Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg Wednesday answered a few perfunctory questions following the team's crushing 125-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Hoiberg talked briefly about not standing up against the Warriors relentless offensive pressure, not responding to their swift ball movement and making enough defensive errors to perhaps make the result more inevitable than it had to be, the Warriors on course to perhaps even surpass the Bulls’ all time season record for wins.
Then Hoiberg stopped abruptly, stood up and began to leave. As he did he crumpled up the box score which showed 38 Warriors assists on 50 baskets, a 55-49 rebounding edge, 12 of 32 threes to one of 20 for the Bulls, and a fairly even shot distribution among six Golden State players in double figures led by Stephen Curry with a modest 25 points.
This loss, even though the Warriors arrived after beating the Bulls biggest East rival by 34 points in Cleveland, sent too strong a message for accepting it as just another game.
“It’s only one loss; it’s a bad one,” said Jimmy Butler. “Not like multiple losses; disappointed.”
If the Warriors are the measure of NBA excellence, the Bulls have a long, long way to go. It was the Bulls’ halfway point of the season at 24-17, which isn’t that far off any preseason predictions of close to a 50-win season. But the numbers were just too discouraging for other than the trash.
“They move, they cut, they’re skilled,” said Hoiberg about the Warriors. “They have all five guys out there who can make a play. It’s a team when you are not playing them (is) really fun to watch. They play basketball the right way, the way it’s supposed to be played, with their cuts. They’re constant motion, constant movement. Any five of them can bring it down the floor and initiate the offense. It’s a pretty good luxury to have.”
And the Bulls? Well, not so much.
They got a terrific start from Derrick Rose with 21 first half points and 29 for the game.
“Derrick was great, was really good coming out, was attacking, was carrying us on offense,” said Hoiberg. “He got tired pretty quick (asked to come out winded after six minutes). The energy he was putting out there, he needed a blow. And then things went south for us pretty quick when we got Derrick out of the game. If he keeps playing like that and attacking like that we’ve got a chance to have a good rest of the year.”
It was pretty awful otherwise with the other four starters a combined three for 21 for nine points in the first half as the Bulls trailed 63-44. Butler, who finished with 23 points, had 15 points in the third quarter when the Bulls briefly got within 11 points before Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes all made threes and it was essentially over, Golden State leading 87-63 after three quarters.
“Embarrassing, let go of the rope,” said Rose in offering an old Tom Thibodeau chestnut. “Stopped communicating when we were out there. You could easily tell there was no communication on both sides of the ball. We had a good shootaround, a good practice. Just one of those games, I guess. We’ve got a back to back (Boston/Cleveland) coming up and a chance to redeem ourselves.”
In the long run, it’s not a devastating loss for the Bulls given the way the Cavaliers succumbed to the Warriors, also at home, the Warriors becoming the fifth NBA team to win by at least 30 in consecutive road games. And more impressively against two teams regarded likely among the Eastern Conference’s top four.
But there aren’t excuses for a game like Wednesday’s, which was on national ESPN. Starters Tony Snell, Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol, the latter uncharacteristically, combined to shoot three of 22 for a total of seven points, one for Gasol. Nikola Mirotic continued on a downward trend, his second game in the last five without a field goal and averaging 6.6 points in that period. Three-point shooters Doug McDermott and Aaron Brooks combined to shoot two of 10, and the Warriors searched them out for mismatches and scores readily.
Though Curry is a remarkable shooter who is on the way to a second consecutive MVP award, it’s not a Warriors team filled with Hall of Fame talents. It’s difficult to project anyone but Curry as a future immortal. But the Warriors have what are both the simple elements for success while being rare.
They are a smart group of players who see mismatches immediately, and take advantage. When the Bulls had Brooks on 6-8 Shaun Livingston, the Warriors went away from their passing game to exploit Brooks and three scores in four possessions. Then when the Bulls reacted to help, which they mostly did little off with the Warriors moving the ball around at a dizzying pace, they fired out to Curry for a three.
Curry, really, didn’t much hurt the Bulls, though he had 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Rose, who reacts well to challenges against top players, had the edge early as Curry couldn’t control him. Rose made five of six driving scores in those first six minutes. It was 13-12 Warriors even with his good start when he went out. It was 34-18 Warriors when Rose returned.
But this wasn’t so much about any matchup between top players.
The Bulls don’t recognize those matchups very well, and when the Warriors in the first half mostly had Draymond Green with about a six-inch deficit on Gasol, the Bulls failed to take advantage.
“I wish I could have gotten closer to the basket and taken advantage when they put a four on me,” said Gasol. “They play at a high pace. If you try to play the same pace, at their pace, you shoot yourself in the foot. I think that’s what we did a little bit in the first quarter, tried to play at the same pace, that style. We didn’t make them pay for the lineups that had. They are a great team, confident; they play together and do a great job, 38 assists, unselfish and play for each other.”
The Warriors also do what the Bulls—and, really, many teams–talk about.
On their high pick and roll, essentially the standard NBA play, they’ll hit the roll man, who often is Green. But it could be Barnes or Livingston or Andre Iguodala the way so many of their players can pass the ball. The Bulls and most teams when they run the pick and roll try to draw a double team to one man and then pass to the open man. That’s a staple play for the Bulls, like the Rose pass to Gasol on a pop out.
When the Warriors do it, the roll man or even if he pops out will then pass to the corner, where if the shot is not wide open passes to the wing, then cross court to the opposite wing, then maybe to the corner, or back for a ball reversal. There are five or six passes to most teams’ one or maybe two.
“They play like every other team in the league that plays an uptempo game,” said Rose. “But the personnel is different. You can tell everyone on that team is clicking, is locked in.”
Yes, you need the players who can make plays, run offense, think fast; not only play unselfishly, but trust your teammate that either he’ll make the right play or get it back to you. It’s what everyone talks about, but the Warriors are one of the few who make it work.
It’s a delight to see unless, of course, as Hoiberg says, you have to try to defend it.
The Bulls switch on defense often, which is the best response for the pick and roll. But you risk mismatches. Though not physically large or mean spirited tough, the Warriors have size across the lineup to accommodate the switches without those weak defenders who can be picked on.
Butler talked about the lack of defense, which he pretty much always does after a loss. Rose talked about a lack of communication, another favorite mantra. It’s not that difficult to match talent with the Warriors. Players like Iguodala, Livingston and Leandro Barbosa, the core of their bench, have been traded or dumped many times. Andrew Bogut has long been an underachiever, though he was dominant Wednesday on the offensive boards, more active chasing balls out of bounds than he was in six combined seasons in Milwaukee. Winning and playing with players who are so unselfish can light a fire even under guys who never seemed to even like basketball.
Green was a second round draft pick; yes, every team didn’t want him. Barnes was supposed to be too soft for serious play, and Klay Thompson, who added 20 points, almost was traded for Kevin Love before basically the entire coaching staff threatened to quit. Or at least cut their wine and cheese breaks in half.
This isn’t exactly the 60s Celtics, though they kind of play that way with speed, passing, attacking the defense in basically every possession, understanding what Red Auerbach did 50 years ago, perhaps even Indiana’s Branch McCracken with his Hurrin’ Hoosiers before that. You run it at them as fast as you can and make them respond.
Get the ball out and up court quickly, like the Warriors did late in the third quarter with an outlet at halfcourt to Barbosa who then underhanded a lob that Iguodala dunked.
“It’s hard to talk when your defense is not set and they do a good job pushing the ball,” said Gasol. “They do a good job picking the ball up and playing at a high pace and we are not back. There’s really nobody to communicate to.”
Yes, no sense calling for help if no one is there.
The Bulls got some offense from Bobby Portis with 16 points and eight rebounds, though he also was lost on defense, allowing his man inside for scores on several inbounds plays and looking at teammates blankly after they stared at him with the, “Hello, where’s the help?” look. He’s a rookie who hasn’t played much. Good excuse. Less so for Mirotic and McDermott, and, well, pretty much everyone as Butler also had his share of miscues being lost or ball watching while someone snuck in behind.
“Wide open shots in transition, getting to the cup with ease. We have to buy into guarding and helping each other guard,” said Butler. They have a lot of guys who can score the ball, pass, guard. When you don’t play good basketball any matchup is difficult in this league. When we’re not guarding I don’t think we are a very good team. It just shows how bad we can be if we don’t guard, don’t talk, don’t help each other on both ends of the floor. You never want to play like that.”
The Bulls are done with the Warriors for the season, and, hey, there’s no guarantee the Warriors will beat the Spurs in the playoffs. The Bulls already have a 1-0 lead over San Antonio.
So you’re saying there’s a chance to win the championship?
Well, maybe not the way it went Wednesday./p>
The Warriors closed the first quarter after Rose went out on a 23-5 run. Rose returned to start the second quarter and scored three straight baskets, but then left early again.
“I have to work on my conditioning, just wind,” said Rose. “Conditioning, I have to build it back up. (Chasing) Steph alone does that. My wind will come the more I play.”
Though when Rose left in the second quarter, the Bulls were trailing 47-28 (he had 16 of the points). But this time Hoiberg couldn’t afford to leave him out for long. Rose came back two minutes later and made a three-point play on a twisting drive with multiple fakes and shakes. Then the Warriors simply shrugged and got Bogut dunking on a beautiful handoff from Curry.
“He (Rose) played well, obviously,” said Curry. “He made some great shots in the first quarter, which kept them going. He was obviously very explosive. He made a lot of shots out of the gate. But that’s all right. Because at some point we made it tough on him. We were able to knock down our open shots, build some momentum and it was a fun game for us.”
Both teams got a little scare late in the second quarter when Rose chasing out to run Curry off the three-point line was pushed from behind by Brooks. Rose then took out Curry like a football tackle, but both played on. Green went out for a while after an accidental shot in the face from Gibson, but also returned. Though it didn’t much matter as Golden State, 39-4, moved seamlessly from one rotation to the next, movement, cutting, good shots, hustling back on defense, the right stuff.
“They force you to play at a different pace and rhythm,” said Gasol “I’d say 95 percent of the teams are not used to that pace, so they get you out of your comfort zone, out of rhythm. They put lineups out there that make you adjust your lineups instead of the other way around and they have really good players who fit extremely well to what they are doing.
“They are on track (for 73 wins),” said Gasol. “Will it be hard? For sure. They have a long way to go, but they are on track and I think they are playing the best basketball right now; their personnel, how they play together, how they move the ball and the weapons they have out there. They play the perfect style for their roster.”
It’s what the Bulls are working on with 41 games to go.