Friday, May 11, 2012

Bulls: you gotta bereave

Posted By on 05.11.12 at 10:38 AM

C.J. Watson: shades of the Bears Marion Barber.
A double-edged sword cuts both ways, and so it seems does a bricklaying Turkish center who can't hit free throws.

The saddest thing about the Bulls' opening-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia 76ers—and, mind you, this was a six-game set that included Derrick Rose blowing out his knee and Joakim Noah gruesomely twisting his ankle, removing both from action for the duration—is that it was there to be had in the end.

With 26 seconds to play in the sixth game in Philly and the Bulls holding a one-point lead, C.J. Watson and Omer Asik executed a lovely pick-and-roll. Asik is an atrocious foul shooter, and the Sixers must have been under orders from savvy coach Doug Collins to foul him if he even touched the ball. Yet, with that most tried and true of basketball plays, he broke so clear—the players obviously weren't expecting the Bulls to put the ball in his hands—there was nothing the Sixers could do but commit a flagrant foul and risk giving up both free throws and the ball. Asik dunked it uncontested instead, and the Bulls led 78-75. A little defense, and they'd be going back to Chicago for the seventh game all square, and the Sixers wanted no part of that, especially with Noah possibly healing up and returning to action.

The Sixers scored to a make it 78-77, but then, as they scrambled for either a steal or a foul, the Bulls broke free on a fast break, and with the ball in his hands and about seven seconds to play Watson made the fundamentally sound but tactically disastrous decision to dish the ball to Asik on the two-on-one under the hoop. The Sixers' Spencer Hawes wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to foul Asik again, even though Asik had hit a somewhat astonishing four of five foul shots up to then. He put Asik on the line, Asik missed both shots, and then to compound the folly Asik fouled Andre Iguodala on the shot when Iguodala pushed the ball straight upcourt to the hoop. He made both of his free throws, and the Sixers won the game and the series, 79-78.

Asik seemed the obvious goat, and if not him then Carlos Boozer, who made one shot and missed ten to finish with three points for the game. Yet I nominate Watson. The Bulls don't need to score there with seven seconds left. If he spins away from the basket, not only does he threaten to run out the clock entirely, but if he's fouled he and not Asik goes to the line to seal the deal. That's most likely what the whip-smart Rose would have done, if not take the ball straight to the hole and, at worst, put himself on the line. Shades of the Bears' Marion Barber, who ran out of bounds rather than run out the clock in what turned out to be an overtime loss last season, Watson committed a critical gaffe in clock management.

I don't blame Asik. He is who he is, and he actually played well spelling Noah, with ten points and nine rebounds. He was almost the instrument of the Bulls' sealing the win and tying the series; instead, however, he was the instrument of their own self-destruction.

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