Bulls Weekend Wrapup

That was fun. I honestly haven’t felt like this about the Bulls since, gasp, the dynasty days. The last couple playoffs run were fun, especially the ’05 run that featured an unexpected 47 wins in the regular season, but nonetheless I was fraught by a nagging sense that the Bulls weren’t talented enough to make much noise in the second season. This year is different. The Bulls really took it to the Heat; they played confidently and expected to win. I’ve got a lot to talk about, so I’m going to split this up into games three and four.

Game 3: Chicago 104, Miami 96

Right after the game I was ready to hand this effort four Skiles and be done with it. As I’ve had a couple of days (and another game) to reflect on it, I’m not sure it quite deserves that. I understand the reasons why such superlatives could be used to describe game three. Most importantly, the Bulls did something that teams with championship aspirations have to do; they won when they weren’t at their best. The first half of this game was awful, awful basketball by the Bulls. In the past that kind of start would ensure that the Bulls would stay down around ten the entire game, they would hustle enough to make it close but never put together an extended comeback. That this didn’t happen, on the road, against a veteran team fighting for survival, marks the continuing development of the core of this team into one of the elite groups in the NBA. When the fourth quarter rolled around, despite the dreaded three guard small lineup, the Bulls were simply too fast for the Heat. I’m never a fan of seeing Chris Duhon out on the floor during the fourth quarter, but Skiles was looking for a reduced workload from him, something that Du could handle. He didn’t need to guard Wade, he just needed to distribute the ball to Gordon, Hinrich and Deng. The “big three” ended shooting 23 of 47 from the field (48.9%). More importantly, they shot 29 free throws and hit 24. They won while losing the turnover battle 18 to 9, which is a generally solid indicator of playoff success. During the frantic fourth quarter, the Bulls showed all the hallmarks of superiority, such as being “in the right place at the right time”. Every bounce was going their way, which to me was encapsulated by the Miami possession where Wallace timed a Shaq hook perfectly, fell down after blocking it and calmly gathered the rebound from a missed Shaq putback while still lying on the ground.

Still, it wasn’t a perfect effort from Chicago. The Heat didn’t exactly play great either, and if Shaq and Wade could have hit 70% of their free throws, it would have been a much different game. But this game was certainly not about domination. It was about winning and, through that act, proving themselves the better team.

Game 4: Chicago 92, Miami 79

Before the weekend started I predicted that if the Bulls won game three they’d also take game four. I thought this because the Heat were a veteran team and they knew the score. A year removed from a title is a long time for a team built on aging veterans and a young superstar. Honestly, if they had Shaq from a couple years ago it would have gone six or seven. But the Heat just didn’t have the horses to keep pace with a much younger and hungrier opponent. The Bulls kept their composure when the Heat went on a run, and didn’t bat an eye when Shaq came out like a one man wrecking crew at the start of the game. Shaq has basically done the same thing all four games. He comes out scores three or four baskets, then starts tiring. I was almost positive, from the tenor of the series, that the Heat would come on strong, but not have enough to put the Bulls away. Then when the Bulls run came in the fourth, the Heat wouldn’t be able to stop it. This is exactly what happened and as the game wound up everyone, fans and players, wanted to flee the court. The postgame comments from Riley and crew underscored the theme ‘Hey, those guys are good”. The Heat and Riley did everything they could but they didn’t have an answer. Not that I think the Heat didn’t try or that they gave up on the series. They went down fighting (even I must grudgingly acknowledge Posey’s 18 rebounds in 44 minutes) and Riley let Wade stay out there for 45 minutes, knowing their only hope was for Dwyane to take over. There’s not much to talk about the game itself, the Bulls did the same thing they’ve done all series.

So, for the weekend, I’ll give the Bulls three Skiles, though this is partially due to the obstacles ahead. After game three, it was clear Chicago was the better team. Now comes a slugfest with Detroit which my early prediction has the Bulls in six.

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What I spent some time thinking about yesterday is, if this Bulls team ends up coming out of the East, how will their narrative arc be constructed? The loss to the Wizards two years ago was a reinforcement of the Great Man Theory of professional basketball. In the penultimate game five, the Wizards won because they had Arenas, and he could score on the last possession even when defended perfectly. Last year the Bulls matched up against a team perfectly equipped to exploit their lack of quality big men. So what now? The management line after last year was that, the Wallace signing notwithstanding, the biggest improvement would come from within, from the core. It turns out this was mostly true, though the Bulls halfcourt defense benefits greatly from having some defensively savvy players on the frontcourt. Deng in particular has raised his game on both ends of the court; as he, Gordon and Hinrich continue to play as effectively it’s going to be harder and harder for teams to play them “by the book”. The Pistons are more well equipped to deal with the Bulls, but I’m not going to start talking about that conflagration quite yet.

As a quick aside, I’m joining the chorus line of praise for the Nellieball Warriors. I’m also keenly aware that there might not be a better reason for why exactly this is happening outside of “Baron is balling out of his mind”. But then again, might that be enough? He’s clearly a great talent out there, and he’s never lacked swag. Nellie is putting him, and the other Warriors, in positions to succeed on the basketball court, and they’ve grabbed the opportunity by the throat. So maybe this is all you need to know about the Warriors:

Baron Davis

Golden State in six.

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Published in: on April 30, 2007 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Draft Potential

Here’s a little draft teaser story.

The realistic view is that Walter Thomas will have a brief and forgettable NFL career, but this is the day before the NFL draft, a day measured almost solely by potential, and Thomas is the epitome of potential. He failed out of Oklahoma State after one year, has an arrest record and is in dire need of coaching and training. However, he’s over 6′3, weighs 374 pounds, runs a 40 somewhere between 4.9 (claimed time) and 5.2 seconds (official time), can bench 475 pounds and squat 800. So, he makes a good draft day story. I wish the best to him and hope he finds a team that is willing to invest some time and money in him.

For N.F.L. Draft, the Biggest (XXXXXXL) Sleeper from the New York Times

p.s. I acknowledge that this article has an amusing amount of sensationalism and paternalism, but that is sort of indicative of the story as a whole.

Published in: on April 27, 2007 at 6:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The fight over Sonny Carson Ave.

As I sat down to write this I started to wonder, do people know who Sonny Carson is? He doesn’t have a wikipedia entry, which I found to be very disorienting. Boot Camp Clik has an entry with more information than you could possibly imagine, but not Sonny Carson. Anyway, there’s been a movement in my neighborhood to rename four blocks of Gates Ave to Sonny Abubadika Carson Ave. I saw fliers for a march in support of the initiative about a month ago, but I didn’t know the outcome of all this until the excellent and very local Bed-Stuy Blog had a rundown of events surrounding the proposed renaming. To sum up the salient points:

– Community Board 3 in Brooklyn approved the renaming and city Councilman Al Vann proposed the renaming to the city council. Traditionally, community approval is all that is needed for the council to accept a proposed renaming. Very few requests are ever rejected.

– City Council Speaker Christine Quinn spoke out against the proposal, saying Sonny Carson has a “divisive history” and remanded the proposal to one separate from the other 52 renamings the council will vote on. It appears New York will get a Jerry Orbach Way before it gets a Sonny Carson Ave.

– The story is ongoing and I was unable to find when the City Council is going to vote on this. Members of Community Board 3 have filed suit against the City Council, claiming the removal of Carson’s name was “arbitrary and capricious.”

I haven’t been able to find when the new vote is scheduled for, but I’ll pass along any developments I run across.

Published in: on April 26, 2007 at 6:42 pm  Comments (1)  

Bulls 107, Heat 89

Good game. The Bulls took care of business at home, now they have to withstand the Heat push in Miami. Honestly, I think Miami will go pretty quietly if the Bulls jump all over them from the tip of game three. Anyway, some observations from game 2.

– What I found most confidence inspiring about this game was the way Deng picked his play up as the game went on. Miami certainly paid more attention to Luol wherever he was on the court, but when the Bulls needed scores at the end Deng was getting them. Part of this is undoubtedly due to being guarded by Kapono for stretches, but it was nice to see Deng take the action to the opposition.

– BG started off the game hot, which led to the adjustment that eventually got Deng going. In the second half Miami started having their bigs show real aggressively on the screen/rolls the Bulls were running with Ben. This was working too, partially because of Wallace’s inability to be a scoring threat more than five feet away from the basket and partially because Gordon made it easier for the Heat by picking his dribble up outside the three point line and trying to make crazy passes. Eventually they got the kinks worked out and Luol started hitting baskets.

– Between the two of them they combined for 53 points on 22 of 38 (57.9%) shooting. I’ll take that.

– Hinrich bounced back from a terrible game one with 14 and 8 assists, despite more foul trouble. I also started to wonder if he’s pressing himself, because he looks real exasperated on the court. Calm down Kirk! It looked like he was really letting the refs have it after calls. This is going to be a problem at some point.

– The Nocioni/Thomas debate was mostly moot, as neither of them played conspicuously well. Noc was pretty quiet, aside from the 7 points in 11.6 seconds explosion at the end of the half, punctuated by a classic Nocioni howl. Intensity, thy name is Andres. (If you don’t believe me look at the picture on his nba.com player profile. You don’t want none of that.) But with the big three playing well, the Bulls don’t need a ton from either of them.

– Duhon! You’re killing me. I understand why Skiles keeps playing him, I just wish there was a better alternative. Thabo didn’t look nearly as good as he did during game one. He was lost out there on offense. A couple of possessions ended with him not knowing what to do with his dribble and throwing up a wild shot. A couple of them went in, but that’s besides the point. He was definitely better on Wade than Duhon was, but with Hinrich on the bench, they need someone who can handle the ball and initiate the offense. Gordon was doing a poor job of it and Duhon’s basically the only other guy with the necessary skill set to do it. But watching him try to guard Wade made me feel like I was being punched in the testicles repeatedly.

– Ben Wallace had, statistically, a quiet game but what’s most important about his box score is the following: 38:20 minutes, 2 personal fouls. This is the biggest difference between him and Chandler last year. You can call the regular season between the two a wash this year and the future is bright for Tyson, but Chandler was out of his league against Shaq in the playoffs. Wallace staying on the court like that means less time for Shaq to beat up on our second line. It’s the little differences that matter here. Last year Shaq when Shaq would get posted deep Tyson would pick up a cheap foul trying to block his shot, which is just a waste of a foul. When Shaq is in that deep he’s dunking the ball; he’s too big and too strong for basically anyone in the league that close. Wallace plays Shaq hard, but when Shaq makes a good move and gets to the rim Ben doesn’t compound things by tacking a foul onto the end of it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention PJ Brown as well; he played some quality minutes down low.

– Good to see the Bulls shut the door with Adrian Griffin, just when Wade was getting ready to do his Superman routine. Wait, the Bulls were up 20 when he came in? Even better.

So overall, I was happy with the way the Bulls executed. While Wade would periodically go on runs and Shaq was obviously a handful down low, none of the supporting cast really got going. It looked to me like Riley was forced to choose between his defense unit and his offense unit, both with glaring deficiencies on the other end. The Heat hung around for longer than I would have liked, but they never threatened as seriously as they did in game one. The Bulls defense was all over the Heat (14 turnovers from Shaq/Wade) and the shooters started hitting from beyond the arc. Now we take it to Miami and try to win a playoff game on the road for the first time since the dynasty years.

A couple of notes on the Heat:

– Poor Shaq. He’s working his ass off, but he just doesn’t have the skills he did five years ago. When was the last time you saw him bust ass on a screen/roll like last night? While he’s still arguably the best player on either team, he can’t bring it like he used to. I don’t want him to shoot it. I don’t want him pass it. I want him to slam! I’d be rooting for him if the Heat weren’t, you know, playing the Bulls. (It’s weird watching young Shaq fly around. I remember that guy. Oh, and Skiles with alley oop.)

– When Antoine Walker retires he will be sorely missed. By me, at least. Who else pump fakes from forty feet out? (And makes you close out on him while doing it? You know he’s thinking ‘If they don’t bite on this next time I’m letting it go!’) Who else shuffles into the lane with those little strides, like a man twice his age? Who will captain the NBA’s All-Looks-Like-A-Turtle team? (It’s like the All Defense team, except with turtle resemblance as the criterium for inclusion.) His postgame press conference attire will certainly not be forgotten soon by anyone lucky enough to witness it.

I’m ready for Friday. Bring it on. Game Two was fun, but I want more. I give it three and a half Skiles!

Game Two:

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Published in: on April 25, 2007 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment