The Bulls had their 14-game home winning streak snapped by the surging 76ers in Monday's 97-85 loss.
With 5:07 remaining in the first quarter, the 76ers (38-36) went on a 13-1 run to take an early 25-11 lead over the Bulls (53-20) on Monday at the United Center. After that lead extended to 23 points before the half, the Bulls surged to kill most of the gap in the third quarter, but their stops didn't translate into converted offensive possessions. Bricking shots from the field and the FT line without grabbing offensive rebounds, on top of a destructive 17 turnovers, handed Philly the 97-85 win.
"The Bulls vowed to atone for their lackluster performance against the 76ers two months earlier, a 105-99 loss in Philadelphia," Paul Ladewski wrote at NBA.com. "Didn't happen. The visitors outquicked, outmuscled and outhustled them en route to a 27-13 advantage in the first period. The 76ers led from wire to wire, as the Bulls had their home streak snapped at 14 games in a row."
The Eastern Conference-leading Bulls' (53-20) first loss at the UC since Jan. 18, but they were fortunate to have had the Pacers knock off the Celtics (51-22) 107-100 in Indy. Chicago remains two games in front of Boston and the Sunday-winning Heat (51-22).
The combination of the Bulls bricking a terri-bad wealth of shots everywhere, including the line, accumulated for an embarrassing .456 TS% on the night. But give Philly a ton of credit. Their spacing and rotations were a thing of beauty. They clogged the paint to disrupt dribble penetration, kept bodies between big trailers and the offensive glass enough, and did an exquisite job of closing out on shooters -- leaving the Bulls little options.
Derrick Rose deserves credit for adjusting to the Sixers' perimeter defense -- as was clearly instructed to the entire team by Tom Thibodeau to create inside-out opportunities that never became. He scored a game-high 31 points on 12-for-24 shooting and 7-for-9 FTs in his double- trouble-double in 41:58. Unfortunately, the other double wasn't his assists, but his season-high 10 (TEN!) turnovers. He bricked his three 3-point attempts on the night, putting him at 0-for-11 in the last three games
Rose acknowledged this game was lost early against a team they should be 'putting away early.' He's right and his high risks were demanded by the early hole, but the man was out of control with his handles the entire night.
"That game was lost in the first quarter," Joakim Noah (10 points, 13 rebounds for his 20th double-double in 42 games) said after the game. "It's on us -- the starters -- to come out with a better edge.... It's the whole starting unit."
He later added: "We didn't come with the right fight to start the game."
Thibs went straight to the first half defense to highlight why he'll fixate on stretches of bad defenses in otherwise great games by the team -- that they will kill the potential for a win. "This game was lost early," he said after the game. "27-13 first quarter. You can't win like that. So we have to take a look at how we approached the game, how we practiced, and we gotta' make the necessary corrections real fast 'cause tings can change really quick in this league."
On the recent pattern of coming out soft, Thibs went back to preparation. "When you practice well, you play well," he said, later adding: "Turnovers: big problem. Not making free throws: big problem. And not playing defense and out-rebounded [44-42, 20-9 in the first quarter]. It wasn't one phase of the game where we were doing the things we should be doing."
He added that Rose wasn't getting the calls on his dribble penetration and wouldn't credit Philly's scheme as unique -- citing that Rose has seen that scheme before the season. Yes, but usually there are guys with great looks on the perimeter because of the defense collapsing.
Luol Deng (10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, 9 rebounds in 41:22) continued to be the lead man in the locker room of countering the general ignorance of the Bulls being a team with great depth, a high basketball I.Q., great coaches, and a wealth of talent. It defeats the lovable underdog meme with a more encouraging, 'We deserve to win and we should win because we're better than you' instead of 'We know we're not the most talented, but we'll beat you by playing hard.'
"A few games we've been winning, but we gotta' get back to Bulls basketball," Deng said after the game, later adding: "We're good enough some games to not play as hard and win, but we can't have that."
His point is to express that the Bulls are unstoppable with energy and focus on top of that talent to the point where the wins come easier. His point is that this team should be avoiding close games and getting blown out was a "wake-up call." He added that missing practice with the deep thigh bruise has disrupted his play, repeating Thibs' comment that Deng's best when he's practicing best:
Credit Philly for coming out with a balanced attack and Andre Iguodala (19 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals) having an amazing game. He didn't lead the team in scoring, but there's no doubt he was the player of this game at the point forward. He always found open men or that guy to get to an open man one pass away from a bucket. His defense killed the Bulls' rhythm and was a large reason six 76ers scored in double figures.
30 trips to the FT line, 12 bricks. Unacceptable. Noah shot 4-for-8, Deng 4-for-7 at the line, and -- despite a 23.5% usage rate -- Carlos Boozer (15 points, 9 rebounds) only got to the line for four shots (3-for-4).
"The Bulls have become the chic pick to come out of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but one area may conspire against them," Ladewski wrote. "They rank 27th in free throw percentage [.732] in the league. Of their seven players with 100-or-more attempts, only Rose (85) has been successful more than 75 percent of the time."
Bench Mob outscored by Philly's bunch 31-14.Thaddeus Young's 13 second-quarter points and Louis Williams' eight in the fourth had a lot to do with that. Kyle Korver's three fouls in less than two second-quarter minutes had a ton to do with it. Omer Asik getting himself benched to only 9:32 of PT because he couldn't catch anything or get in the air quickly had something to do with it, too. The large starters' minutes were factor, as well.
C.J. Watson led the bench with 18:40 of PT and no turnovers. He logged large minutes with Rose in the backcourt, but couldn't be found as a spot shooter. He had three assists and continues to be the best pick n' roll option to feed the ball inside -- yet still highly ignored.
The D wasn't only terrible in the first half. The fourth quarter was a disaster, too. Philly shot 56% in the period where they scored 28 points. In the third, the Bulls stops ignited runs of 10-2 and 8-0 to bring them within five points. In the fourth, Philly went back to shooting them out of the gym.
Boozer needs to play his size again. When Noah was out, he was an unstoppable force as the Bulls' easy button and he's now disappearing from games. This is largely due to not getting the ball back on re-posts, inducing a tendency to force bad shots instead of attempting the re-post, but mainly because he isn't finishing strong. He's going for too many layups and not enough dunks; too many faceups and not enough back-to-basket play. Period.
Noah, too. There's no excuse for him to not be dunking more. If he needs padding on the hand, fine.
The Sixers are now the sixth of six .500+ teams in the East. They maintained a lead over the #7-seed Knicks (36-38) and have a lot of which to be proud, considering they started the season 3-13. I'm gonna say it now: playing defense, moving the ball, and creating off the ball as they have, Philly can take any team in the East to seven games in the playoffs.
Next, the Bulls have a couple of whipping boys on whom to take out frustration and re-pound that message of being a dominant team back into the general psyche. The remainder of the week has them in Minnesota to beat up on the T'wolves (17-57) on Wednesday, in Detroit for the Pistons(26-47) on Friday, and a 'revenge' effort against the Raptors (20-53) on Saturday at the UC.