Beaten and broken down.
That's how I feel after the Bulls' 79-74 loss the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center on Tuesday night.
Knowing Toronto had already lost, the Bulls blew a chance to pull even in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth; with the Raptors owning the tiebreaker, the Bulls just can't afford to miss opportunities like this one. And yet they did, meekly succumbing to an inspired group from Milwaukee.
The reasons to be bummed out by the outcome are almost innumerable. But not quite, as I'm taking it upon myself to examine some of the critical numbers from yet another painful loss:
7: Bulls turnovers in an otherwise very good first quarter that ended with them leading 27-14. The carelessness was indicative of a team playing without a sense of urgency; despite everything at stake, the Bulls couldn't match Milwaukee's intensity and focus, and were completely out-worked by the Bucks, whose playoff berth was all but assured coming in and therefore had very little left to play for.
5: Bulls reserves on the court to start the second quarter. At a time when the team is healthy and in the homestretch of the regular season and most coaches would be shortening their rotation, Vinny Del Negro emptied his bench to start the second quarter. The unit immediately let the Bucks back into the game, giving them a glimmer of hope when the Bulls should have been putting their foot on their throats.
A) Assists by Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich also shot 4-for-16 (1-for-6 on 3s), had two rebounds, one steal, no blocks, and didn't get to the free-throw line in a 44-minute stint highlighted by nine points. Unfortunately, his atrocious performance was nearly matched by Luol Deng. Sure, Deng had a double-double, but he required 17 shots to get 16 points, had just one assist as he consistently tried to go one-on-one, and played listlessly throughout, missing a number of easy buckets and getting toasted by former Bull John Salmons defensively.
B) Minutes played by the Bucks best player, Andrew Bogut. I told my friend Art before the game that I'd be more confident if Bogut -- out with a grotesquely-injured elbow -- was playing, because Scott Skiles is such a good coach that he no doubt would use it to get his troops fired up for the game, and would be completely unwilling to acccept the injury as an excuse for poor play. You know, unlike the Bulls did when Joakim Noah was out.
7,000,000: The approximate number of dollars the Bulls paid to Skiles through last season to NOT be their coach.
11: Bulls free throw attempts. Despite Bogut's absence in the middle, the Bulls continually settled for outside shots instead of trying to get to the rim.
36.2: The Bulls field goal percentage -- thanks to all those jumpers -- after a hot first quarter (11-for-16, 68.8%).
I suppose you could argue that it's an unfair comparison, given that Salmons played 44 minutes while Warrick played just four and Alexander wasn't even active. But the minutes alone are indicative of the disparity in the talent exchanged, and the game served as Exhibit A for why you shouldn't make a cap-clearing deadline deal with a team you are jockeying with for a postseason berth.
Was there any doubt that Salmons was the Bucks best player? That if he hadn't been on the team, the Bulls would have won the game? Salmons scored a game high 26-points -- twice as many as any other Buck besides Ersan Ilyasova (17) -- and despite being their primary ballhandler in crunch time, didn't commit a turnover in a team-high 44 minutes.
As Art wrote in a post-game email, "I'm so glad we got rid of Salmons and can now sign Joe Johnson to a horrible contract this summer. Awesome."
3: Offensive rebounds the Bulls grabbed after the first quarter. One of the biggest reason the Bucks were able to completely turn the game around and prevent the Bulls from making any sort of sustained run was that they limited Chicago to one-and-done offensive possessions.
2: Points the Bulls were attempting to get, down by three with 7.9 seconds left when Brad Miller got whistled for traveling. Why in the world weren't they setting up to shoot a game-tying 3 when the team is down 77-74? And why is the ball in the hands of the backup center instead of the team's only star, Derrick Rose, who also just happens to be a point guard? Even renowned homer Stacey King pointed this out:
And nothing against Brad right there, but there's a situation you're down 3, with about 15 seconds [actually 13, when the ball was inbounded] to go in the game, and you would think that there would be some kind of pick-and-pop situation. Not to take anything away from Brad handling the ball, but that's the last guy you want to be trying to dribble and trying to create something off the dribble.
Keep in mind that this all occurred coming out of a timeout. I can't even fathom what might've been discussed at that during that stoppage in play. But I suppose it must've went something like this:
Del Negro: Alright everybody, this is exciting. I'm beginning to think that we could actually win this game. I mean, I doubt it, but maybe. Okay Derrick ...
Rose: I'll take the inbounds, go hard to the hole while Miller and Deng set a series of screens on the perimeter, and then find the open man for the game-tying 3?
Del Negro: Hold on there, professor. You're going to be a decoy. We're going to inbound it to Luol. Lu, you're going to act like you're the last person who wants to be near the ball at this point, and you'll find Brad beyond the arc. Now, Brad ...
Miller: Coach, I can make it.
Del Negro: Take it easy, Jimmy Chitwood. You're not going to shoot it, or even think about trying to tie the game. We have to play to our strengths here, so you've got to immediately put the ball on the floor and CREATE. Lose on three, lose on three, LOSE!
I'm always amazed when I look at the stats and Miller isn't averaging 41 turnovers per 48 minutes, because it seems to me that he is constantly losing possession while trying to create something, either by throwing a terrible bounce pass, getting the ball stripped, or just flat-out losing his dribble. Remarkably, Miller averages fewer turnovers per 48 than Rose and, more surprisingly, Noah.
13.9: The percent chance the Bulls now have of getting into the playoffs, according to ESPN.com's John Hollinger, which is pretty much right between CoolStandings.com (15.1%) and Basketball-Reference.com (12.8).
4: The typical number of hours I squander finding/editing photos and creating captions. Which is why, in my depressed state, you're not getting any here. Sorry.