door cutter or kicked it out for an open three. This is the man the Bulls front office was hoping for when they signed the veteran guard away from the Kings this past off-season.
  • Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and Rondo’s night was no different. He ended up shooting just 2/8 after the break and committed two vital turnovers to fuel the Raptors come back. Rondo’s rise and fall in this one embodies what this game, and season, have turned into for this once proud franchise.
  • Jimmy Butler did everything he could to prevent a meltdown in this one. Butler ended the night with an impressive line of 37 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists to go with an impressive 12/14 from the charity stripe. 24 of those points came after the second quarter, as Butler seemed to be the only Bull attempting to close out this game with any sense of urgency. Unfortunately, as we all know, that was not enough as his tough jumper towards the end of regulation came up short forcing the Bulls into an overtime they would not prevail in.
  • The Sportscenter highlight of the night came not from any basketball being played on the court, but rather, a scrap that broke out after a missed shot. Robin Lopez appeared to accidentally stumble into Serge Ibaka after the forward grabbed a rebound. Ibaka then appeared to give an elbow into RoLo’s back. The two proceeded to get up close and personal, both just missing each other in big swings at the others expense. The two players got ejected, and with Felicio’s injury less than a quarter later, the Bulls were left extremely thin in the front court.
  • The Raptor’s star of the game as hands down DeMar DeRozan who finished with a line of 42 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. While DeRozan attempted a staggering 38 shots, his playmaking in the fourth quarter is what lead to the Raptors to a 34-19 edge in the period to stretch this game into the extra frame. With fellow backcourt mate Kyle Lowry out an extended period of time, DeRozan has been forced to step up the workload and has done brilliantly to keep the Raptors n a top 4 position in the East.
  • Up Next: the Bulls face what feels like a do or die game at home against the Pistons on Wednesday night.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls secure much-needed win over Hornets 115-109

Playing back-to-back road games, the Bulls entered Charlotte on a sore note after getting thrashed the day before by Brad Stevens’ Celtics to extend the losing streak to five games. Yet despite their struggles, the Bulls had every right to come out hungry Monday night, wanting to keep the Milwaukee Bucks and the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference within grasp.

Hoiberg would give Rondo the start over Grant, accompanied by Wade, Butler, Portis, and Lopez. For the Hornets, it was Kemba, Lamb, Zeller, Williams, and Kidd-Gilchrist. Starting off the game, the Bulls looked ready to move on from a miserable preceding week. Just halfway into the quarter, they managed to net 20 points and jump out to an early lead.

Up 20-15, the Bulls surrendered eight straight points to the Hornets. Unexpectedly though, they finished the quarter on a 16-1 run, up 36-24 after 12 minutes. With the Hornets ready to rally, the Bulls were able to respond to defensive errors, maintaining a 10-point lead through the first five minutes of the 2nd. After some back-and-forth action, the Bulls kept the Hornets in check, taking their earlier 10-point lead with them into the locker rooms at halftime, up 58-48.

Predictable as always, the Bulls started off the 2nd half looking as if the teams’ roles had reversed. Within three minutes, the Hornets had cut the lead to three points and had it down to one point less than 60 seconds later. Despite the Hornets’ momentum, the Bulls continued to hold them off. After again letting them get to within a point of tying the game, the Bulls were able to stay up four by the six-minute mark in the 3rd. After two Zeller free-throws and a Frank Kaminsky lay-in, things were squared up 69-69 with just over five left in the quarter. From there on out though, the Bulls would take over and pull ahead 87-77 with three quarters in the books.

Again, the Hornets fought back in the final quarter, pulling to within four by the six-minute mark, looking poised to finally take the lead back. However, the Bulls would maintain their poise on this night. Ahead just three in the closing minutes, Jimmy Butler and Denzel Valentine made their free throws to put the game out of reach and give Chicago the 115-109 win in Charlotte.

  • Wade and Butler were each 8-15 from the field, each making all but one of their free throws. Both men finished the night with 23 points, while Butler helped the cause with 11 assists to get the double-double.
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity, Rondo scored a much-needed 20 points, also 8-15 from the field. Along with Butler’s impressive passing, Rondo was able to get six assists of his own and seven boards.
  • Off the bench, Mirotic turned in a much-needed performance. Going 8-16 from the field (5-12) from downtown, the big man netted 24 points in 29 minutes of action, while also grabbing 11 rebounds to get a double-double.
  • In 28 minutes of playing time, the rookie Valentine was able to add 11 points and five rebounds. Cameron Payne was 0-6 from the field in limited playing time, including 0-4 from downtown.
  • While the Hornets did shoot slightly better from the field, just 7-29 from beyond the arc didn’t help their cause. Losing the rebound and assist battle didn’t help, as the Bulls were able to match their impressive free-throw shooting.
  • Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb and Walker all scored 20+ points, while Williams dominated the glass with 18 rebounds. The bench, however, could only contribute 16 points with some poor shooting efforts.
  • Next Up: the Bulls host the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, looking to squeeze back into the playoff picture.

Note-A-Bulls: Boston hands the helpless Bulls their fifth straight loss 100-80

I’m not sure how many doom and gloom articles have been written about the Bulls this year, but there’s about to be one more added to the list. In what can only be described as an absolute thumping, the Bulls (31-35) lost to the Celtics (42-25) on Sunday afternoon 100-80 in a game that somehow wasn’t as close as the score indicated. There are numerous stats that illustrate the Bulls ineptitude in this contest but I think one stands above the rest. With under 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, the Bulls had amassed a grand total of three field goals and had managed to turn the ball over six times. Their turnover to field goal ratio was an astounding 2:1 with under 10 minutes to go in the first half.

This one started bad and stayed ugly as the Bulls managed to score a measly 26 points in the entire first half. That was “good enough” for lowest mark of any NBA team at the half this season and only three more than the Bulls franchise low of 23 in a half.

There were several issues with the offense, especially in the first half. The most glaringly obvious were the spacing issues. There were times in the first half when there would be four of the five Bulls on the court on the same side of it. Or four Bulls clogging the lane at the same time. These issues are pretty predictable for anyone who looks at the Bulls roster and fails to see a premier outside threat. But there were some possessions that were just downright laughable, even for this space challenged squad.

Of course, there were other offensive issues as well. Turnovers remained an issue for this squad, and general shot-making was a challenge to say the least. The Bulls actually managed to find some open looks despite their spacing problems only to clank the majority of their opportunities. The Bulls finished the first half 11/43 from the field, 25 percent. It’s hard to stay in any game shooting at that clip, especially against a quality team on the road.

Dwyane Wade had one of the more memorable quotes of the day in a post-game interview where he was asked about minutes for potentially ill-prepared players on the roster. His response: “I wish upper management could be answering these questions. Because I’m tired of answering them” (via KC Johnson). Wade’s candidness about the front office is rather refreshing in the midst of a five game losing streak. I’m sure Bulls fans would like a similar explanation as far as what exactly Gar Forman and John Paxson are planning in terms of the future of this roster.

Wade however, didn’t exactly back up his post-game talk on the court. The Marquette product finished the game with just 8 points in 26 minutes while accumulating a career-worst +/- rating of -37. That’s a hard number to reach being on the floor for just over a half of basketball. Wade wasn’t particularly bad (minus a defensive gaffe in the first), but if you’re not part of the solution than you’re part of the problem. So he gets a black mark for that reason alone.

Elsewhere, Cameron Payne, the Bulls newest addition, continued his struggles. Having been given the backup point guard duties and seeing an increase in playing time, Payne showed he still has a long way to go before having an impact in this league. Payne scored 7 points and added 3 assists in 20 minutes on 3/7 shooting. However, he also managed to turn the ball over a concerning 5 times and generally showed little grasp of the flow of the offense. Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of things as Payne was constantly being taken off the dribble leading to easy baskets in the paint for the Celtics.

It’s hard to give an MVP to anyone for their performance yesterday, but Robin Lopez would have been the most deserving. The starting center scored 13 points on 5/6 shooting and displayed his normal hustle to grab boards even when things were getting out of hand. Say what you will about his skill, Lopez always goes 100% and never takes a play off.

For Boston, Isaiah Thomas did his thing, going for 22 points on an efficient 9/14 shooting. Al Horford also had himself a nice game scoring 12 while grabbing 7 boards and handing out 6 assists. The Celtics will need Horford to have  well-rounded game if they are going to pull the upset of the Cavs in the playoffs this year. Boston needs that balance on the roster as they can’t solely rely on Thomas to do it all come playoff time.

Next Up: The Bulls travel to Charlotte tomorrow to take on the Hornets in an attempt to halt their five game skid.

Note-A-Bulls: Magic come back in the second half to hand the Bulls their third straight defeat

After a fourteen-point loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday, the Bulls traveled to Orlando to take on the struggling Magic, who had lost three out of their last five games. Dwyane Wade remained out with a thigh injury. Judging their performances against teams with losing records this season, you could assume the Bulls were in for a fight. For Orlando, starting center Nikola Vucevic sat out with soreness in his Achilles. Bismack Biyombo started in his place.

Robin Lopez and Biyombo faced each other at center in an empty Amway Center, with Lopez winning the tip. With no Vucevic, the Bulls certainly had an opportunity to capitalize on the boards. Orlando went with a small lineup, which allowed the Bulls to get many offensive rebounds.

The beginning of the first quarter started out normal. Both teams were trading baskets and were trying to establish momentum. However, it was easy to tell that these are two teams that are not among the NBA’s elite. Orlando began the game shooting 30 percent from the floor, while the Bulls were at 45 percent. With under six minutes to play in the first, the Bulls led 11-10 with Jimmy Butler leading the team in scoring, and four of the five starters registering points. Orlando was doing a good job “breaking out” and getting good shots, but they were not putting the ball in the hoop. Biyombo started out the game 0-5, with essentially three wide open short-distance jump shots. The Bulls took advantage of Orlando’s mistakes offensively, as they jumped out on a 6-0 run to end the quarter. At the end of the quarter, they led 22-19.

The bench squad for both sides stepped onto the floor to begin the second quarter. Orlando threw out the likes of D.J. Augustin, former Bull C.J. Watson, and Jeff Green. The Bulls had their usual secondary group on the floor, with the likes of Christiano Felicio, Rajon Rondo, and Denzel Valentine. However, it was newcomer Joffrey Lauvergne that got things going for the Bulls. Lauvergne had seven points in six minutes of play, helping push the Bulls’ lead to six at the 9:30 mark. Surprisingly, the Bulls kept this momentum going, and after a Cameron Payne three, they extended their lead to ten with just over seven minutes to play in the half. However, we’ve come to know these Bulls don’t disappoint. Immediately after they went on an 8-0 run, Orlando cut the lead back to six at the 6:30 mark. Fred Hoiberg took a timeout at that time, and it proved to be a good use of one. While we can’t necessarily decide what stops momentum, this certainly helped the Bulls. They pushed their lead back to nine at the 3:00 mark, hoping to make it larger heading into the half. The Bulls (somewhat) extended their lead at the half, mainly due to their unselfish play. At halftime, the Bulls had fifteen assists and were shooting 50 percent from the floor. They led 53-43 at the half after Jimmy Butler hit a step-back buzzer beater. Butler led the Bulls in scoring with thirteen points and registered six assists as well.

The third quarter started out well for the Bulls. Their strong offense continued, as they jumped out to a thirteen-point lead three minutes into the quarter. The score was 62-49. It seemed like the Bulls were going to blow this game wide open. They were doing enough defensively, and they were sharing the basketball well on the offensive end. However, after Jimmy Butler found Robin Lopez for a short jumper that gave the Bulls their thirteen-point lead, Orlando found life. The Bulls sharing of the basketball stopped. If you have watched the Bulls this season, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The belief that Jimmy Butler must do everything goes into the minds of all the Bulls’ players, and everything that was going well stops. The Magic went on a 9-0 run in the middle part of the quarter, giving them new life. This run allowed Orlando to just get in striking distance, and they eventually tied the game at 77 after Evan Fournier made a three off a Jeff Green assist. The Magic outscored the Bulls 34-24 in the quarter.

The Bulls and the Magic started out the fourth slowly. In the first five minutes, the Magic shot three out of 10 from the floor, and the Bulls had not made a shot in the quarter at that point. All their points (four) came from the free through line.  The Bulls offensive struggles continued throughout the quarter. With under four minutes to play in the game, the Bulls had nine points in the quarter. Against a team that is at best, an average defensive side, you can’t be putting up nine points in eight minutes of play. Frustrations continued for the Bulls, as the Magic capitalized on poor shots and lazy defense from the Bulls. The entire second half was just a summary of the Bulls’ season. You get spurts of hope and good play, and then it all comes spiraling down for unexplained reasons. The final score, in case you couldn’t tell from the tone of this piece, went in favor of the Magic (98-91).

As I watched more and more of this game, I had a clear idea of what was going to happen. I don’t know why the Bulls get in this phase, but it seems that they can’t consistently play good basketball for 48 minutes. It makes no sense to ditch the unselfish method if it is working. How do you go from having 15 assists in the first half to just nine in the second half?  This game was no different than any other Bulls game this year. It gave you all kinds of emotions, and eventually just left you frustrated.

The Bulls are back at it Friday night at the United Center to take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

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