steph
The PNR defense cannot result in matchups like these!
Bulls 102, Raptors 98

Terrible finish to this one as Chris Bosh gets blocked by Joakim Noah on a fadeaway jumper with the Raptors down two. Hindsight is 20/20 but even at the time it made too much sense to go through Bargnani who was having his best offensive game, like, ever. The Raptors chose to run a play for their “franchise player” who probably should’ve executed his blow-by the second he caught the ball, he didn’t and Noah sealed off his drive and out came the fadeaway jumper which was stuffed back in his face. Would’ve liked to see him keep his dribble alive after the initial seal-off and force Noah to move laterally to his left and defend a paint drive instead. Later we found out that he thought the exact same thing, but that kind of in-game decision-making requires a natural basketball sense and we’ve gotten too used to Bosh not displaying that. It’s no surprise that Bosh took the fadeaway and its no surprise that he missed. For all of Bargnani’s great play tonight, that was the play that will be remembered from this game.

Derrick Rose is a special player who has it. He’s got the skill to compliment his competitiveness and having the ball at the start of the possession certainly helps your scoring and clutch-play, and when you can pass the ball you become a very big threat. While we have nobody like Rose, we have Bargnani who had shown all game that he’s capable of reading the defense and making good offensive decisions and not forcing shots (31 pts, 10-14 FG) . Giving the ball to Bosh on an isolation is basically giving up your play to the defense because he can’t make reads or instant decisions about what to do. If nothing obviously materializes in the first couple seconds after him catching the ball, you’re looking at significant time wasted or a low percentage shot. The Raptors lead the NBA in the “Bad shot, bad shot…….goooooood shot” category and it’s a feeling every fan feels when Bosh, Solomon and Moon launch those jumpers. They might be tolerable in the first three quarters and might even fall in the fourth to make it appear like a good idea, but in the long run its a losing proposition.

After the Boston game many thought that this team had turned the corner, they had lost but had shown that if they play the game the right way they could hang with a great team. Naturally you expected (silly you) that they’d take the lessons learned from that game and apply them here. The crisp defense and gritty offense that we saw in Boston was replaced by a laziness that is unexplainable. They say they’re a team that’s trying to get back on track and work through their struggles but their effort and focus says otherwise. Take the first quarter as an example, the Bulls came out with the same energy the Raptors had come out with in Boston. They were getting dribble penetration (what a shock?) and then swinging the ball around the horn and inside beautifully (and I cant emphasize that enough, it was awesome to watch). The cuts were perfect, they were sudden, quick, brushing against screens and most importantly, hard. Our defensive energy wasn’t there which meant we weren’t able to stick with the Bulls as they were running circles around the court and worst of all, we weren’t boxing out the eager Bulls. Noah had 8 early points, all setup by dribble penetration.

The Bulls out-rebounded us 15-8 in the first quarter (41-31 for the game) and led 27-18. It was a real big letdown because the energy from the Boston game wasn’t there and the Bulls were looking as sharp as any team can look. Here’s a stat that perfectly describes their efficiency: 9 of their 10 field goals came off assists. I was watching Bosh on the glass and he looked bad, he had no idea where his man was as the shot went up which means boxing out was impossible. Jumping towards the ball as its bouncing off the rim is no way to rebound and the Bulls’ big men were easily going around him for the rebound, of course it also helped that they were trying about 200% harder. Jack Armstrong made an excuse for Bosh’s defensive rebounding after the Bulls got four offensive rebounds on one possession with Bosh hovering around. He said that he can’t be aggressive since he already has two fouls. To me that doesn’t make any sense, it’s not like he’s crashing the offensive glass and could get called for the over-the-back, these are defensive rebounds we’re talking about here! A team looks at their leader as an example and early on Bosh was providing a very bad one.

The latter part of the second quarter is when the Raptors started chipping away at the lead. Bosh got his jumper working and mixed it up with some nice drives against Noah who was there to be had. Bosh and Bargnani had 11 and 10 second quarter points, respectively. Andrea’s offensive game is looking smoother than ever and he was making fantastic decisions with the ball. He was demanding the rock against Tyrus Thomas and Aaron Gray, sizing them up and driving/shooting accordingly. The Bulls wanted to test his jumper and were slow in fighting through screens which freed Bargnani at the high elbow. Bargnani made them pay by knocking the jumper down but never forgot to keep the defense honest by driving the ball. When he has his jumper working, it all starts to come together and last night he started 5-7. The Bulls’ aggressiveness worked against them in the quarter as they picked up a few loose ball fouls which led to the Raptors shooting 9 free throws.

A ton of credit goes to Roko Ukic for running the team in the second quarter. One of his strengths is that he keeps the dribble alive and is always moving which means that the defense is always working. Even when the initial screen or play fails to produce anything, the return-to-PG pass to reset the dribble isn’t needed and the possession can continue. He only had two assists in that second quarter but quarterbacked the team nicely by giving the ball to the right people in the right positions. As for Bosh the second quarter was about as aggressive he got all night, here’s an interesting tidbit. He drew 6 fouls up until the 4:46 mark of the second quarter. He didn’t draw his seventh foul till the 2:39 mark of the fourth.

Halftime felt good, we had a one point lead thanks to Bosh and Bargnani who had managed to counter the Bulls’ great team play by taking over the scoring load thus giving the second half some promise. Derrick Rose had 8 points and 5 assists and wasn’t killing us, Luol Deng who wasn’t even expected to play in this game had 8 points but his movement without the ball and drive and kicks against Bargnani and Moon hurt us. Bargnani was able to matchup with him if he caught the ball in the post or tried to make a move in tight space but on a perimeter isolation, Deng had him beat every time. Not really surprising, that’s not where Bargnani’s defensive strengths lie. We had dug ourselves out of the early hole created by the lack of effort and intensity, second half was a toss-up at this point.

The third quarter started nicely enough with Bosh and Bargnani continuing their hot shooting. They scored the Raptors first 14 points as we built up a 62-55 lead midway through. That’s when we had some defensive lapses and Ben Gordon went on a quick 5-0 run as we failed to get back in transition. An ominous pattern was developing, we weren’t getting back on defense and weren’t in great positions to defend the pick ‘n roll. The Gordon run silenced the ACC crowd and swung the momentum back to the Bulls. Bosh rested the final 3:16 of the third so he could be ready for the fourth, in that span Bargnani held the fort down and the Raptors went -1 and took a three point lead into the clutch quarter.

Boston started the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run, the Bulls started 9-0. The momentum was gone and the slim three point lead was replaced by a six point deficit. This is a crucial stretch which needs to be examined closely. Chris Bosh missed two jumpers, Derrick Rose posted up Ukic for a three-point play, they ran a pick ‘n roll to get Sefolosha a clean look and Rose setup Nocioni after dribble penetration. The Bulls were aggressive in this stretch, the Raptors were not. The inability to defend the pick and roll was the theme of the quarter as the Bulls ran it to create mismatches like Rose v Bosh/Bargnani which the rookie exploited to full potential by stepping back for jumpers or taking it right to the rim. Solomon and Ukic had been playing him tight in the first three quarters but then again he wasn’t looking to exploit them since everything else was working for them. When crunch time came calling he took over with 17 fourth quarter points, I thought Triano pulling Roko for Solomon was a bad move, Solomon seemed gassed and could not cope with the picks that were causing the mayhem. After Solomon tried to get his on a drive only to miss it, he failed to get back on defense and Rose drove straight down the paint for two over four Raptors. Triano had seen enough and finally got Ukic back in but by that time Rose had already scored 13 of his 17 points. We had no answer Rose’s speed, determination to attack and exploit, and just watched him do this thing leading the Bulls to 72% shooting in the quarter. His attack mentality and our perimeter mentality had everything to do with the 44-26 PINP drubbing which has become the norm. Triano sounded helpless after the game:

We tried switching it with guys who could guard the screen and role, such as Jamario Moon. We tried trapping it early, we tried making him go one way. But they have guys who can shoot the three and that made it hard to keep him in front of us. Rose was sharing the ball and making the plays, too. They had 12 offensive rebounds at halftime. It deflates you when you play good defence, force them to miss shots and they get the ball again. We tried to pound it inside and score, but didn’t get the buckets when we needed them.

I thought the Raptors should’ve trapped him in the fourth and gotten the ball out of his hands. He’d already shown that he could kill us with the live dribble and our defense on Deng had been better in the second half, why not take our chances with the hand that isn’t red hot? I don’t know if its a feasible strategy, a trap means that you have to recover and I’m not sure how well we can do that either. I know the Spurs did it against Kobe and Trevor Ariza ended up taking the final shot. Just a thought. That’s one of the reasons I would actually consider the O’Neal for Marion swap, Marion is the perimeter defender that we’ve been lacking all along and will be a difference-maker in clutch defensive possessions. However, I’m not sure it really matters anymore. Oh yeah, his contract also ends at the end of the year.

We needed to keep pace with the Bulls on offense and Bargnani certainly did his job by netting 8 and 2-3 shooting. Bosh on the other hand had 4 points on 1-6 shooting. The Raptors for whatever reason simply went away from Bargnani. The Bulls were not doubling, fronting or denying him the ball, we just chose to go in another direction. For the hottest player of the night to take only three shots in the fourth is inexcusable. Parker came up huge with some key baskets to keep pace but in the end it came down to a few key possessions where we failed to execute. Moon’s ill-advised three presented to him by the Bulls defense at 1:40 with the Raptors down 4, Bargnani’s travel with the same score, Will not getting back on defense and of course Bosh not coming through twice on isolation sets late in the fourth. That’s the NBA for you, the role players and everybody else can keep you in the game but when there’s under two minutes left, something special is needed and Bosh doesn’t have it. Bargnani mght have had it on this night but never got the chance to show it.

One-Liners:

  • Jason Kapono played 10+ minutes in the fourth quarter and produced three points while being a heavy liability on defense against Nocioni, Deng and Gordon. He’s just awful, he has a good game once in a while that gets your hopes all high but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s just plain awful. Here’s a stat I dug up: Of the 180 players ranked by ESPN in their PER48 stats, Kapono, Parker and Moon are ranked 142, 157 and 162, respectively. That is pathetic.
  • Kris Humphries is making Triano’s decision to have Voskuhl as the first big man off the bench seem like a good one. I don’t know if the lengthy spell on the bench has disrupted his flow but he’s making dumb plays out there and isn’t hitting the glass which is the main reason anyone tolerates him.
  • Joey Graham with a game low -11. Contrary to popular belief, he’s not a guy you can throw out there and just ask to play. We need to run more plays for him going towards the basket and channel his aggressiveness in a positive manner. If he’s out there without a clue of what to do he reverts to Bad Joey very easily.
  • Best Lineup: Ukic, Parker, Bargnani, Bosh, Moon. +7 in that second quarter stretch. Worst Lineup: Graham, Solomon, Parker, Bargnani, Bosh. -7 in that dreadful first quarter.
  • The Bulls had 33 assists to our 20, a great indication of how most of our play was one-on-one which is in sharp contrast to theirs.
  • The best play we ran all night was late in the fourth when Parker found a Bosh after he cut across the lane on a curl for a dunk.
  • Thabo Sefolosha sounds like a STD.
  • If it looks like choking, smells like choking, tastes like choking, it’s probably choking.
  • Stat of the Game: Bulls shot 72% in the fourth quarter.

Raps lose to Bulls and fall 8 games below .500 and are the 4th worst team in the East ahead of Washington, Charlotte and Indiana. We’re 40 games into the season and need to go 30-12 just to reach 46 wins which is what the 6th seed is projected to have. We need luck. Check Roll Call, follow the Twitter and grab the feed.