“It’s not hard (facing the ups and downs),” said Derrick Rose following Tuesday night's loss. “It’s part of basketball. It’s part of the process. All I can do is go out and play the way I normally play. Right now I’m just taking what they are giving me and they are giving me shots. I think I can affect the game that way, but I just haven’t done it yet."
Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Bulls suffer net loss to Brooklyn

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By Sam Smith | 12.31.2014 | 2:26 a.m. CT

Sometimes you begin the day with excellent intentions, but stuff happens. The train breaks down and you’re late; you spill coffee on the keyboard; everyone in the office is laughing but you; the IRS is on line two; you shoot two of 15 after having shot five of 20 the night before.

“It’s the first game it’s been like this,” Derrick Rose of the two of 15 was saying Tuesday after the Bulls 96-82 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the Bulls lowest scoring game of the season.

The Bulls shot under 40 percent for the second consecutive game after twice in the previous 30; they shot 53 percent on free throws. They scored 21 points below their season average against the 16th ranked defensive team that had beaten one winning team all season.

“Usually it’s me by myself missing shots,” Rose said with a smile. “To see the whole team not making shots is something we haven’t seen before. But I think we have a good smart group; we should not have anything to worry about.”

Like Charlie Brown once said, “Sometimes you lie awake asking what went wrong and a voice says it’s going to take a few more nights.” Good grief.

“I think our edge wasn’t really good,” added Joakim Noah, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds. “Disappointing game. Just thought we were playing pretty good basketball and we laid an egg tonight.”

It happens. I remember legendary coach Cotton Fitzsimmons after one of these, which happen every so often to good teams, and around the holidays, especially. Thus being for the Bulls on a back to back with a seven-game winning streak going. Well, you can’t win them all.

The Bulls fell to 22-10 with their second loss in their last 12 and closed December 11-4. Though they are just 8-6 at home.

Fitzsimmons would open the door to the washroom in the locker room and flush all the toilets, a symbolic disposal of the game.

“Of course you want this to keep going with how many games we were winning,” said Rose, who finished with just four points while Jimmy Butler had a season low eight points as the two were a combined five for 27. “You’re going to have nights like this in the NBA. We have to find ways to win even though we weren’t making shots. The defensive side still has to be solid. Next time we play them we have to come out with an edge, but our focus now is on Denver.”

Happy New Year?

Well, 2014 wasn’t all that bad, at least the last few months of the basketball season for the Bulls.

So they had a stinker.

Butler, coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week and a winning shot to bail out the offense late Monday in Indiana, was worn down by Joe Johnson, who probably had heard enough of this other shooting guard getting so much attention. Johnson repeatedly took Butler into the post, getting 20 points and 10 rebounds for his first double/double as a Net.

Brook Lopez back in the starting lineup to matchup with the Bulls bigger centers made them look small with a season high 29 points, doing a heck of a Bob McAdoo impression as he made jumper after jumper over a scrambling Noah.

Pau Gasol after a good start when the Bulls had a 31-24 first quarter lead finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as he tried to vary his contribution, though with limited effect. The reserves again were stale and Aaron Brooks was ejected early in the second quarter for some discussions with the officials.

“Just said, ‘C’mon.’ That’s not criticizing the refs,” said Brooks, somewhat baffled over the quick ejection with two technicals. “Extremely surprising being there was a lot of yelling going on at the ref in the game and the only person who got a technical wasn’t yelling; doesn’t make any sense to me. But whatever. I just wish I was out there to help, do my job and I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”

It wouldn’t likely have mattered much as only Mike Dunleavy got anything going with 23 points and five of nine threes. Tony Snell in a rare double digit minutes appearance with 11, scoring nine points on a trio of three pointers. It was the first points he’d actually scored since Nov. 24. Though he hadn’t played 10 minutes in any game since then.

“It doesn’t take much to throw you off,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “The important thing is we have to play with more of an edge. Overall, I think we are making good progress, but things were not going our way tonight. When things don’t go our way, we have to do other things to help ourselves to win. There was a physicality to the game. We probably could have responded better. I thought the intentions were good. Derrick tried to get aggressive with penetration. We have to be able to sustain our spacing. They did a good job of collapsing on the ball. When there is congestion, you will get away with contact. I want to get a look at that. You can never let your guard down.”

To say nothing of your forwards and centers.

Hey, it’s a tough night for all of us.

It was mostly tough for Rose, who did have a two-point game this season. But that was in Denver last month when Rose left after the first half. But more crucial was in the 17 games since, Rose has played 15, missing two only with the flu, and averaged about 30 minutes with no ill effects.

“I’m feeling great,” said Rose. “My health is the last thing I’m worried about. As long as we get better as a team I’m not worried about myself. It’s just jelling quickly, making sure guys are communicating on the defensive end, doing all the little things because that’s what makes teams different, especially when you talk about championship teams. Championship teams do all the little things you wouldn’t think about.”

Rose, of course, is crucial to that goal for the Bulls and the concern of late—as he’s scrutinized far more than any other Bull—is his shooting. Or that he doesn’t drive the ball often enough and shouldn’t shoot three pointers with a season rate of 26 percent.

I thought Nets coach Lionel Hollins made a salient point before the game about Rose’s tendency to work on his shooting game instead of continuing to drive head long into the basket.

“If you’re going in there flat out every time and getting knocked to the floor and landing awkwardly there’s always a chance for injury,” said Hollins. “Now when he goes there’s usually not as many people in there. Having been an assistant coach to Kevin Johnson I saw what it’s like. I also played with Phil Ford and I know what happened with his (shortened) career just attacking the basket and getting knocked down. My own career. You get in there and land on the floor, the floor is not forgiving. The big guys falling on you, stepping on you is not forgiving, either. It just shortens your career. For Derrick’s sake, it’s a good thing.”

It seems a case where critics are measuring the daily Rose while Rose has his eye more on the long term and that chance for ultimate success, which can’t be achieved in December or January.

“Terrible,” Rose agreed about his game Tuesday, which made it seven of 35 the last two games. “At the same time, it gives me opportunity to learn and grow. Just learn from my mistakes. Too many turnovers, careless turnovers. My shot wasn’t falling. But it’s not going to stop me from shooting. They were all open shots. I’m going to shoot every time (when defenders go under screens). I just need to see one go down. Once I see one go down, I think I’ll be fine. My confidence to shoot is there. All of them are on target. You’re going to have nights like this in the NBA. We have to find ways to win even though we weren’t making shots.

“I think I can shoot good enough to make them play honest,” said Rose. “I just haven’t seen it these last couple of games. Not really (had a slump like this). But that’s what living is all about. You live and you learn. I know I’m going to have worse nights. I just have to learn from it, stay consistent with my workouts and find ways to try to affect the game when there are nights like this. There’s only one way to get out: Keep shooting. My teammates have a lot of confidence in me when I shoot the ball. That’s why I kept shooting. We were looking for someone to take charge and it didn’t happen.”

The Bulls were probably due for a game like this even though each game in theory should be independent of another. But when things are going so well and all of a sudden the national media is mentioning you as the best in the league—No. 1 this week in the latest ESPN power rating—and your players are being talked about as possible MVPs with multiple All-Stars, it’s only human nature to take a breath.

The Bulls didn’t seem like they were with that 31-24 start behind Dunleavy’s shooting. But there were signs from the late collapse the Bulls survived in Indiana Monday when Pacers coach Frank Vogel left his bench in the entire fourth quarter and they ran out of energy after their 20-0 run. The Bulls then were able to do just enough to steal what should have been a loss.

The Nets Tuesday—with Kevin Garnett taking a night off to rest and Noah thus less concerned about being bitten—took a chunk out of the Bulls pride with a fast 9-0 start against the Bulls reserves in the second quarter. Brooks was soon ejected and the Bulls hung up another of those scoring droughts. This time it was more than four minutes, and only a pair of Snell threes kept the Bulls within 55-45 at halftime.

The Bulls got a bit going to start the second half with two more Dunleavy threes to get within 59-55. But Mike Dunleavy can’t bail you out every game. Lopez made an array of jump shots with his slow motion moves and it was pretty much over as Rose and Butler combined for a one of nine quarter. Thibodeau stuck with the starters, but the Nets took an 84-69 lead as Mason Plumlee ended the third with a lob dunk. Less than three minutes into the fourth quarter the Bulls were down 21 with no 20-0 runs in them.

So it was left for Rose, who had the longest post game session with media of all the players, to defend and explain, that he understood where he is and where the team is going and the best course for both the rest of the way.

Rose has obviously spent two years considering all this, and he seems to understand the best way to get to the ultimate team goal.

“It’s only two games,” Rose noted. “I’m not going to stop shooting and I know when I do start knocking them down it’s going to be something different. Missed a lot of floaters, too. A lot were in and out. I don’t know what it is.

“This is the first time, this game, the first time everybody had a tougher time,” noted Rose. “Everybody was trying to force the issue, but in a smart way; it just didn’t work. We give everybody that freedom to do that in a game; Dun had it for a minute and it’s just nobody else had it.

“I’m going to have 40-point games, so I’m not worried about that (teams going under screens on his shot),” said Rose. “They’re going under at the free throw line, so I have to take those shots no matter how many times I miss. Those shots I normally have to take to make them play honest. I’m just waiting for that game where I’m going to have a good game.

“It’s a long season and we have so much time to improve as a team,” Rose added. “Play calls, being in tough situations, tough games, overtime games. All this is going to improve us and make us better for the long run.

“It’s not hard (facing the ups and downs),” said Rose. “It’s part of basketball. It’s part of the process. All I can do is go out and play the way I normally play. Right now I’m just taking what they are giving me and they are giving me shots. I think I can affect the game that way, but I just haven’t done it yet.

“As far as a basketball player, all I can do is go out there and try to win the game,” said Rose. “We have a great team; certain nights are going to be like that where I have 30 or whatever. I can’t play the way people want me to play; they want me to score 40 points every night. If I can score 15 and still win the game, it’s good for us. I think I’m a smarter player as far as taking care of my body, picking and choosing during the game and not overusing myself throughout the entire game.

“I haven’t thought about falling or getting injured again or hurting myself,” Rose added. “It’s just when I start making the shots I am taking it’s going to be a real simple game. It’s going to be pick your poison.”

Rose does seem to have a wise plan for what could well be a happy new year for the Bulls.

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