Sometimes as fans it’s a real challenge to just let a bad loss go. It seems we care more about the loss than the players do. Today’s loss by the Chicago Bulls to the Dallas Mavericks almost actually made me physically ill. I was beside myself trying to comprehend how a team can collectively mentally meltdown on both sides of the floor with a 12 point lead in the final minutes of the game.
After ending the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the Bulls entered play Saturday afternoon winners of 3 straight; with a 39-31 record and sat in the 5th spot in the Conference. They have played like a legit playoff team since Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson returned from injury. Even without Derrick Rose, this team can still make some noise in the Eastern Conference Playoffs when clicking on all cylinders.
The Bulls look like a different team, and more importantly a better team offensively when Kirk Hinrich plays the majority of the minutes at point guard, and when Nate Robinson is used sparingly, but hopefully effectively. And while this may come as a shock to most, I have been impressed with the recent play of Carlos Boozer (yes, that Carlos Boozer) and Luol Deng (yes, both players from Duke). They both played with great passion in the win over Miami. It makes you wonder why they can’t put forth that kind of effort against elite teams more often.
The Bulls came out against the Mavericks and looked like a team possessed. The ball moved, they knocked down perimeter shots, and Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng played without fear. Boozer destroyed veteran Elton Brand in the post and Deng lit up Shawn Marion. Even Nate Robinson was on fire and played relatively under control.
The Bulls led by 13 in the 3rd quarter and had 71 points with 5:50 left in the quarter. However, they proceeded to go ice cold and finished the 3rd quarter with only 75 points and allowed the Mavericks to erase that deficit, as the score was tied entering the 4th quarter.
Then something happened that was rather amazing to watch. Nate Robinson went into a zone from the perimeter; He couldn’t miss from beyond the arc. He was actually 7 for 7 from downtown for the game at one point in the 4th quarter. The Bulls built their lead back up to 12 points with 4:07 on the clock after a Luol Deng 3.
It appeared the Bulls were well on their way to a 4th straight win. That was until two things happened: Dirk Nowitzki became unguardable and the Bulls offense went into prevent mode. You often hear in football about teams going into prevent defense. Well, sometimes the Bulls have a bad habit of going into prevent offense. The ball sticks, one player holds it too long, and the offense just completely changes for some unknown reason.
When the Bulls offense is at it’s best, Kirk Hinrich is moving the ball and gets Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng high percentage shots. That happened for the first 3 quarters. Albeit Nate Robinson was on fire from the floor, Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau opted to allow Robinson to run the offense and let Hinrich play off the ball. It was a mind boggling decision by Thibodeau that terribly backfired, as the Bulls offense completely went into meltdown mode. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle adjusted to the Bulls pick and roll by trapping Robinson and forced him into poor decisions that resulted in low percentage shots.
As Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks comeback, Thibodeau unfathomably made no adjustments to the offense. That is why Nate Robinson is a backup, and why Hinrich is the starting point guard. If it’s working I have no problem trying to let Robinson run the offense. However, when it fails for over 3 minutes, it’s time to let Hinrich run the offense again.
The Bulls had 97 points with 4:07 left, and could only score one point the rest of the game. Nowitzki was an incredulous 14-17 from the floor and scored 35 points. The Bulls just had no answers down the stretch for his attack. In fact, the normally disciplined Bulls defense looked lost of multiple possessions in the final 3 minutes.
On Nowitzki’s game-winning 3 point field goal with :02.9 left, Vince Carter drove from the top of the key, and for some unknown reason Luol Deng went to help and left Nowitzki with an uncontested shot. How do you leave the guy who can’t miss and is without question the most dangerous man in the game? You let Vince Carter beat you, if he even makes his shot. The Bulls have a propensity of what I call “over-helping.” It should be conveyed from the head coach who helps and who stays home. It just makes you shake your head.
And while everyone puts Tom Thibodeau on a pedestal as a head coach for his defensive prowess, I feel he lacks the ability to adjust on the offensive end. I know he’s done a great job for the most part considering the insane amount of injuries the Bulls have sustained this season. I just can’t ignore the pattern of the team’s woes offensively down the stretch of games.
Carlos Boozer, who finished with 25 points, didn’t attempt a shot in the 4th quarter. Luol Deng, who also finished with 25 points, only attempted 3 shots in the final 4:07 of the game. Tom Thibodeau has to do a better job of going back to what was working. Nobody was going to stop Boozer on the Mavericks. Why are these guys not the focal point of the offense down the stretch? How do you run pick and roll with Nate Robinson and ignore Boozer’s advantage in the post? How does the ball stop moving? How is Kirk Hinrich not running the offense in the final 4 minutes? Just mindless.
And in typical Bulls fashion, they missed 3 free throws in the final minute. It seems that bad free throw shooting becomes contagious. The normally reliable Jimmy Butler, who shoots almost 84% at the line, just gagged on both attempts in the closing seconds prior to the Nowitzki game-winner. I still can't believe they lost that game.
And it’s easy to say this was a meaningless regular-season game and that they have already clinched a playoff spot. You just look back on games like this when the season is over and wonder why you’re not a higher seed. The Bulls could still move up to the 4 seed and have homecourt advantage in the first round. Their schedule is very favorable going forward. They just need to do a better job of finishing games.