The Bulls Saturday had just concluded a leaden effort against the New York Knicks in a 107-91 loss in which the Bulls trailed by double digits for virtually the entire last three quarters.
Joakim Noah starting for Pau Gasol, who rested back in Chicago after being extended in the quadruple overtime loss to Detroit Friday, had 21 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes in his first start of the season. Rookie Bobby Portis in his first time in the rotation had career highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds. Doug McDermott didn’t play in the second half after he experienced swelling in the same knee he had surgery on last season. He was scoreless in 10 minutes. The Bulls with their second consecutive loss after four straight wins fell to 15-10 while the 11th place Knicks are 14-14, just two and a half games behind the Bulls.
“We’ll get back and we’re going to have some decisions to make,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “There’s no doubt about (fatigue after Friday’s game), but you have to find a way to muster up the energy and fight through the tough times, and I didn’t feel we did a very good job of that. Again, we’ll have a lot to talk about in the next couple of days and some decisions to make. We’ll assess everything and we’ll get back to work.”
But not before potential talk it seems about lineup changes and rotations and even the techniques of the staff and the reaction of the players.
“I believe in the guys in this locker room, yes,” said Jimmy Butler in answer to a question about the team makeup. “But I also believe we probably have to be coached a lot harder at times. I’m sorry, I know Fred’s a laid back guy, and I respect him for that. But when guys aren’t doing what they are supposed to do, you’ve got to get on guys, myself included. You’ve got to do what you are supposed to do when you are out there playing basketball.
“It’s not even about being coached,” added Butler, who had 12 points as the only player above 30 minutes playing time “It’s making everybody do their job. We were not doing what we were supposed to be doing, what we wrote up on that board before the game. And nobody spoke up about it. I probably did, probably not enough times.
“I think he (Hoiberg) has to hold everybody accountable from the number one player all the way down to how many guys we’ve got,” repeated Butler. “Everybody has to do their job; if you win your matchup, do your job, we win the game.
“It’s always frustrating whenever you lose,” Butler added. “If we won we would not be saying this, but since we lost the way we did that had something to do with it. If we are a veteran or young team, you still have to do your job. We have to lead since we are the vets, lead by example and talk everything out. I think from the jump it got out of hand, dug ourselves a hole. When we do that we don’t normally come out of that hole.
“It’s on everybody,” Butler continued, “but I think when it’s coming from him it’s a lot different. It’s different when a player is telling another player and a coach is telling a player. I know it’s really not in him like that, but at times that’s what we need. He’s got to be the guy.”
And so continues this forget box of chocolates not knowing what you’ll get season, to the All My Bulls who are the Young and the Restless as their world turns, in the Days of their Lives as long as it’s not too much of a General Hospital season.
It’s much too early for too much panic or concern at 15-10 with this odd stretch after the unusual four overtimes and a Christmas Day game coming up this week in Oklahoma City.
Though the play of Portis, who was active as promised with six rebounds alone in the second quarter when there still were beliefs it might be a game, suggests it’s going to be difficult to keep him out of the rotation much longer. Especially with McDermott uncertain and Nikola Mirotic one of eight for two points in 25 minutes. Mirotic is shooting three of 16 for a total of 10 points in about 62 minutes total in those three games.
Hoiberg was further discouraged after the starters, despite the heavy minutes Friday, came out fast on the Knicks for a 12-2 lead and 16-9 with about five minutes left in the first quarter when Hoiberg first began to substitute.
“You can’t completely write this one off (because of the four-overtime game),” said Hoiberg. “We got back to having a very stagnant game, didn’t get the ball moving very well with the exception of that early burst. We got out 12-2, we had great pace, the ball was moving. But after that we got back to standing and stagnant. Again, not running.
“We got frustrated out there,” Hoiberg said. “We missed some good open looks, I felt, especially when that second group got in there. And I thought it affected us at the other end. The lack of shot making, I think it bothered our guys. You’ve got to keep playing on the other end of the floor. They got some run outs and easy ones and got confident and then that’s when they started to hit their shots. Our initial burst was very good, our pace (then) the best it was all game.”
It wasn’t much game for the Bulls thereafter but to chart the enthusiasm of Noah and all around game of the rookie even in Madison Square Garden in his first extended play of the season.
“Really good for a guy who hasn’t had many meaningful minutes to go out and perform like that in the Garden,” agreed Hoiberg. “It’s an intimidating place to play, especially for that first time. Jo did look good; when Jo’s in there the ball moves so much better. We’ve just got to get that way with everybody. It got to a point where we just were aimlessly running down the floor, weren’t getting to our spots in our initial break and just didn’t have anything. So it’s getting back to the basics now.”
After that 16-9 start, the Knicks scored 13 straight points as McDermott and Mirotic couldn’t find the range. The Knicks turned that into a 25-18 first quarter lead, though the Bulls showed some second quarter life with a Portis tipin of a Mirotic miss and Noah taking down a Knicks miss, flying out of the backcourt dribbling the ball, finding Taj Gibson near the basket and then taking a return pass from Gibson on the run for a slam dunk to bring the Bulls within 39-30. It was the sort of full court rush Hoiberg has been urging all season, though only occasionally has seen.
The Bulls trailed 49-39 at halftime as the reserves were a combined three of 16 for six points while Hoiberg tried to limit the playing time of the starters.
“I felt all right,” said Derrick Rose, who had six points in 21 minutes after 54 Friday. “Talked to coach. He told me he was going to watch my minutes, see how the game was going to go and I (didn’t) play in the fourth. You are a little fatigued, but I think everybody fought through it a little bit. I think everybody gave it their all, at least what they had. Just didn’t have it tonight.”
It got away as Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 27 points, and Arron Afflalo, who added 18, blitzed Butler and Tony Snell in isolations after halftime, scoring in eight of nine third quarter possessions to take a 72-56 lead. It was 77-68 at the end of three when Portis made a pair of three pointers to close the third quarter scoring for the Bulls, posing with his arm high as he ladled in the second.
“The opportunity was there for me to play,” said Portis, who also had four offensive rebounds and two steals. “I feel I came out and played as hard as I could every time I was out there. That’s one thing I always hang my hat on, playing hard. I feel like hard work is the tonic. I feel like I’m a blue collar guy who can do a lot of different things with the basketball, play defense, block shots, get steals, a little bit of everything. Just the opportunity was there for me to play tonight and ran with it. It’s not about opening eyes. I don’t really care about trying to prove people wrong or make it seem like I need to play. Just being myself and being a kid out there.
“They (the threes) were just rhythm shots,” said Portis. “I just read the defense and Jimmy made good passes to me and I made the shots. Credit to running our offense.”
But it wasn’t there to start the fourth quarter as the Knicks got eight straight points from reserves like Lance Thomas, Langston Galloway, Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn and were ahead by 17 two minutes into the fourth quarter. The Knicks pushed it to 22 later in the game.
“Carmelo got going, Afflalo got going,” Noah said with a shrug. We just ran out of gas. In games like this you still have to stick to your principles; we still have a lot of work to do on that. It’s more than pace. Our defense, just little things, guarding pick and rolls, things like that.
“It felt good to play, especially back home, starting in front of my people; it’s a good feeling, but disappointed we lost,” said Noah. “I’m really happy for the rook. I think he’s somebody who works extremely hard every day; he has a great attitude. He’s somebody who is a great talent and the future is really bright for him, his attitude, his approach to the game. He’s obviously a great talent, but I just like his vibe and attitude out there on the court, very encouraging. He’s somebody. The future is really going to be bright for him on this team.”
“His time’s coming,” added Butler of Portis. “He’s always working on his game. And no surprise to me he played the way he played today. I think everybody knows Bobby can play; everybody wants to see Bobby play more. It’s just tough with the group of guys we have. But he is continually working and that’s what Bobby is going to give you when he gets his opportunity.”
So now the Bulls have their latest restart Monday at home against the Nets amid questions about what they are doing with whom and when and how loudly.
“I think we get away from what we have to do as an individual to help this team,” said Butler. “I think guys take it on themselves to win a game at times, including myself. It can’t happen. We have to continually play team basketball. This one got out of control early and we never got back in the game. I don’t think last night had anything to do with it. They whipped our (butts) for all 48 minutes of that game.”