There is a method to that madness that has become Jimmy Butler’s life, the multiple workouts per day, starting basically every morning at 5 and pounding away.
“I want to give us the best chance of winning,” Butler was saying in Oakland late Friday night. “That’s why I train as many times as I train per day, as early as I wake up; to make my body tired and still be able to perform at the highest level.”
Butler did all he could with a decimated backcourt with Derrick Rose out with a sprained ankle and Aaron Brooks with a hamstring strain. Butler in a game high 39 minutes outscored Stephen Curry with 28 points. His nine rebounds matched the Golden State Warriors’ leader. His seven assists were a game high for both teams. But in the end, even with the Bulls trailing 94-91 with under two minutes left after Butler made the Bulls last field goal, it wasn’t enough to subdue the league’s best team as the Warriors finally put the Bulls in their rear view mirror and pulled away to a 106-94 victory.
“First of all, I thought we really competed,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “We battled, battled them the whole game. They made a couple of big plays down the stretch. We couldn’t get it back on the other end. But if we battle like that we’re going to win a lot of basketball games this year. We wanted to hold them to 10 threes or under. We did it. (Harrison) Barnes (with 20 points) hitting the two big ones there at the end (turning a four-point Warriors lead with 1:15 left into doubles figures in seconds). We took care of the ball. We didn’t give them a lot of run outs off of turnovers and that was a big goal of ours as well. We didn’t attack well enough down the stretch. But again, you play with that kind of effort we’re going to be fine.”
Not that anyone accepts the moral victory aspect of almost beating a better team.
The Warriors are certainly that team. Not only are they defending NBA champions, but the victory was their 14th straight to start the season, two wins from the best start in NBA history. They’ve also won 26 straight regular season home games since the Bulls beat them last January.
“They’re good; really good,” Hoiberg offered in his post game understatement when a Golden State media member asked how good they are.
Justifiably, the Bay Area fans and media are thrilled with their team. Local media members constantly are asking opposing players, coaches and media to expand on the team’s greatness.
Thus Hoiberg’s succinct response; yet, there’s little criticism to offer when you haven’t lost.
The Bulls pushed them as close as they have all season, though it doesn’t get you a point like in some sports. The Bulls four-game winning streak ended as the Bulls fell to 8-4. They have a break now until closing this part of the road trip in Portland Tuesday.
But the Bulls were innovative against the Warriors and effective to the degree they were capable in basically being outmanned without Rose and Brooks.
The Bulls got another terrific game from Kirk Hinrich starting for Rose. Though Curry scored 27 points as Hinrich defended him, Curry was not other worldly as he’s been. Curry tied for his second fewest number of three pointers and fourth fewest points in a game this season. Curry also had six turnovers and just four assists as the Bulls unique defensive strategy had the Warriors guessing much of the game. Even Warriors coaches afterward were saying the Bulls technical plan was maybe the best they’d seen this season.
While the Bulls talked about using Butler against Curry, the Bulls instead had Butler against Draymond Green and Hinrich on Curry. The plan was to chase Curry over screens to keep him away from so many three pointers. Plus, the Warriors’ primarily run their pick and roll through Green, which also gave the Bulls the opportunity to switch Butler onto Curry and make him see a physical defender. They also did this when Taj Gibson was in the game against Green. Green had nine points, nine rebounds and five assists, and the Warriors did have 20 fast break points to eight for the Bulls.
But the Bulls also slowed their offense to limit Golden State’s usual large number of possessions and fast shots and limited Golden State’s half court movement defending the ball screens.
But, alas, the Bulls just didn’t have enough offense to match the Warriors in a game where the Warriors’ offense wasn’t dominant.
Nikola Mirotic had his best game in a few weeks with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, though he got forced into some wild shots trying to draw fouls not called. Pau Gasol had 14 points and 10 rebounds, but overall the Bulls failed to take advantage of their size and were outrebounded 49-43 by the smaller Warriors and lost second chance points 15-11.
The Warriors closed with their small group of Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Green and Andre Iguodala that they are giving nicknames like nuclear and knockout punch.
“I think when you look at the plus/minus it’s playing better than any five guys, any type of combination in the league,” said Hoiberg. “It’s a tough, tough lineup. They do a great job switching and making it difficult on the one end. They’ve got five guys they can all guard any position. Then offensively, obviously, they can spread you out, so it’s a tough lineup to play against.”
But it’s also that old chicken/egg debate of which came first. Checkers or chess, the internet or insults?
You don’t want to play the Warriors at their game, which means small. Because their smalls are better than your smalls. So you use your size. But Joakim Noah continues to struggle with his second straight scoreless game and fifth of the season.
“I’m frustrated with the way I’m playing. I have to play better,” said Noah.
Gibson had three points and one rebound in 16 minutes, and Gasol felt the balance of shots could have been different.
“To me right now there is not much balance to getting the ball inside and what we do outside,” said Gasol. “I think that’s something we can improve on.”
But that is part of the riddle because the Bulls are trying to change their game to be more like the Warriors with faster pace and ball movement. It hasn’t worked out quite yet. The defense has remained active to keep the games close, though the rim protection and rebounding positioning on box outs wasn’t very good as well.
“We’re all trying to do our best now to help the team,” said Gasol. “I think we have to work on getting that (inside/outside) balance because I think it will help everyone.”
The Bulls again got off to a fast start with Hinrich pushing the tempo of the offense, taking a 23-12 lead and 29-28 after the first quarter.
“Kirk’s huge,” agreed Butler. “Guarding, making shots. He was one of the leaders out there on the floor tonight. We need that from Kirk whether he’s starting or coming off the bench because him starting out like that, when the bench comes in the game, if Kirk can do it at almost 40 years old I think the young guys can do it (he’s 34).”
The Bulls lost that lead in the first when Hoiberg substituted as the reserves had a rough time, scoreless at halftime in a combined 40 minutes. Plus, Tony Snell was scoreless in 14 first half minutes and ended with just a putback slam dunk in 28 minutes. Snell has scored three points or fewer in four of the last eight games mostly as a starter and is shooting four of 22 the last four games.
It’s becoming too many scoring negatives to overcome, certainly with Rose out. The hope is Rose will play Tuesday in Portland after missing two games.
The reserves’ scoring drought lasted well into the second quarter, though the Bulls defense held off the Warriors like few teams have this season. Then Gasol and Mirotic worked well on several high low and inside passes to beat matchups, though they didn’t occur that often later in the game. Still, it was vital for the Bulls to have Mirotic return to being aggressive on offense.
“Kirk got us off to a great start again,” said Hoiberg. “We had great pace with him. We jumped out to a nine-point lead pretty quickly on them. They closed it on us, but Kirk was out there, he did a good job on Curry. He’s the toughest guard in the game right now, but I thought Kirk did as much as he could to make it tough on him. He got loose a few times. A couple of shots he hit weren’t Kirk’s fault. Great energythere. It was good to see Niko out there playing with the type of confidence that he was. He gave us great effort as well, and then Jimmy did everything for us again.”
The Bulls trailed 50-47 at halftime and then took the lead back late in the third quarter on scoring from Butler and E’Twaun Moore. But again it was the guards dominating the scoring and leaving a void inside where, in theory, the Warriors can be exploited.
“We’ve just got to continue to rebound,” said Butler. “When we rebound we put ourselves in great position. We’ve got to win the 50/50 matchups; can’t leak out on shots They hit a lot of shots off offensive rebounds. I won’t say that’s why we lost this game, but it had something to do with it.”
It looked like the Warriors, coming off a tough game in Los Angeles Thursday, still would take it early in the fourth quarter with an 81-75 lead after it was 77-73 after three. But a Hinrich three (he was three of four on threes and six for eight the last four games), a Gibson tough reverse and another Hinrich three had the game tied at 89 with 5:44 left.
“(The effort has) been really good and that’s what got us four straight wins, is playing with that type of effort,” said Hoiberg. “Again, we had it tonight. We were right there down the stretch. We just didn’t make the necessary plays to get us over the hump and win the game. If we can keep that consistent we’re going to be a good team.”
Then Thompson got the ball to Curry when the Bulls lost yet another loose ball in what seemed like a dozen, and Hinrich did seem to be tiring with almost 35 minutes chasing Curry with a pair of turnovers. But the defense mostly held and when Butler made a faceup jumper with 2:58 left, the game was there to be taken. The Bulls couldn’t make another field goal and the scoreboard looked worse than the effort.
“Nobody’s perfect, to tell you the truth,” said Butler. “I think we had to play really well. I think we did all right. We got away from their shooters at times and they made big shots. That’s what players in this league do. We’ll see them again.”