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.
I’m a little conflicted as to whether or not I want the Bulls to make the playoffs, because on one hand, even an eight seed means at least a few more games and a chance to surprise Cleveland in the first round, but on the other hand, it seems like continuing to lose in the waning weeks of the season exposes the troubles of this team in a way that hopefully leads to change. The trouble with the losses is that watching games like last night’s against Detroit is increasingly difficult. These two teams have been pretty evenly matched all season, so it is no surprise that this game stayed close throughout, but it remains frustrating to watch the Bulls continue to lose, as they did 94-90 at the United Center last night, dropping to an even 38-38 and now two games out of the eighth seed. The patterns to their losses are very familiar now, but there are a few things that stood out to me last night, so let’s take a look:
- This was their 22nd different lineup last night. This is an effect, of course, of injuries to key players throughout the season, but that kind of inconsistency has plagued them all year when it comes to who starts each game. Some shifting in the starting five is natural, but not necessarily to this degree. Last night they started with E’Twuan Moore, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Bobby Portis, and Pau Gasol. Moore was an important factor in keeping their defense somewhat solid – the lack of which was plainly evident when some of the bench players came in last night.
- Derrick Rose was still out with his injured elbow that was hyper-extended on Thursday in Houston. Rose might be able to return against the Bucks today, but that will depend on his level of soreness. Despite the struggles of the team around him, Rose has quietly put together a very quality season, as our own Drew Hackman wrote here just a few days ago. Rose has consistently shot well in 2016 and is a key part of the scoring attack, as he has changed his approach to the rim.
- The Bulls were also without Taj Gibson, who has not played since Tuesday against the Pacers. Like Rose, Gibson could return against the Bucks today, but that is unclear so far.
- Speaking of players who have put together solid seasons, Gasol had another strong night, scoring 16 and grabbing 14 rebounds. As recently as the February trade deadline, Gasol has been named as a probable part of the Bulls future as they move on from this season, but of late, this stance has changed. He wants to compete for a championship, and at 35 years old, his opportunities to do so are fleeting, so sticking with a Bulls team that looks to be in need of a massive overhaul makes less and less sense for him and for Chicago. He’s often been a bright spot this year, but it might be time for him to go when he’s officially a free agent in July.
- Last night, Butler ran the offense. Jimmy has been casual about the role of point guard in the past, but while Aaron Brooks presents trouble for the Pistons on defense, he offers little defense of his own and especially last night, was rarely consistent about actually running the offense. Though Brooks was able to score 14 points, he had just two assists. He regularly drove to the bucket last night without bothering to even look to see if passes could be made to set up a better shot, and then left the perimeter open to outside shooting on the other end of the floor. Brooks’ time on the floor probably should have been kept to shorter stints in order to offer scoring bursts and in order for Moore to keep the defense solid.
- The Bulls bench, which has shown just flashes of its former greatness throughout the season this year, greatly outscored the Pistons bench last night, but not enough to turn the tide of the game. Here’s where Brooks’ lack of reliable defense probably outweighed his offensive contributions.
- Though last night’s game was yet another microcosm of the frustrations of the season as a whole, Butler had an absolutely career night. His performance evoked the likes of Michael Jordan in some ways last night, particularly his team leading rebounding. In the end, he had his first career triple double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. He was brilliant to watch, and probably the key reason the Bulls didn’t get blown out of their home arena last night. Butler has somehow been a name mentioned in trade rumors for the summer, though I am quite skeptical. The Bulls probably do need an extensive overhaul, but trading Butler means they are essentially scrapping the whole team as we know it, and the front office in Chicago has not shown a propensity for those kinds of extreme measures.
- Coming up: with just six games left, the Bulls have a chance to grab a win tonight in Milwaukee.
The Bulls easily could have quit on after falling behind big at the start of each half, yet the playoff dream remains alive after a huge fourth quarter pushed Chicago over the Rockets. The Bulls inched a game over .500 and trail the Pacers by just one in the loss column after Indiana dropped a game to the Magic (Chicago holds the tiebreaker). The Bulls are hurting up and down the lineup, but still managed to rally late in a must-win game.
- Nikola Mirotic remained red hot for the second straight game. After knocking down seven threes in the win against the Pacers, Mirotic was 5/10 from beyond the arc Tuesday, shooting 8/14 overall from the field and 7/8 from the line. Mirotic lead the team with 28 points for the shorthanded Bulls.
- Derrick Rose attempted to battle through a left elbow injury that clearly hampered his ability to contribute. Rose played 12 minutes in the first half and did not attempt a single shot or secure a rebound. He dished two assists and turned the ball over three times and did not return after halftime. Rose never should have been allowed to play in this game. Look at how tender the arm looks before the game even starts!
- I give Rose a lot of credit for trying to gut out a clearly painful injury to help the Bulls sneak into the playoffs. But the team should never have let him suit up if the arm hurt badly enough that Rose was afraid to draw contact in a high five line.
- Cristiano Felicio stepped up for the Bulls in the absence of Taj Gibson (who has a broken rib). The Brazilian rookie played with high energy on both ends of the court and provided some rim protection in a game the Bulls were outscored 48-30 in the paint. Felicio scored five points, grabbed four boards and dished three assists in just 15 minutes on the court. It was surprising enough when the 6’10” Felicio made the team out of training camp, and even more surprising he’s been able to make positive contributions in late March.
- It was a tale of two halves for Jimmy Butler. The Bulls’ slumping All-Star continued his poor play in twenty first half minutes. Butler shot just 3/7 from the field in the first two quarters and did not take a trip the the line. But Jimmy seemed to come alive after halftime and kept the Bulls in the game during a flat third quarter from the rest of the team. Butler scored 13 of the Bulls’ 19 points in the quarter, helping the Bulls keep the deficit to single digits in the fourth.
- The Bulls as a team were excellent on three pointers in this game, something that is needed against a high volume three point shooting team like Houston. Chicago made 11/24 of their attempts and had contributions from Mirotic, Butler, E’Twaun Moore, Doug McDermott, Aaron Brooks, and Justin Holiday.
- McDermott was a +26 and Mirotic was +22, both off the bench. That is extremely impressive in a three point game.
- Pau Gasol posted another double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Yet Gasol did little to contribute to actual winning basketball. The Bulls were crushed on the offensive glass all night as Houston converted their 13 offensive rebounds into 13 second chance points. Gasol is wary of creating contact under the basket and was pushed around by Dwight Howard and Clint Capela.
- Pau’s unwillingness to bang bodies not only manifested itself battling for rebounds. On one play in the first half, Gasol caught the ball alone in the post. When he turned around he saw Patrick Beverley flying wildly through the air attempting to contest what should have been a dunk. Gasol could have easily leaned into Beverley to draw a foul and potentially create an and-1 opportunity. Instead, Pau settled for a difficult baseline floater that clanked off the rim.
- Chinese Basketball Association MVP Michael Beasley was on a mission to prove the Bulls made a mistake at the 2008 draft. Beasley scored 20 points on 18 shots minutes off the bench, providing a secondary creator to compliment James Harden. Despite the high point total, Beasley was -19 in 31 minutes. He accounted for six of Mirotic’s eight free throws by falling for the exact same pump fake from the exact same spot on the floor twice within one minute.
- Patrick Beverley scored a career-high 22 points, many of which were assisted by Harden. The two had a solid night, but it wasn’t enough for Houston.
- Coming up: the Bulls host the Pistons tomorrow night.