Ohhhhhh...AAAAUUGGGGH! So close!!! This game had so much gut feeling to it. You knew when the Bulls were dishing out more turnovers than an all-night bakery and Portland wasn't taking advantage of it there was going to be trouble. And there was and the Bulls made their big run to close the first half. But then you knew the Bulls would come out overconfident and probably sloppy and the Blazers would make a run back, and they did. And then it was a matter of who would execute down the stretch. Both teams played a much better brand of basketball in the fourth quarter but the Blazers executed about 65% of the time and the Bulls about 75% and that was the difference.
Bulls 88, Blazers 86
--As I said, the Bulls were serving this one to us on a platter early. There were more balls shot into the stands tonight than souvenir t-shirts. For all of that we never extended the lead beyond eight and that barely. The Bulls scored 12 points in the first quarter, weren't playing their best defense, and yet we could only muster 16. We have absolutely no inclination to hop all over anyone. It's like we're a beaten orphan who doesn't know what to do with a Christmas gift. All of these guys pounded on people in college. Why can't they conjure back the spirit of those early-season Basketball U vs. South Hillbilly State games and just lay a whuppin' on someone every once in a while?
--The second quarter put the "UGH!" in UGLY as we started prosecuting one-on-three moves like they were going out of style. You really, really have to credit Chicago's defense. They always had a man on the ball and another ready to help instantly. These guys are GOOD defensively. And the few times we shook free of people it was off a pass to a perimeter guy and none of those were hitting in the first half. Meanwhile on the other end we had a massive communal stroke which killed the part of our brain responsible for remembering that CHICAGO CAN SHOOT THE BALL FROM DISTANCE. Nocioni wide open for three...swoosh! Hinrich wide open for three...swoosh! Gordon wide open for three...swoosh! Blazers try a three...DOINK! Chicago runs the ball out, layup and one. Gentlemen, welcome to your 17 point halftime deficit.
--Smart money says that Nate McMillan broke some clipboards at halftime. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if he took some folding chairs to backs and came off the top turnbuckle as well. Whatever it was, it worked. This time when Chicago came out flat we jumped on them (with cries of "Nobody makes us bleed our own blood!" no doubt). First we played tough in the halfcourt defensive sets. Joel Przybilla was really the main man there. We also got back in transition. With the massive scoring leak fixed we began to move the ball through the 3rd and 4th periods. Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack were huge catalysts. When we knocked off the one-on-one moves into the best defense in the league we actually started getting somewhere and our horrible 30-ish shooting percentage ended up at a bad-but-not-crippling 42%. We quickly made up the lead and got even late in the third. After that it was claw and scratch, rebound and drive. We managed to play with one of the better, more physical teams in the league and we came ever so close to being able to pull it off. It was something of a moral victory but one nobody will want because we really could have had it with one or two more plays.
--I'm going to do a little bit of questioning individuals below, but as much as I defend Nate and what he's doing, I do have one very specific question for him. 32.7 seconds left, it's a tie game, there's a timeout and Chicago is going to get the ball. We have two timeouts left and are going to use one no matter what happens on the next possession, make or miss by Chicago. We come out of the timeout with the same five guys that went into it...a group that doesn't include Joel Przybilla, who has been shutting down the middle all night long. All we need is a stop there. I do not understand why he wasn't in. The result of the play was Ben Gordon driving on Juan Dixon and drawing a foul. Now Juan had a bunch of steals in the first half but none of them were one-on-one and I don't think any of them were against Gordon either. Juan is about Gordon's size but his defensive capabilities don't even come close to matching Gordon's offensive ones, especially since Ben had scored in double-digits that quarter alone already. Gordon sank his shots, Roy missed on a drive at the other end, and that was basically the ballgame. This isn't the first time Nate has passed on an offensive-defensive substitution pattern, yet sometimes he does it as well. Maybe it's a dumb question, but I'd like to know the reasoning there. (And keep in mind this is from the guy who just said, and still believes, that much of the criticism leveled at Nate for his substitutions is unwarranted. I haven't changed that position overall either.)
--By the way, for those who think we've transitioned into more of a development and less of a winning phase, Nate's rotation is tightening, not getting looser. He only played eight guys for significant minutes tonight and the same was true last night in Denver. That sounds like trying to win to me...
--Ah, Zach...Zach...such a conundrum. On the one hand you have to say without his 27 points we wouldn't have been in this game. Plus he did shoot reasonably well at 11-23. But the thing is he went 11-23 and we lost when he so easily could have gone 13-22 and we would have won. It's not like he didn't have some really nice stands in there. There were a couple of rebounds that were great and he had a 45-second flash in the fourth where he was just all there on both ends of the court. If he were a rookie we'd be praising the heck out of this game. But he's not a rookie! He's supposed to be the guy who's leading us.
<rant> When we were making our comeback it was clearly because we were playing in a certain style...running back hard on defense, sharing the ball on offense. And Zach was getting shots in this style! He was scoring as much as anybody. Roy was feeding him like a goldfish before the family vacation. And yet we climb all the way back and we're on a roll and all of a sudden Zach tries to take over by holding the ball and going 1-on-2 into Ben Wallace and help. You just don't do that! It took all the air out of our sails and not coincidentally after that point a lot of guys reverted to the 1-on-1 ways that got us in trouble in the first place (and did again here). Even the Mikes were openly questioning why the ball wasn't still moving through Roy first. And you know if they're saying something critical it's pretty much out there. You can go back and look at the second half game tape and draw a straight, unwavering line: Zach receiving ball off the pass and shooting without hesitation...mostly makes and great for us. Zach holding ball and making his move without anyone else being involved...mostly misses and the team wilts. It ain't rocket science! And you know, you can point to those 27 points but we still lost. And I think everybody's getting tired of 27 points and losing, especially when the balance is so fragile in some of these games. We need smarter play here, and we need 27 points without Zach having to miss nine of his first ten shots in the first half from going one-on-one before he figures out how to play...and without him reverting to that form when the game gets on the line. Is that harsh? Maybe. But at 72 million dollars with the keys to the franchise some harshness is called for. </rant>
--Roy took a long time getting into it also tonight. And he's a rookie so he gets more leeway, but maybe a little jab is warranted in that we need to see fewer jumpers to start the game and more of that great second-half play earlier on. At 6-11 with 16 points and keying many critical plays there's not quite as much to complain about here though. He was really brilliant coming down the stretch. He may be taking a little too much of the burden on himself to make the very last shot each game though. The defense is keying on that and moving quickly to shut him down. One of these times if he's way covered a nice dish (like the one to Jarrett the other night for three) would serve him well.
--Speaking of Jarrett, he also had a reasonably good game. 6-9, 16 points, 4 assists. The ball really wasn't in his hands as much or the assists might have been higher. He was selective and decisive about his offense though, and you like to see that.
--Ime and Joel really played brilliant defensive games...Joel with his blocks and Ime with his tough rebounding. At one point Joel single-handedly stopped TWO Chicago players in the lane. He stepped in hard and intimidated the driver into a pass then he shifted over and blocked the shot of the guy he passed to. You just don't SEE that! Both guys got in foul trouble and Joel really does need to be a little smarter about giving up those fouls because they took him out of the game at a critical time. I will say this, though: two blocking fouls went against him in succession and it looked like neither one was clear cut. The drivers hit him square in the chest, squared up, both times. He wasn't exactly motionless or I'd be yelling a lot louder but those calls go about 50-50...for everyone except Joel.
--Dixon had a very active night with 4 steals and 3 rebounds and probably earned more playing time. He only shot 4-12 though. A couple of those the team (mostly...well, guess who) strung him out to dry by holding the ball too long and then dumping it to him at the buzzer though, so maybe he gets a little bit of a break.
--Lamarcus did OK with 5 rebounds and 8 points in 23 minutes, but he was rushing his shot out there against their defense. He wasn't quite as smooth as usual.
--Did I say it felt like a big night for Martell? Uh...never mind.
--Travis Outlaw got four minutes to burn the rust off. He had a nice dish to Lamarcus but that was about it.
--The crowd was way up and down tonight. I suppose it was that kind of game. The cheering was really loud when it happened though!