Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Game 8 Recap: When the Sun Goes Down

Bulls (5-3) 112, Suns (4-5) 106, (OT)

The Bulls began the dread circus trip in Phoenix tonight. They started last year's shortened season with a 4-game run out west, going 3-1, including a thrilling opening win at the Staples Center against the Lakers. Later on, the Bulls embarked on a fairly ridiculous stretch of nine straight road games, albeit all against Eastern Conference squads (save Memphis). 

Thibodeau's Bulls maintained a sterling 24-9 record on the road last season, only two games worse than their home mark. They went 6-3 during that stretch, with Rose playing less than 24 minutes against New Jersey and NOLA and not playing at all against Charlotte and Boston (a loss). 

Of course, the Bulls only had one road contest to their name thus far, a thumping of Cleveland in the second game of the season. So, this upcoming stretch, beginning with tonight's game, will serve as a decent litmus test for just how much ADVERSITY this Rose-less team can handle. 

I unfortunately had to miss most of the first half, so we'll just start with the usual halftime numbers. 

Halftime stats (Bulls 57, Suns 51)
Team: Points per possession-->0.83 
  • Boozer: 8/12 16 points
  • Deng: 3/5, 8 points

Team: PPP-->0.96

  • Scola: 8/13, 16 points
  • Dragic: 4/5, 10 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers 
First of all, it seems like there was maybe 12 people at this game. I guess that's what happens when you're playing a mediocre team and you don't have Derrick Rose. I would urge the people of Phoenix to give Nate Robinson a chance next time around.

After a couple of minutes, a Boozer 17-footer bounced high off the room and came back through the cylinder for two. It was apparently that kind of night for Boozer, who was 9/14 on the night. Shortly afterward, Joakim Noah intercepted a bad Michael Beasley pass and went coast-to-coast with it for the dunk, putting the Bulls up nine.

A Noah layup, a Deng and 1, a Deng trey and Nate-assisted Boozer two propelled the Bulls to a 79-61 lead late in the third, and my concerns regarding the Bulls' chances against teams with somewhat of a pulse (i.e. not Cleveland) on the road abated almost completely.

Of note, watching Michael Beasley turn it over, jack up horrible threes and generally be a minus player reminds me how there was actually a robust Rose-Beasley debate back before the 2008 NBA Draft. It's a good thing I am not an NBA scout.

The Bulls played solid defense in the third overall after giving up 51 through the first two quarters (a lot, for the Bulls at least). Luis Scola dropped 16 points in the first half but didn't pick up his first second half bucket until the very end of the third. Scola missed two jumpers and had another blocked by Luol Deng before finally getting back on the score sheet with eight seconds left in the third.

P.J. tucker and Scola scores in the paint to start the third brought the Bulls lead back down to 10. However, after a helter skelter Bulls possession that saw Taj Gibson saving the ball from entering the back court, Deng hit a ridiculous off-balanced shot as the shot clock expired. However, with the Suns going on a 17-9 run since the apex of the Bulls' lead (back when it was 79-61), the Bulls were not yet in the clear.

A Shannon Brow jumper cut the lead to only five, which might as well be a deficit in the NBA. Even Captain Kirk unraveled a bit, getting after an official who called an offensive foul/didn't call a Telfair handcheck foul on the perimeter. After a couple put back opportunities, the Suns had a chance to the cut the lead to two (or one) on  the next possession but weren't able to connect, a possibly pivotal moment in the game. 

The Bulls nursed a now 5-point lead heading into the second half of the fourth quarter, having seen their once seemingly unassailable lead, well, decidedly assailed. With only eight 4th quarter points through 7:20 of play, the Bulls lead was on the brink of extinction; they lead by just one coming out of a timeout with the ball. The Bulls turned to a bread and butter set, with Hamilton curling for a FT line jumper. Unfortunately, he missed, but Goran Dragic missed a solid look at a corner three at the other end. 

Noah then hit an uncontested 17-footer, but a Telfair trey tied the game up, 93 all, with just under three minutes to go. The two teams traded buckets again, with a nice shot fake into a layup for Nate and a jumper from Scola, who had started to find his offensive game a bit after a quiet third quarter. 

Luckily, the Suns fouled, sending the Bulls into the penalty on their next possession (the Bulls only had one team foul at this point). Nate, however, was only able to sink 1 of 2 at the line. Even so, this came up big on the next possession, where a Phoenix loose ball foul sent Hamilton to the line, where he sank both. 

Hinrich went to the line as well and split a pair, putting the Bulls up 99-95. A ridiculous continuation call on a Shannon Brown drive on Gibson, however, brought the lead back to only 1. It was Boozer's chance to shine here. 

He spotted up for a 16-18 footer on the baseline, for a bucket that would have given the Bulls some much needed confidence going into the next defensive possession. Despite going 11-16 until that point, Boozer missed. 

Phoenix had the ball down 1 with 26 seconds to go. Once again, Brown went after Gibson, only this time he missed. Rip hit the front end but missed the second on his ensuing trip to the line. Of course, the Suns' P.J. Tucker grabbed a loose ball in the paint at the other end and scored to tie the game at 100 all. 

The Bulls came out with Boozer, Noah, Deng, Hamilton and Nate Robinson. Rip curled around a baseline screen from Boozer, settled, and badly missed his attempt to end the game. Overtime it is. 

Scola fouled out and Deng hit a key jumper to give the Bulls a 2-point cushion. Boozer then smartly went after Beasley, drawing a foul and converting both shots from the line. Beasley then delivered a bit of an elbow to Deng's face on the other end, correctly called an offensive foul (NB: in the game of basketball, you are not allowed to elbow people in the face). 

The Suns continued to flail away on the offensive end without Scola (and with Goran Dragic surprisingly uninvolved in the proceedings). Beasley, of all people, came alive near the end, pitching in a jumper and an and 1 to bring the Bulls lead down to 4. 

Always up to the challenge, Noah hit an 18-footer after Gortat seemed reluctant to come out and guard him near the top of the key. Initiate finger gunz. Game Blouses. 

BULLets, Sponsored by "I See What You Did There, Inc."

  • Adventures in Carlos Boozer shooting. Given the type of bigs the Suns have, it's not that surprising that Boozer was able to have his best night by far since the Cleveland game. 
  • Taj Gibson. With Boozer and Noah both having good to very good nights on the offensive end, Gibson logged a mere 16 minutes in regulation time. With four points and two boards, it was another relatively quiet night for Mr. Gibson (although he did manage two blocks). 
  • Et tu, rebounding? The Bulls had a somewhat weak night on the defensive glass, with the Suns grabbing just under 40% of their misses when I last checked about a minute into the overtime period. There's no doubt that this game would not have reached OT if the Bulls were able to clean up on the glass like they normally do. 
  • Goran Dragic? Apparently he scored 12 --which all must have been scored before I started watching-- but he seemed to have no role down the stretch whatsoever, which seems a curious thing to me. Telfair was a key player in the Suns' comeback, but you would think the Suns would want to involve one of their most talented offensive players in key late game situations. You can't see this, but I'm currently shrugging. 
  • Rippin' the nets. Rip scored 11 points during regulation play, but a pair of jumpers in OT, the second after an ORB, were by far his biggest points of the game and maybe even the season thus far. 

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