There are a lot of great things that have happened in Philadelphia.
There were the First and Second Continental Congresses that led to American independence; there was the writing of the Declaration of Independence, America’s founding document; there was the Constitutional Convention, which established the framework for the American democracy.
Then Monday there was the Bulls 111-88 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, which was better left unremembered.
The Bulls endured with Nikola Mirotic breaking out of a mini-slump with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Doug McDermott, now among the league leaders in three-point shooting at 57 percent, made three of six as the Bulls hit 10 of 25 threes overall and recovered from blowing an early 15-point lead to pull away after halftime and lead by double digits the last 20 minutes.
“The ball was moving, especially in the first quarter,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “It got a little stagnant in the second. But then we finished off the half by getting a lead back (52-43). The third quarter we came out and the ball was moving again. I liked our pace, for the most part. We had 28 assists (and 27 fast break points).
“I thought Derrick (Rose) did a really good job playing with pace out there. He’s the one who got it started for us,” added Hoiberg of Rose with 12 points and seven assists and only playing eight minutes after halftime. “Pau (Gasol with 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks) was good. I felt we had a couple of good inside/out plays and that’s what you have to do if you miss a couple of good ones (from outside).”
The Bulls had missed their share in falling behind the 76ers 40-37 with five minutes left in the first half.
It’s not easy to trail the 76ers, who are now 0-7 and have lost 17 straight dating back to last March. This is the fourth longest losing streak in franchise history, three coming in the last three seasons of their curious rebuilding project that continues to favor losing. They were missing Nerlens Noel with a sore wrist. Rookie Jahlil Okafor led with 21 points and 15 rebounds. But he shot nine for 25 and got numerous shots blocked against Gasol and assorted other Bulls.
Though Okafor will produce statistics on a team with such little talent, he will have his struggles in the NBA given his lack of jumping ability. He’s got a soft shooting touch and great hands, but he seems more reminiscent of former Bulls player Eddy Curry with his offensive skills and lack of explosive play.
The Bulls, now 5-3, got a relief win after losing in overtime at home Saturday to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Which didn’t sound so bad Monday after the Timberwolves won in Atlanta.
But this still is a Bulls team not playing very consistently or impressively other than last week’s win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Though Hoiberg did see some positives in the offense, the Bulls continued to play slower than Hoiberg would like with little movement from side to side in the half court. The Bulls are supposed to swing the ball and keep moving to create open shots. It happens only a few times per game with too frequent situations of one pass and a shot.
“When the ball doesn’t cross the midpoint, when we keep it on one side we generally force a bad (shot) up,” agreed Hoiberg. “When we get the ball moving side to side generally that creates some good open looks.”
The Bulls did have a few, but it might have been a very different outcome against a team other than the lowly 76ers.
Hoiberg also sought to make an adjustment to turn around the poor starts by starting Joakim Noah for Mirotic. Not so much to blame Mirotic as teams have taken advantage of Gasol in the pick and roll. Hoiberg didn’t say as much, but his plan was put on hold when Noah complained of soreness to his left knee that had the surgery last year and was pulled a minute before the start. Noah was kept out all game, Hoiberg said, as a precaution and Noah will be reevaluated Tuesday. Though Noah afterward said he didn’t believe it was a serious issue.
“Jo warmed up and felt a little soreness in his knee,” said Hoiberg “So we were precautionary about it and decided it was probably best to hold him out. Doesn’t sound like there’s anything structurally wrong with it. Wanted to change things up (in the lineup). Our defense in the first quarter hadn’t been very good. I wanted to change the rhythm up, maybe change the rotation a little bit. It was great to see Niko have the type of night he did knocking down shots, especially in that second half. I thought he rebounded the ball very well.”
One of the issues the Bulls have tried to deal with early in the season is their weakness playing the pick and roll. The defender whose man is setting the screen is supposed to jump out to force the ball handler sideways and get back to the roll man. It’s not easy for anyone. It’s a mighty struggle for Gasol. It was alleviated last season by Noah playing with him. While Noah’s presence clogged up the offense because of his lack of perimeter shooting, Noah was able to play the better pick and roll player. Hoiberg went with the better offensive player Mirotic this season to start the game to spread the court for shooting. But when Mirotic slumped the last three games averaging about four points and shooting one of 13 on threes, the defensive deficiency was more pronounced.
The Bulls didn’t get a chance to look at the change Monday with Noah out. But it did suggest that Hoiberg, who already had substituted McDermott for Tony Snell at starting small forward, was going to be open to starting lineup changes all season with the significance not substantial and more based on productivity and circumstance.
There’ll obviously be more as Mike Dunleavy likely will return from back surgery next month. It seems only the backcourt will remain stable, barring injury. Rose shot well from midrange again (though zero for three on threes and one for 16 on the season) and had 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Jimmy Butler was two of six for seven points with six rebounds and five assists. Tony Snell and Aaron Brooks each had 10 points off the bench and Brooks also had eight rebounds in 19 minutes, though yes, it was against the 76ers.
The Bulls tried to go inside to Gasol early to both get him involved in the offense and gain control of the game early. But the Bulls yet again fell behind as the 76ers exploited that pick and roll defense and took a 12-9 lead. Rose and Butler then led a 22-4 Bulls run for a 31-16 Bulls lead late in the first quarter. Hoiberg gave rookie Bobby Portis an early chance. But the reserves gave up the lead with erratic play. Again Snell, though making a pair of threes, continued to go to the basket shooting underhand flip shots instead of attacking hard.
But McDermott continued his solid shooting and seems likely to hold that starting spot over Snell. After the reserves allowed the 76ers to take a three-point lead with a one of 17 shooting sequence, McDermott converted a three and a fast break dunk on Rose passes and Rose added a pull up bank shot for that 52-43 halftime lead. With Rose shooting those mid range shots so well, he probably needs to curtail the threes until perhaps he can see with two eyes. But his passing was excellent and if the Bulls weren’t in the bottom half of the league in shooting his assist totals likely would be much better.
“We just got our pace going,” said McDermott. “I think stops helped us in transition. If we can get stops, it really gets our break going. If teams are scoring on us at will it’s hard to get our pace going. We did a much better job of that in the second quarter.”
Mirotic has fallen into the habit of taking threes several feet behind the line and missed both his first half attempts. But given his starting reprieve he took advantage in the second half. Mirotic had 16 of his 20 points in the second half and three of five three pointers. McDermott added a four-point play and the Bulls went ahead 76-62 after three.
“It was about confidence,” said Mirotic. “I didn’t shoot great the last three games. The last couple of days I stayed to take some extra shots and today my teammates found me and I scored. So today was a really good day for me, for the team after a tough loss against Minnesota. We bounced back and this is the way we need to play.”
Mirotic scored early in the fourth quarter along with E’Twaun Moore and the rout of Philadelphia was on. The city seemed to have had much better times even when most people had to go outside to use the toilet.