Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
Updated 2:41 AM
By Aggrey Sam
LOS ANGELES Its far too early in the season to call this a pivotal game, but the Bulls (7-5) ability to hang with the Lakers (13-2) throughout Tuesdays 98-91 loss yielded the premise of a team capable of matching upper-echelon competition through the first three quarters and change, that is.
A tooth-and-nail battle morphed into a case of Chicago playing catch-up late, as Los Angeles bench was the difference outscoring the Bulls reserves, 39-10 as the visitors faded late at the Staples Center.
They put a lot of pressure on us. I thought they made the right plays and they shot the three extremely well. We were closing short and theyve been shooting the three great all seasonthey got uncontested looks and they made shots, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Overall, in the first three quarters, I thought we played well. But again, to win on the road against a quality opponent, you have to play for 48 minutes and were still not there.
A hot start by the Lakers was immediately countered by the visitors, who appeared unfazed by the bright lights of the Staples Center, complete with courtside celebrities like Denzel Washington and the ever-present Jack Nicholson.
Taj Gibson (16 points, 12 rebounds) a game-time decision after suffering a foot injury in the days leading up to the game who played his college ball at nearby USC, was particularly active early, proving that his slump-busting outing against Dallas Saturday was a start of a trend and not a fluke.
Luol Deng (13 points; 11 in the first quarter and none in the second half), due for a good game after a few quiet nights, was aggressive offensively, leading to one of his subsequent hot starts.
The Bulls were aggressive in pushing the tempo early, resulting in a slim cushion over the home team, with Derrick Rose (30 points, eight assists) serving as a facilitator and Joakim Noah (19 points, 13 rebounds), while not offensive proficient initially, providing his trademark energy, playing compression shorts-tight defense on Lakers big man Pau Gasol (12 points, 11 rebounds), creating for others as a playmaker and being a factor on the backboards.
Meanwhile, the Lakers were sparked by who else? superstar Kobe Bryant (20 points), who carried the offensive load for the two-time defending champions while his running mates found their collective stride, although the versatile Lamar Odom (21 points, eight rebounds) would make more of an impact as time went on.
Following a Shannon Brown (21 points) triple with 0.4 seconds to go in the opening period, things were tied at 26 apiece.
Brown, a reserve guard and Chicago native, put his stamp on the game in the second quarter, but for the most part, the Bulls reserves held serve against their Lakers counterparts, although the visitors would face a light deficit.
"All I know is my teammates got me the ball in a position where I can help the team win and I knocked down shots for them," said Brown, who attended Proviso East High School -- the alma mater of former NBA players Michael Finley and Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics coach -- in Maywood, Ill., in Chicago's western suburbs. "I dont know if they were prepared or what, but I know Dec. 10 or whatever the case is, however it goes, theyre going to be prepared and they played great today."
We knew going in he Brown was playing at a very high level. Youre concerned with him in transition, but youre concerned with the way hes cutting right now and you cant go under on screens, and youve got to stay on his body and you also cant allow him any spot-up threes, said Thibodeau. Hes shooting the ball right now with a lot of confidence; you can see it when hes raising up.
Concurred Rose: Hes shooting the ball well this year, got a lot of confidence, doing great for them, but we should have made him a driver.
Upon Roses re-entry into the contest, the All-Star point guard took a more aggressive approach, putting pressure on the defense with quick jaunts to the rim.
Despite Browns continued surprise offensive output (18 first-half points), the game remained a tight-knit affair, mostly due to Noahs dominance on the glass, his tag-team partner Gibsons quiet efficiency and Roses offensive presence.
The Lakers wouldnt make it easy with their active hands and solid shot-blocking defensively, and Chicago was down by a pair, 51-49, at the break.
Keeping in line with their habit of slow third-quarter starts, the Bulls were on the wrong end of an 8-0 run to start the second half.
We tried to make (Gasol's) catches hard, we tried to make him work and also, he missed some shots he normally makes, but again, I think the way they run their offense its not a one-dimensional offense they move the ball, they have Kobe off the dribble and they have Pau inside. It forces your defense to collapse, explained Thibodeau. I think they took 25 threes, so youre pulling people in when the ball does go in and when Kobes isolated, youre committing help to him, as well.
A cold-shooting performance was partially offset by Noahs efforts on the offensive glass, as well as Roses scoring efforts, which allowed the visitors to slice into the deficit.
The contest evolved into a virtual tte--tte between Rose and Bryant, with the respective superstars going bucket for bucket the youngster actually took the upper hand as the quarter went on although the contributions of Odom and Noah were also major factors. Chicago battled back to trail by a lone point, 74-73, heading into the final stanza.
The Bulls remained in close contact in the fourth quarter, with Browns continued heroics and Odoms all-around play spurring the Lakers, although surviving a stretch without Rose and Noah proved to be key for Chicago.
The Lakers, however, got timely plays from reserves outside of Brown such as swingman Matt Barnes (10 points), backup point guard Steve Blake and rookie bruiser Derrick Caracter aiding the home team in slightly widening their winning margin.
I think they Brown, Barnes and Blake add a lot to the team. Experience, shooting and they have quality backups at all their perimeter positions now, said Thibodeau. All three are very good defenders. I think that sometimes gets overlooked.
Of course, everybody in the league knows their bench is like a transition team, added Rose. They get out in the open court, trot ahead, shoot a lot of threes and they were hitting them tonight.
Theyve got a great team. Theyre a deep team. They went small tonight, they had a lot of shooters out there and we didnt do enough job of closing outtheyve got some guys who werent really known as great shooters shooting some high percentages, Kyle Korver chimed in. Theyre a tough team. Youve got to give them credit. Nights when you dont focus on Kobe or Gasol, they obviously go off. Those guys have been shooting the ball well all year. Its not like its the first night those guys have hit shots. Your natural tendency is to sink in and weve talked the last few days about sinking in and clogging the paint, but youve also got to chase them off the 3-point line. Most of them werent wide open, but weve got to jump with them and make them take a couple dribbles, and we didnt do that tonight.
Suddenly, the home team would display why they are the two-time defending champions, going on an extended run with a small-ball lineup (the Lakers shot 10-for-25 behind the arc for the game) and stout defense (limiting the Bulls to 18 fourth-quarter points) to blow the game open and push their once slim lead to double figures, with the collective effort of Los Angeles second unit playing the role of catalyst.
The Bulls simply couldnt mount another late, Rose-propelled comeback, and the Lakers cruised to the home win, despite tough defense on Bryant by Deng down the stretch.
The Lakers, theyre a heck of a defensive team. Youve got to make quick decisions against them, observed Thibodeau. Youve got to move their size and when they finished the game, they were small and quick. I thought we settled sometimes, too.
Opined Rose: We were just making sure every shot that they took was contested. Everybody that played Kobe did a good job, especially Lu toward the end, making sure that he contested shots and making sure he didnt get the open looks. Their bench just did the job tonight They were hitting tough shots. They went small and a lot of players for them stepped up their game.
It kind of tells us where we are exactly. It tells you where you are and if you can compete against them and we feel like we can compete against everybody, said Noah. It was tough because youre trying to double team Kobe and trying to get the ball out of his hands, but we work on it and its something were trying to do better. I feel like defensively, we did a pretty good job, but there are still areas we have to improve on and I think thats the great thing about this team. Everybody wants to improve and everybody wants to compete with the elite teams. Were not there yet, but were pretty close.
When guys are hitting shots the way they are; those were some contested shots, as well. If you look at the way we played and the things that we can control, I feel like we didnt shoot the ball particularly well, but well see them in a couple weeks, he continued. When you play a game like that, the way we played, I feel confident that we have a chance in a couple weeks to maybe beat them at home.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.