There were tornados in the Dallas area Saturday night that forced the Bulls game with the Dallas Mavericks to begin 30 minutes late. But inside the American Airlines Center, the dust and debris was from a stormy close to the game that saw the Bulls blown away in the last few minutes with three of four missed shots and three turnovers.
So the Mavericks in a terrific game with 15 lead changes and 11 ties outlasted the Bulls 118-111 after the game was tied with 70 seconds remaining.
“I feel like I lost this game for the team,” said a dejected Derrick Rose, who had 25 points, including nine in the fourth quarter as he matched baskets with the Mavs down the stretch.
But Raymond Felton deflected a Rose pass to Pau Gasol in their favored pick and pop play with the Mavericks ahead 110-108 with 59.9 seconds left. The Mavs scored on the fast break. Then with 11.7 seconds left and the Bulls trailing 114-111 and with no timeouts left, no one much moved on the inbounds and Rose was called for a five-second turnover violation. The Mavs added a pair of free throws and then Jimmy Butler committed the Bulls 18th turnover for 28 points as Chandler Parsons ran down to dunk to get to 20 points.
Hey, they’ll remember that one.
“If anybody it’s on me,” said Butler. “Five turnovers (with 17 points and eight assists). Didn’t make no shots. I didn’t do my job; he did his, tell you the truth. It’s definitely not on him. I can tell you that much. When he’s attacking, being aggressive and getting everyone involved like he did it gives us a great chance to win the game.
“Being aggressive, attacking that rim; he kept us in it,” added Butler. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys. That’s the Derrick everyone wants to see. That’s the Derrick that can take over a game. When he’s playing like that and everyone does their job we win.”
Not this time, though the Bulls were encouraged it may bode well for beyond.
The Bulls had their chances as Rose had a strong game with 25 points, five rebounds and four assists. Nikola Mirotic also had one of his better games of the season with 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Pau Gasol had 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. And Taj Gibson added 12 points and eight rebounds in an active start that got the Bulls off to a favored 12-3 lead.
But the reserves without the injured Joakim Noah and his leadership and passing were outscored by Dallas’ 36-16. More problematic, however, was a brutally poor effort on the boards. The Mavericks, one of the league’s poorer rebounding teams, had 16 offensive rebounds for 30 second chance points. They also had 17 fast break points, the 28 points off turnovers and 16 of 33 three pointers with leading scorer J.J. Barea making seven of eight for 26 points.
“They hurt us on the glass,” agreed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “They scored 30 second chance points. You can’t do that. That leads to those open kick out threes. We got off to another great start. Pace was good; it’s where we wanted it. Barea obviously had it going tonight. They hit 16 threes, which in the game plan is what we talked about trying to take away. As far as competing, yes, I liked how we went out and competed. But we just couldn’t slow them down on the outside. It starts with going out and getting after it and that’s what I felt we did these last two games.
So the Bulls return to the United Center Monday against Atlantic Division leader Toronto. The Bulls fell to 16-12, a game and a half behind the Raptors in the East. The Bulls now are 7-8 against Eastern teams and 9-4 against Western Conference teams. But in splitting this Western Conference back to back with two spirited, if not ideal, efforts the Bulls seem to have regained some of the confidence and purpose that led to a sudden few days of soul searching.
That began a week ago Saturday following the four-overtime Detroit loss, the loss in New York and Butler’s comments questioning Hoiberg’s methods. It led to a debate on the coach and players and their engagement. Then to player meetings, coach meetings, management meetings and enough sessions there was an invitation from the UN for auxiliary membership.
Then the Bulls among the Christmas Day players delivered one of their best shows of the season with a convincing wire-to-wire victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Bulls then traveled the approximately 200 miles to Dallas, where frightening weather in the area produced a rare advisory from the league office to delay the start of the game.
It was the Bulls who stormed into the lead.
The Mavericks were without injured starting point guard Deron Williams, and the outside hope was they could take advantage of the Mavericks’ smaller backcourt with Devin Harris limited. It would seem so to start as the Mavs tried to hide Barea on the lately slumping Mirotic. But the insult, if you will, of the five-nothing Barea on Mirotic seemed to provoke the Bulls forward. Along with Gibson, Mirotic scored early and the Mavs went into a quick timeout trailing 12-3 to get Parsons in the game.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is one of the best and a master of producing mismatches. His players are thus well schooled and have the advantage of the intelligent Dirk Nowitzki, who in his 18th season and just moving into sixth all time in NBA scoring continues to play at an All-Star level. It’s a major reason why the Mavs are a surprising 17-13 after major offseason turnover.
The Mavs immediately went into pick and roll with Gasol. Zaza Pachulia is a physical screener. He blew out Rose and Barea got open for threes as the Mavs closed the first quarter with a 10-0 run for a 33-26 lead. It would be an unpleasant harbinger for the Bulls, who were outscored at the end of every quarter (10-0, 7-0, 3-0 and 7-0).
The Bulls tried Butler on Barea to start the second half. But the Bulls curiously switched just about every time instead of Butler fighting over screens to stay with Barea. That left Gibson chasing out to Barea, who hit two three pointers early in the third quarter to give the Mavs their biggest lead of the game at 75-66.
The Bulls recovered quickly after that late first quarter meltdown that came with three Bobby Portis turnovers in four possessions. Butler was credited for another when Portis just moved away from a short pass and it went out of bounds. It’s likely why Portis didn’t play much after the first quarter, finishing with two points and four turnovers (really five) in 10 minutes. He hustles and works at it, but it’s too much to ask a rookie to be the symbol of the team’s hustle. That’s where the Bulls missed Noah as the second unit without his steadying hand has suffered the last two games, leaving it to the starters.
It has perhaps most hurt Doug McDermott, who without Noah and not playing with the starters is having trouble even getting a look at an open shot. McDermott accounted for seven straight Bulls points to open the second quarter. Then he didn’t get a shot the last 33 minutes of the game. And that’s after he even had a block to start the Bulls 11-2 open to the second quarter.
Mirotic was finding a comfort zone with his shot with quick catches and shots, and not way behind the line. And Rose gave a glimpse of his late scoring with three late baskets for a 60-52 lead before the Mavs closed fast to trail 60-59 at halftime.
It was a revealing sequence, as was Rose’s scoring in the fourth as well.
There were several possessions where Butler isolating on the fast closing Mavs was caught and threw the ball back to Rose with a few seconds on the shot clock. Rose still scored on several of those possessions. Though Rose had to force a 20 footer with one second on the shot clock and the game tied at 108 when Gasol spun and moved and couldn’t get a shot off and threw it back to Rose.
Rose still even without his explosive elevation is the team’s best with quickness. It’s why he and Butler can be a magnificent pair. Butler can run over guards and get to the free throw line with his power. He also dunked a back door pass from Gasol in a play the Bulls have run well almost every game. But Butler often gets tied up with the ball when the defense helps. It’s why he’d be so much more effective getting out in front of the play, like he did late in the third quarter when Mirotic rebounded a miss and Rose threw 50 feet ahead to Butler for a three-point play and tie at 82.
It’s what Hoiberg has talked about since his introductory press conference, though much more difficult to sustain. Butler has turned himself into an impressive scorer, but he has to work so hard for his points and shots. That he makes them is a credit to him, especially without much three-point effectiveness. He’s shooting 32.6 percent on threes this season, among the league’s lowest at his position, and 33 percent for his career.
Plus, Butler plays more than any other Bull, second most minutes per game in the league to James Harden. Who we know only plays in the 47-foot offensive side. As strong as Butler is and as relentlessly as he works, it cannot bode well for late in the season that he also has to work so hard for his points. It’s been Hoiberg’s point about points. Get out and run. But it’s still coming slowly.
Of course, you also have to rebound, and the Bulls did a poor job Saturday. Again, the loss of Noah even averaging three or four points showed there. Noah stops those opponent offensive rebounding bonanzas. No one from the bench could help this time. Hoiberg even tried Cameron Bairstow to no avail.
The Mavs chewed up Butler and Gibson to start the third quarter in that pick and roll with Barea and Nowitzki. But Rose and Gasol connecting with Butler gave the Bulls life. Mirotic got a pair of blocks on one possession and the Bulls scored on 10 off 11 late third quarter possessions to take a brief lead before the Mavs went into the fourth ahead 90-89.
It was another coach DNP for Tony Snell, his second in three games and nine minutes total in those three. It’s not as easy as it sounds with more good players. LeBron James after the Cavaliers loss to the Warriors on Christmas Day seemed to complain about the coaching with their players all available now and uncertainty about roles and rotations, and that the coach has to make that clear and take charge. Sounds familiar.
But the Bulls have looked more enthused for a variety of reasons.
“Lots of positives,” said Butler. “We definitely competed from start to finish. We’ll learn from this tough one after playing like we did last night, but that’s why we have 82 of them.”
It was impressive if maybe not vintage Rose late with a variety of inside scores: A baseline floater, a tough drive and up left handed for a three-point play, a pull up 20 footer. Rose was matching Mavs scores while Marquette’s own Wesley Matthews was doing to Butler what Butler usually does to others with smothering, bothersome defense.
“Derrick, I thought, was terrific in the high screen and roll all game long and unfortunately that late one was a tough play,” said Hoiberg of the intercepted pass to Gasol. “Derrick made the right read. Pau popped; he was open at the free throw line. We just didn’t complete the play.”
“It’s got to be a better pass,” corrected Rose.
Rose was aggressive throughout and it was almost enough in what would have been a sweet sweep. It looked over, however, when the Mavs took a 114-108 lead with 38.9 seconds left. But Butler bounced in a three pointer four seconds later and there was hope. Nowitzki missed a three with 12.9 seconds left and there was a Bulls chance to tie. Were the Mavs going to foul?
No one had to ask.
The Bulls set up for what looked like an inbounds play for Butler over a Gasol screen. McDermott was in the right corner in a stack with Butler. McDermott came over a Mirotic weak side screen as Mirotic replaced him in the right corner. Rose was inbounding on the left side in front of the scorers’ table. McDermott curled toward the ball with Harris trailing. But McDermott never opened up for the pass as he crashed into Gasol, who was guarded by Pachulia. Pachulia plays like a football lineman holding on most every possession. Pachuilia had Gasol’s jersey in the back as Gasol tried to cross the lane to set the screen. But he was slow first after being hit by McDermott and then slow to get there with Pachulia hanging on. Butler was holding up until Gasol got in place at the right elbow. By the time Butler started to come to the ball, the official whistled for the five-second violation.
“I’m more mad we lost and more mad I was the reason,” said Rose. “We competed and came out and played hard. We had the lead, were up by 10 or 12 and we have to find a way to win games like that and bury teams. I think I let (that inbounds) pass go when he said four. It was his call; nothing I can do about a referee making a call.”
All they can do is play, and if they play the way they did the last few games there won’t be any need for more meetings.
“We don’t really point fingers,” said Gibson. “Everybody is accountable. We all could have done something or one or two things better that would have helped us win the game. Derrick is a leader and that’s what leaders do, take the blame for tough games. But we are a family. We just came up short. I felt Derrick played great; couple of tough plays late. But as long as guys keep playing with that edge and same fire we should be fine.”