It didn't take long for the Bulls to fall apart. I'm not just talking about the five-game losing streak that has dropped them from the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference (a half game out out of fifth) on Feb. 26 to entirely out of the playoffs at this moment, but the way they unraveled in Tuesday's 132-108 loss to the Utah Jazz.
This was a game that was 77-77 with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter before the Jazz went on a 13-1 run.
Still, an inspired start to the fourth quarter had pulled the Bulls back within six. And that was when Vinny Del Decisione Discutibile dropped a deuce on his team's chances, ultimately leading to the Jazz scoring 11 straight points in the fourth quarter..
Here were the Bulls' possessions to open the fourth quarter:
|Hakim Warrick 3-point play*|
|James Johnson dunk|
|Jannero Pargo misses 3|
|James Johnson draws shooting foul|
* This was another one of Warrick's plastic-man dunks, and it really seemed to get both the crowd and the team back into it. Watching Warrick go over two guys to throw it down from a pretty good distance, I decided that he has to possess the most inexplicable physical gifts of all time. It's a sort of awkward athleticism, or perhaps an athletic awkwardness, I don't know. He just doesn't look very coordinated or explosive, and yet he's able to pull off these unbelievable dunks. I really have no idea how to describe it, other than that he appears to have limitations that would make such feats impossible.
At this point in the quarter, Warrick had both of the Bulls defensive rebounds, and a lone C.J. Miles free throw was Utah's only point. After Johnson missed his first foul shot, Vinny must've said to himself, "You know what, we might be building some momentum here -- I better do something!" and so in came Brad Miller. For Warrick, who to that point had been the most productive player on the floor.
Basic Coaching 101: When you have a lineup that's working, you shouldn't do anything until it no longer is. You have to ride it out as long as possible, especially when your team as a whole has been struggling so badly. And even if Vinny for some reason felt like he just had to get Brad Miller in there, why take out Warrick when Chris Richard -- who the organization didn't even deem worthy of a roster spot just two weeks ago -- was still in the game? Look at their respective lines:
I've been critical of Warrick's play of late, but this was a game where his production demanded more minutes. (And Richard's less, for that matter.) On the ensuing possession, Richard committed a foul on Mehmet Okur, not surprising as it was somehow his third personal in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, which showed an admirable level of determination to singlehandedly put the Jazz into the bonus as quickly as possible. At that point, Vinny Del Allenatore Orribile mercifully decided to pull Richard from the game.
But instead of bringing Warrick back, he went to Taj Gibson.
It's worth noting that the foul-prone rookie had already picked up five personals (in just 12 minutes), and was now being re-inserted into the game with over 10 minutes to play. Predictably, It took Gibson just 39 seconds to draw his sixth foul. Although I should mention that he did do so with inexcusable flair.
I don't want to turn this into yet another Taj-Tyrus comp, but for all the talk of Tyrus Thomas' low basketball IQ, I feel like Gibson gets a free pass for his frequent stupid fouls. And what Gibson did in fouling out went beyond stupid. It's a horrible play to foul a 3-point shooter under any circumstances, but for Gibson to leave his feet after an Okur ball fake when he already had five fouls was the definition of a rookie mistake. And knowing Taj was having one of his foul-fest games, why did Vinny go back to him so early in the fourth quarter, especially with Warrick playing so well?
With Gibson now out, Vinny still didn't bring Warrick back -- at this point I was extracting pieces of my remote from my bedroom wall -- and instead turned to a gimpy Luol Deng, who'd earlier added a calf injury to his long list of ailments. But I suppose when you're second-best player's already out, why not risk losing your #3 for a prolonged period of time too?
With 8:33 remaining and the Bulls trailing 99-91, it became clear that Deng couldn't continue, and yet Vinny still gave Warrick the Tyrus Treatment™ and opted to sent Kirk Hinrich in. I had already begun furiously composing this section.
Finally, at 102-91 with 7:45 left, Vinny re-inserted Warrick, but did so at the expense of James Johnson, who was one of the few players on the Bulls showing any sort of pulse.
Before that, I'd been happy to see James Johnson get some quality fourth-quarter minutes. I even liked the play on which he got called for goaltending, which looked a little questionable (the ball might've been at its peak, not coming down). And so I was disappointed to see Vinny yank him after a sequence in which he missed a tip-dunk and then committed a frustration foul in the back court, if only because he'd been so active. Given that the Bulls were (once again) getting killed on the boards, Johnson should have been left in and Hinrich pulled instead.
And somehow, my rage over Vinny's substitutions still had not yet reached its apex.
That would come with 3:26 remaining, when down 120-106, Vinny threw in the towel (Acie Law) and removed Derrick Rose from the game. Yes, the Bulls were down by 14, but there's three-and-a-half minutes remaining. While a comeback is highly unlikely, that's still an eternity in the NBA. During the stoppage of play when Rose was removed, the Bulls were facing a jumpball. Let's say they had gained possession, then sandwiched back-to-back 3s around a defensive stop (and I'm aware of the improbability of that last part alone); now you're down by eight with just under 3 minutes left, which means you've got a real chance. So why are you telling your team that the game is over, when two plays can put you right back into it? This isn't a veteran group that needs to save their legs for the playoffs. This is a young team whose playoffs are right now, a group that hadn't played in three days and has a day off tomorrow. Why just say, We give up when the outcome is still, however slightly, in doubt? I cannot think of a worse message for a coach to send to a young team fighting to stay in the postseason picture.
Not surprisingly, the remaining Bulls displayed no effort the rest of the way, allowing the final nine points of that 11-0 run which made the game seem like much more of a blowout than it was. And once again the coach proved himself to be Vinny Del Sopra La Sua Testa.
A few more notes on the game:
1. After running a layup drill in the third quarter (nine by my count), the Jazz -- or more specifically, CJ Miles -- went on a 3-point tear in the fourth, as Miles buried four in the period including three in a two-minute stretch to keep the Bulls at bay. Miles' display once more put a spotlight on Chicago's dirty little secret: Derrick Rose is still a lousy defender, and isn't really committed at all on that end. Rose had one of the best all-around offensive games of his career, but was a total sieve defensively, and was late getting a hand in Miles' face on several occasions.
Much to my surprise, at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter, Stacey King actually pointed this out:
"The one thing Derrick Rose's game that I'd like to see better [alright, perhaps it wasn't the height of silver-tongued allocution, but stick with it] is his on-the-ball defense. I think watching Deron Williams, and seeing how he approaches the game defensively, I can see Derrick Rose being that type of player defensively. Because he's too good of an athlete, and that's the one part of his game you'd like to see him improve on, and I thought he's gotten better from his first year. He's still got a lot of work to do on that on-the-ball defense. ...
His game is evolving: the jumpshot now is falling. A lot of people said he couldn't shoot the basketball, he's showing he can shoot the basketball now. Teams are no longer able to go underneath the pick and roll and allow him to take that little 18-foot jumpshot, he's making them pay. Now the next step for his game to evolve is to be a very good on-the-ball defender, because he's big, he's strong, he's athletic, and watching a guy like Deron Williams and how he approaches the game, and fights over the screens, Derrick can be that same type of player on the defensive end, and I think he will get there."
Of course later, when Rose sat down for good, King added:
"You know what? Derrick did all he could do. I mean, 25 points, 13 assists."
Uh, didn't you just allude to the fact that he could've done a little something on defense? Like, I don't know, playing some?
2. The Jazz' Wes Matthews had an extremely productive first quarter, during which I heard his name so much I started looking for Ennis Whatley to come in and replace him (kids, ask your parents to explain).
3. Utah's 13-0 run was highlighted by an impressive dunk by Williams over a stunned Rose. I knew Williams was a great player, but I didn't know he was that kind of athlete. Neither did Rose, apparently, as it looked like he didn't really jump his highest. That did, however, result in him getting a very good view of an opposing point guard making the type of explosive play that has become his calling card.