There are certain numbers in sports you don’t forget.
There’s 100 for basketball, 714, 56 and 60 in baseball, and also 42. Obviously, 23 in the NBA and 99 in hockey. And now 67.5 for the Bulls, which was the historic shooting percentage they gave up Tuesday in a 129-111 loss to the Miami Heat.
It not only was the best shooting percentage in Miami history, but the worst in Bulls franchise history. It was the best in the NBA this season, and, in fact, no NBA team has shot better in a regular season game in 18 years.
“They pretty much picked us apart and got a lot of shots they wanted to get,” agreed Pau Gasol. “Just got to do a better job defensively of getting into bodies, forcing the passes to the weak side instead of the guy rolling down the lane. We have to start hitting bodies and being a lot (better) defensively because, again, a team that has 67 percent shooting from the field; that’s pretty outrageous.”
Many say they come to NBA games to see something they never have before; and that would qualify as the Heat kept pouring it on and actually getting better. They shot 87.5 percent in the fourth quarter as the Bulls did make a bit of a run, cutting a 19-point deficit with 9:19 left down to 108-102 with 5:14 left.
“When we had our run we got aggressive, got into the ball and that’s where it starts,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “Something we talk about every day is getting into the ball; we changed our coverage a little bit where we were trapping them and that seemed to get us going a little bit.”
But Miami subbed back in Joe Johnson, who had Bulls players bouncing off him like bullets off Superman as he scored 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting. They also hustled back in Goran Dragic, who had 17 points and 11 assists. And with Hassan Whiteside with 26 points and 14 rebounds and Luol Deng with 20 and Dwyane Wade with 18, the Heat shrugged off the Bulls with an 8-0 run in the next minute and a half and the Heat pulled away from there.
So, yes, the Bulls showed fight, if not efficiency. But consider that while the Heat were putting out savvy veterans and an explosive youngster like Whiteside, the Bulls were trying to stop them with Bobby Portis, Justin Holiday, Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott.
Remember, Joakim Noah, the team’s best defensive big man, is out for the season. Jimmy Butler, the team’s top defender, remains out and now has played fewer games than Derrick Rose, who returned from missing three games with a hamstring problem and led the Bulls with 17 points in 24 minutes. The Bulls hope to have Butler back within a week from a knee injury. Plus, the Bulls Tuesday lost Taj Gibson, their second best defensive big man, to a hamstring injury early in the third quarter when the teams had come off a rollicking 65-62 first half and the Bulls still were trailing just 75-69.
“A lot was them making shots,” agreed Hoiberg. “But a lot of that had to do with our lack of toughness, lack of feeling us out there. We had that one run, cut that thing back to six after getting down 19 where we were out there and being aggressive and that’s got to be our mindset going into every game. (We) give up 36 in the first quarter; that sets the tone for them, they’re confident. You have to find a way to get some, I keep saying this, grit, toughness, determination, nastiness; we just didn’t come out of the gate with the right mindset.”
Hoiberg’s plea is understandable, but it’s no coincidence the Bulls were one of the league’s better defensive teams the first 35 games, giving up fewer than 100 points per game and 41.6 percent shooting. Since then, which coincides with Noah’s shoulder injuries, the Bulls have given up more than 105 points per game on about 46 percent shooting.
“When a team scores 129 points, 130 points on you, yes defense,” said Rose. “They had 70 some points in the paint (74); can’t expect to win playing like that. Wasn’t able to get in a rhythm taking the ball out of the net; wasn’t able to run. I think they shot 60 some percent throughout the whole game; you can’t expect to win when you are taking the ball out the net and their defense is set.
As an aside to the math majors, Miami had one of the season’s biggest offensive games making just six of 12 threes. That’s how the 60s Celtics did it; push and run into layups, take good mid range shots. You can score big that way, too. Though you don’t always find the Bulls defense to play against.
“No excuses,” said Rose, who was explosive and pushing the ball hard. “We’ve got to figure it out pretty soon.”
Because it could be a short season otherwise as the Bulls fell to 30-29, but more significantly to ninth in the Eastern Conference and just a game ahead of 10th place Washington. The Bulls are in Orlando Wednesday.
“We’ve been talking about (the standings) for the last couple of weeks,” Rose acknowledged. “Knowing we were going to be in this position if we continued to lose. I’m just wondering when we are going to say it’s enough.”
Hoiberg keeps emphasizing toughness and determination, making a defensive stand and putting forth a physical effort. But sometimes you have to face the reality of who you are. You can swing from the heels, but if you are 5-5 and weigh 125 pounds you’re probably not setting home run records. Sometimes it’s OK to bunt if that’s your best chance.
And with this Bulls team it appears, especially without Noah, Butler and who knows how long without Gibson now, they’re going to have to outscore teams. It’s likely to keep active that current streak of giving up at least 100 points in 14 straight games.
The Bulls have talented players, and they have a coach who is more offensive oriented. Hoiberg can demand and teach defense, but with constantly changing rotations due to injury, it’s difficult to count on help defense. The Bulls’ is fairly awful.
But more significantly, their players, at least the healthy ones of late, mostly are in the NBA because of their scoring. You may want a bull, but if it quacks like a duck, put it in the water.
That was fairly tortured, you know, like the Bulls defense.
Although it may be time to stop blaming it so much because even though the team may want it to improve, it’s not likely to, especially without the personnel. Gibson will be reevaluated Wednesday, though he left the locker room without limping.
As opposed to the Bulls, however, who staggered out of Miami with that historic loss.
“We play harder defensively in our practices,” lamented Hoiberg “We’ve got to carry that over into the game. We seem to get deflated when the adversity hits us, when things go well for the other team. For whatever reason, we don’t get tougher in those stretches and that’s what you have to do when adversity hits. I don’t think there’s a lack of fight; it has to be a full 48-minute effort. That’s been an issue for our team all year long.”
This was a high octane sprint car race to start with Miami zooming out to a 36-30 first quarter lead.
It truly was entertaining to watch as Gasol opened scoring at will over Deng in a curious matchup for the Heat. But with Chris Bosh out with a blood clot issue again, the Heat have accelerated their game behind Dragic, who swept easily past the Bulls. Deng seems revitalized playing power forward for Miami, Wade was lively and Johnson was a terrific addition after a buyout in Brooklyn.
The Heat, a deliberate team winning championships with LeBron James, were firing up court. Though the Bulls with Rose’s speed were matching them. Rose returned early in the second quarter when Miami opened up a 43-34 lead and with Gibson powering inside over Deng, the Bulls were managing the shootout, trailing by three at halftime.
Perhaps just let them try to outscore the opposition, as much as that’s anathema to coaches. It’s probably who they are, especially without Butler and Noah.
“I think anyone is capable of being more physical,” insisted Gasol. “Even if you pick up fouls by trying to do that. At the end of day we are playing with a lot of guys who don’t have a lot of experience at this point; we have to set the tone early and didn’t. We were just interchanging baskets early on. They got comfortable. We made a run in the second quarter, cut it to three. They got their run in the third and kind of broke the game open. Again, they played way too comfortable throughout and that’s something we have to change.”
The Heat opened the second half still making shots, but so were the Bulls, matching them shot for shot with a Rose drive, Mike Dunleavy three and Gasol hook over Deng. But when Gibson went up with some uncertainty and was blocked by Amar’e Stoudemire with 9:06 in the third, Gibson felt a twinge.
When he pushed off to go up on his dunk he felt a little tweak back there,” said Hoiberg. “He’ll get treatment and we’ll have a better idea tomorrow.”
It was then the Bulls lost control as Johnson ran down court into a three and began just taking Bulls guards into the paint with ease. Rose answered with a three, but the walls were falling around him as the Heat bolted ahead by 17 and 95-82 going into the fourth quarter.
“I liked Derrick’s push initially when he was out there getting it down the floor,” said Hoiberg “We scored 30 in the first quarter; we scored 111. You should win a game when you score 111 points.”
The Bulls should win a lot more games if they can continue that. But they may be looking for something that’s no longer there with defensive stands.
“That’s everybody’s goal, to make the playoffs,” said Rose. “Just have to go out and continue to compete. I think guys are coming in with the same mindset of trying to win; it’s just we can’t figure it out while we are out there.
“It’s defense,” said Rose. “Our defense should be able to get us into the open court. But tonight we shot a lot of contested shots while they were getting layups and floaters and tip ins in the paint.”</o<
Seventy-four in there in another of those forgettable numbers that become difficult to forget. It just may be time to shoot, baby shoot. And see where it leads.