The Bulls were feeling the Holiday spirit, Justin style. Unfortunately, it evolved into stagnation and frustration with their own Black Friday when the Bulls went broke in a disastrous second quarter and, despite a plucky comeback, lost 103-96 to the Miami Heat.
The Bulls after trailing 28-26 in the first quarter, despite a 10-4 start, were outscored 32-13 in the second quarter, missing 17 of 19 shots and 11 straight to start the quarter. That enabled a formerly slumping Miami team with a 20-4 run to lead by 26 points before settling for a 60-39 halftime edge. The Bulls would get within four points several times in the fourth quarter. But Miami's Josh Richardson with three straight jumpers matched Bulls scores, and the Bulls couldn't get closer.
Richardson had 27 points for Miami, now 7-11. The Bulls led by Justin Holiday with 27 points and Zach LaVine with 24 dropped to 5-14. The Bulls are in Minnesota Saturday night to play the Timberwolves with the rejuvenated Derrick Rose, and fellow former Bulls Taj Gibson and Luol Deng and coach Tom Thibodeau.
"One of those times where we have lows again, which is one of our biggest problems," said Holiday, who barely missed a career high in points and had a career high 13 rebounds and three steals. "The thing that we show is if we play hard regardless of the shots going in or not, getting stops and running the floor hard, bringing energy and effort, that's what we can possibly do. We continue to show what we are capable of doing, but at the same time we (show) we are capable of doing (poorly) as well."
It was a disappointing result complicated once again by early foul trouble for rookie center Wendell Carter Jr, who fouled out in 13 minutes. It proved critical and fatal for the Bulls with Carter unable to play in the fourth quarter when Richardson was dropping a run of jumpers. The Bulls are able to blitz shooters like Richardson off pick and roll with Carter. Robin Lopez was the only player off the bench with a field goal, but he is weak in defensive rotation. Cristiano Felicio, who was helpful in blitz coverage in the Wednesday victory over the Suns, was benched after being one of the prime culprits during the second quarter breakdown. Felico repeatedly threw balls out of bounds to no one and failed to look up rolling to the basket, causing more turnovers credited to others.
So the Bulls relied on LaVine, whose third quarter scoring boost began the comeback, and Jabari Parker with 17 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter after a miserable start of zero for eight shooting in the first half. But with Parker dominating the ball late, the Bulls ended up overlooking Holiday down the stretch despite his inspired shooting. Holiday didn't attempt a field goal after the third quarter.
Which is what he meant about what the team is capable of doing both good and bad.
Though Holiday also insisted his teammates made the right plays in the fourth quarter.
"Obviously, the way I play the game, without my teammates it wouldn't have been possible the way guys screen for me, the way Zach got the ball for me," said Holiday. "It happened to drop tonight, and hopefully it continues to drop for the rest of my life. I did what I was supposed to do (in the fourth quarter); me being out there helps. When I am shooting the ball like that they are not leaving me; it's just how the game went."
Just not good enough with—spoiler alert, injury excuse coming here—still so many principal players unavailable. Rookie Chandler Hutchison also missed his second straight game with back spasms. They're all active on the bench, into the game, up cheering and engaged when the Bulls made their comeback starting with LaVine's almost solo 15-6 late third quarter run that got the Bulls within 78-69 after three quarters.
"Even though that second quarter was a problem, I thought we did a very good job bringing ourselves back in the game when it didn't seem possible," said Holiday.
Then it was Parker finally awakening offensively and LaVine with two short jumpers to get the Bulls within 87-83 with 6:07 left. But the defense faltered against a hot shooting Richardson without Carter's defensive dexterity. And in their anxiety to make a comeback, as Holiday implied also happens, the Bulls forgo the ball movement for isolation dribble play that makes for more difficult shots. So after a smooth eight assists Wednesday, Parker had one in 39 minutes against the Heat. LaVine continued to respond to the defenses by moving the ball and setting up teammates, often Parker, with a team high nine assists. That would have been even more if not for a few so called hockey assists on additional ball movement earlier.
"The thing that we show is if we play hard regardless of the shots going in or not, getting stops and running the floor hard, bringing energy and effort, that's what we can possibly do." Justin Holiday
Too bad the Bulls had too many stretches of hitting the post, like a dismal two minutes in the midst of that second quarter collapse when in consecutive possessions Parker, Antonio Blakeney and Felicio had shots blocked and then Felicio and Ryan Arcidiacono committed turnovers. Time, time, time. Out!
It also seemed curious with as many times as LaVine drove to the basket he attempted one free throw. That also perhaps contributed to a rare post game decision to avoid interviews. LaVine is by far the most media friendly player, but he obviously feels the frustration of defeat.
"Zach has grown with making the right play," agreed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "Zach had it going a little; we played through him. Justin was demanding a lot of attention with the way he had it going. We cut it down and gave ourselves a chance to win.
But it wasn't enough with Carter expelled with the fouls and the reserves having perhaps their poorest game of the season. The four reserves other than Lopez shot a combined zero for 14. Though the Bulls got back into the game in the third with LaVine's shooting and Shaquille Harrison substituting for Parker and joining Arcidiacono in a harassing backcourt. Unfortunately, neither is a big scorer.
But a bit about Carter. The NBA, obviously, isn't much of a democracy, and free speech certainly isn't in its constitution. So Carter really can't say anything about what is becoming a seemingly apparent rookie hazing.
"I always give credit to the refs," Carter said diplomatically as LaVine, sitting at his nearby locker, warned him about saying too much. "I feel they have the most important job in the game because calls can definitely swing momentum throughout the game. I feel like the refs are human. They are not going to make correct calls all the time. So I have to pick and choose when I should foul, when I shouldn't foul, when I should just let it go. It's a process right now. I feel in the heat of the game they are making the best calls they can make. I don't feel it's rookie calls. I feel it's me learning how to defend and how to do everything without fouling. It's not that I am trying to foul. I am just trying to make a basketball play and it ends up being a foul. Just a little too aggressive and things don't go my way.""
"I've always been more aggressive on the defensive end and sometimes I need to (know) teams are going to score," said Carter. "I'm built where I just don't like other people to score. Something about people scoring (bothers me)."
Yes, the Bulls have someone who thinks that way, and look at his reward.
Fans—well, and players actually more so—are quick to complain about fouls. So it's mostly counterproductive. All that yelling, and someone must commit fouls sometime. Though the Heat Friday were featuring former Bull Dwyane Wade in his last time around season, and his reviews of game films appeared to convince him he never did commit a foul in his career.
Unquestionably, Carter has committed fouls. But the frequency of foul calls again him, especially early in games and for reasonably benign contact, seems to betray an inequity. It also cannot be sending a good message to his teammates that the guy who tries to defend gets punished so frequently.
"I'm built where I just don't like other people to score. Something about people scoring (bothers me)." Wendell Carter, Jr.
"We all have to keep learning why it's happening and try to limit the early foul trouble," said Hoiberg. "Tonight he was playing against obviously one of the more physical true bigs in the league (Hassan Whiteside with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four of Miami's 11 blocks). He got wedged out of there a few times and it caused fouls. This is all a part of the learning experience and a part of the growth for Wendell to learn from situations like this so he can be on the floor longer."
One of the issues with officials in this era that is a little different is the way the league now appears to prevent the officials from engaging in explanation and conversation with players. It's not that players previously liked the officiating. But officials before were able to explain about why they made a particular call and develop a relationship with players. There are still many excellent officials, but as many of the experienced officials have left the game, veterans like Danny Crawford, Joey Crawford, Bob Delaney, Steve Javie, Dick Bavetta and Bennett Salvatore, the newer replacements tend to act more like automatons, apparently under orders. It has reduced the number of technical foul calls, but also seems to have created a communication void between players and officials. Carter seems caught in rookie perdition being unable to determine just what he is doing wrong.
Again, the Bulls did just enough wrong with that one disastrous quarter. It's difficult to avoid the way the team has to go so deep into the bench because of injuries, and Friday with early foul trouble for both Carter and Lopez. It proved too much to overcome.
"That (second quarter) was the difference," said Hoiberg. "It's been a tough quarter for us all year long, and we just didn't have any resiliency to fight in that quarter, guys standing around. We allowed them to take control of the game. I loved the comeback. I loved the energy coming out in the second half. Those guys are over there pulling for each other and I've been really impressed with the way this team does find a way to stick together. That second quarter was a disaster and it was tough to recover from, but everybody was into it. We got back into it, we cut it to four, had a great opportunity. We just didn't have enough to finish it off."