PHILADELPHIAEvery once in a while, no matter how driven or talented, an NBA team throws up a clunker of a game, whether its because of fatigue, lack of intensity or simply a bad matchup. With a day off Tuesday, the Bulls (18-6) cant blame being tired for their effort Wednesday night, a 98-82 drubbing at the hands of the 76ers (16-6) that was far worse than the final result indicated.
Although the Bulls came out the gates shooting at a torrid rate, their efficiency was matched by the Sixers energy. In a battle of two unselfish teams, the mid-range shooting of Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer set the tone.
Meanwhile, Derrick Rose (18 points, six assists) was his usual, attacking self, but his explosiveness was countered by the overall athleticism of the home team, led by versatile swingman Andre Iguodala (19 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and veteran power forward Elton Brand, as well as contributions from the likes of overlooked starter Jodie Meeks, sixth man Lou Williams (14 points, six assists), second-year wing Evan Turner and backup power forward Lavoy Allen (15 points, six rebounds), a second-round pick and hometown product.
With their pressure defense forcing turnovers and getting them into the open courtsomething Bulls head coach cautioned about, both before the teams morning shootaround and in his pregame media availabilitythe hosts led Chicago, 27-21, after the fast-paced opening period.
Theyre a good defensive team, making it hard, being scrappy. Theyve got a lot of athletic people on their team. Theyre a good team, said Rose. Theyve got a lot of athletic people on their team, especially their wings. Andre Iguodala came out and played great for them tonight, just playing aggressive and everybody else fed off of him.
We know that were a good team. We know that all of us are in condition. It was just one of those games. The starters didnt come out and play the way that we know how to play, he continued. Their defense was great, creating turnovers, playing the passing lanes pretty good, rebounding the ball. Thats something that they did do great tonight, tipping the ball back out and the guards couldnt get to it tonight, and that hurt the team.
Philadelphia was able to maintain its lead over the Bulls with its ability to push the pace and terrifically balanced scoring, with young floor general Jrue Holiday (17 points, five assists) running the show, the surprising Allen continuing his strong play and timely buckets from every Sixer who saw action.
The visitors undoing were their turnoversThibodeau inserted C.J. Watson (20 points, four assists), who attempted to give the Bulls a boost with his offensive aggressiveness, into the backcourt with Rose to counter Philadelphias speedand sharply plummeting shooting percentage, as the defensive-oriented home team started to put the clamps down.
We were out there sluggish. The energy wasnt there. I really cant explain it, Rose explained. We played a messed-up game, where we rubbed off on everyone else. It was definitely the starters, but when we came out, they got a big lead and we had to fight back, and they held us back pretty good, where they kept it on us and thats what youre supposed to do. But this is something were not going to forgetI know Im notand just tried to play hard next time.
Dynamic reserve forward Thaddeus Youngs (19 points, eight rebounds) energetic play was another boon for the home team, as his versatility and athleticism gave the Bulls fits. But as expected when the Bulls offense struggles, Rose went into takeover mode, almost exclusively driving to the rim for tough finishes to get the Bulls back into striking distance after the Sixers flirted with a double-digit advantage, cutting the deficit to 49-44, in favor of Philadelphia, at halftime.
After the intermission, the Sixers relentlessness persisted and propelled by Iguodalas assertivenessin addition to throwing down a vicious dunk over former teammate Korver, he knocked down a triple, not exactly the strength of his game, then, after a steal, completed a fake pass, behind-the-back dribble maneuver before dishing to Holiday for a pull-up jumper on the breakthe deficit grew to double digits. Philadelphia had all the momentum and with no Bulls other than Rose able to get much going offensively, things looked bleak.
Thibodeau tried different lineupshaving received little from the big-man duo of Boozer and Joakim Noah, as well as fellow starter Ronnie Brewer, he again went to the small backcourt of Watson and Rose, along with the defensive-oriented tandem of Taj Gibson and Omer Asikbut nothing changed. The backcourt scoring of Holiday and Williams, as well as solid play from the reserve frontcourt of Allen and Young, buoyed the Sixers, whose fans were appreciative, as they took a 75-55 advantage into the final stanza.
You cant do that. their speed and quickness, if you turn the ball over, puts them in the open floor. Live ball, very hard to stop. Twenty-nine points off our turnovers, you cant make that up. Very, very difficult, said Thibodeau, whose squad surrendered the basketball 17 times on the evening, but refused to blame the loss on missing injured starters Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton.
Were a deep team and its one thing if youre playing defense, and youre rebounding, youre taking care of the ball and you miss shots. Thats one thing, but when youre turning the ball over, youre beating yourself, so thats something that we have to correct and that was the story of the game, basically. They turned us over. They got easy points off of it.
Chimed in Rose: Im not trying to think that way, knowing that we do miss them, but theres no excuses. Weve still got to go out there and play these games, and put forth the effort, and tonight, its clear that we didnt.
Chicago, with a modified Bench Mob on the floorKorver, a temporary starter, joined Asik, Gibson, Watson and rookie swingman Jimmy Butlertried to push the tempo, but were combated by their run-and-gun counterparts doing the same thing, and better. Thibodeau seemed to be waving the white flag early, as he substituted deep reserve Brian Scalabrine into the game for Asik relatively early in the period, with Rose, Noah and Boozer all sitting on the bench.
Their defense was great. We were loose with the ball and you cant be. Theyve got great hands, theyre quick and youve got to make simple plays, simple passes. The balls got to move. We sort of got in a hole in the second quarter. We closed the half out OK, got ourselves back in it and then, the start of the third quarter, they played really hard. I give them a lot of credit. Our defense wasnt good and I thought our reaction to the balltheyre quick to the balland I thought our reaction to the ball was very poor, and they beat us to loose balls, the second-effort plays and then, the fourth quarter, we were scrambling and trying to get back into it, but the hole was too big, observed Thibodeau.
Our starters were so lethargic in the third, quite honestly, if we had gotten closer, I was going to finish with them, with the group that we had in there, because they were fighting to get us out of the hole.
Added Rose: When we got kind of close, then turned the ball over a little bit, I kind of knew that I was going to be out for the rest of the night.
While Gibson was effective on the interior in his trademark blue-collar fashion and Watson continued to drive to the basket, for all intents and purposes, it appeared to be a losing proposition. However, the hustle displayed by the reserve unit (by the games stretch run, third-string point guard John Lucas III was in for Korver) significantly trimmed the deficit, actually giving the Sixers first-line players a run for their money before finally putting them to bed.
This is something that were going to learn from, said Rose. We play tomorrow. Thats the good thing about this.