By Aggrey Sam & Christopher Cason
Readiness to play and preparing for each and every game the same way are some of the mottos that the Bulls (25-8) have abided by under Coach Tom Thibodeaus reign.
Even with the challenges of the most games played at the midway point of the season having also played the most road games out of any team at this point the Bulls have always prided themselves on being ready to play when the ball is thrown up, which is why Saturdays 97-85 matinee loss against the New Jersey Nets (9-23) was so depressing.
I dont think you can change game-to-game. I think you have to prepare for each game the exact same way, said Tom Thibodeau.
Everyone in this league is extremely talented and capable of beating you; it doesnt matter who it is. This isnt like college where you may have twenty-points more talent than somebody. It doesnt work that way, theyre all pros. If youre not ready to go, youre capable of being beaten and thats what happened.
Amazing happens is the NBAs motto and while the beginning of the contest was a tad shy of truly remarkable, the fact that the woeful Nets jumped out to a 15-2 lead including 13 unanswered points after the two teams exchanged buckets to start the game was certainly a shocker.
But even after a Thibodeau timeout in an effort to rectify the situation, New Jersey, behind All-Star point guard Deron Williams (29 points, 5-for-9 three-point shooting, eight assists) outside shooting and playmaking, as well as contributions from Kris Humphries (better known as the ex-husband of reality-TV star Kim Kardashian, the power forward was booed by United Center fans, as he is in every arena), built on its double-digit cushion.
While ball security was an issue for the Bulls in the early going, there appeared to be a lid on the basket and disjointed offensive execution was also problematic things that occasionally occur to the squad that entered the day with the leagues top record the surprising aspect of the hosts slow start was a lackluster defensive effort, leading the visitors to shoot 14-for-21, compared to the Bulls 7-for-22, in the first quarter.
After permitting the Nets to run crisp plays that led to easy scoring opportunities, get out in transition and attempt wide-open jumpers, at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 34-19.
Sometimes, the game is won in the first quarter, said Mike James who contributed 16 points. You can sometimes have rallies towards the end of the game but its hard because this is the NBA. Even though, the Nets record is what it is, they still have pretty good players. If anybody start getting confidence, knocking down shots, its hard to get them out of that rhythm and they got into their rhythm early and kept their rhythm.
Thibodeau emphasized James point by saying; It was too big of a whole hole to get out of. If you study the statistics, theyre going to tell you that most teams that are leading after the first quarter are the teams that win. Readiness to play is huge.
Thibodeau lost patience with his starters midway through the first quarter and inserted an all-reserve lineup and it began to pay dividends toward the end of the period, as Taj Gibsons (14 points, eight rebounds) typically energetic play made an impact, then carried over to the second stanza.
With fellow backup big man Omer Asik (eight rebounds) providing a rebounding and defensive presence, sharpshooter Kyle Korver and a dual point-guard set featuring John Lucas III and James (seven assists), the Bulls trimmed the deficit to make it a competitive affair.
I was just searching for energy somewhere, said Thibodeau. We had a couple of chances to maybe get back into it.
Thibodeau reinserted his re-energized regulars, but kept James fast becoming a fan favorite due to his tough defense, fearless drives, intelligent passing and timely shooting on the court and combined with C.J. Watsons usual instant offense, Luol Dengs (14 points, eight rebounds) scoring and Carlos Boozers (16 points, nine rebounds) rebounding and mid-range shooting, the Bulls made it a single-digit contest.
But with Williams accurate outside marksmanship and Humphries (24 points, 18 rebounds, five assists) work on the interior, the guests remained in command and the Bulls went into the intermission facing a 59-45 deficit.
Our defense wasnt very good, acknowledge Boozer. We pretty much spotted them a twenty-point lead and we tried to fight back. We did fight back and then they went right back up at the half.
Although New Jerseys once-gaudy shooting percentage dropped precipitously after the break, a blend of the Bulls turnover problems resurfaced and an inefficient offense allowed the visitors advantage to balloon. Humphries high activity level was the difference for the Nets, whose defense and rebounding factored into the hosts offensive struggles.
As the third period waned on, however, Boozers jump-shooting prowess reared its head, as the Alaska natives mid-range game from the baseline and elbow was the Bulls most consistent offensive weapon in making the deficit more manageable.
But the mini-run was eventually stymied partly of their own doing; adding injury to insult was Watson getting drilled in the face by Williams, leading to the latters steal and fast-break dunk, killing the Bulls momentum and through three quarters of play, the Bulls still faced an uphill battle, being on the wrong end of a 73-56 score.
The final period didnt immediately yield better results for the hosts, as rookie MarShon Brooks (19 points) and starting center Shelden Williams (eight points, 14 rebounds) were productive for the Nets early in the quarter, ensuring that their lofty winning margin remained intact.
Never known to give up on a game until the final buzzer, the relentless play of Gibson and James persisted, and coupled with Deng rediscovering his hot hand a dunk, plus the foul, for an old-fashioned three-point play, followed by an actual three-pointer, ignited the All-Star unearthed signs of life within the Bulls at the halfway mark of the frame.
Unforced miscues and the inability to string together multiple defensive stops, both issues all game long, were the home teams ultimate undoing, as they couldnt pull off a miraculous late run to get back into striking distance.
We had a bad day, were not denying that, said Deng. We have no excuses, we played terrible. Were going to look at game tape, get better and bounce back the next game. Its just a lot of things went into tonight. We just have to bring a better effort.
Already needing no further motivation after the loss, the Bulls seem to have already put the loss behind them and began to look ahead.
Well have a great practice tomorrow, dust this game off and be ready for the Hawks. Theyre a very good team who smacked us the last time we played them we havent forgot that and be ready for Monday.