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Bulls vs. Warriors: Running Diary

Bulls, Warriors, December 6th has been circled on my calendar since the schedule’s release in August. It didn’t take long since the rise of superstar Steph Curry for the Warriors to become a (distant) second favorite team behind my hometown Bulls. The battle between East and West contenders only happens once this year in Chicago (June not withstanding 🙂 )

So naturally, my fellow die hard Bulls fan, AK and I had to find a way to go. Thanks to some wonderful timing and an unspent budget, AK’s company rented a penthouse suite for last night. In other words, for me: the dream.

I knew going into the game that I wanted to provide some #Analysis in some fashion. As the night progressed, too many fantastic things happened — an instant bond over Rasheed Wallace here, a classic Benny The Bull gag there — that the Bill Simmons Running Diary format was simply the most perfect way to document it.

***

6:46pm: It’s a last-minute dash to make the intros! I flex my knowledge of the United Center area and drive through two shortcuts to bypass the traffic around Madison. At a red light, AK poses the question: Who do you think wins tonight?

*slight hesitation* I think we can win it tonight. After all, we do thrive on ending streaks.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose. (As you can see, I didn’t have full confidence in the Bulls.)

The Warriors are rolling, but the matchups are fascinating. The backcourts: Steph vs. D. Rose, Klay vs. Jimmy. You got Bogut and Pau, it’s like these teams are modeled similarly. I worry about the Draymond vs. Joakim matchup though. We struggle against stretch 4s because Noah’s not used to guarding the 3 point line and Draymond’s been playin’ well lately.

(This proved to be a recurring topic of conversation later…)

6:54pm: Parked and speed-walking to the gate, which looked something like this. Looks like we’re not going to catch intros, or even the opening tip.

6:56pm: “Executive gate entrance 6 1/2” gets us up to the Penthouse with no lines. #SuiteLife already paying dividends!

6:59pm: A quick Twitter check reveals an instantly viral couple of images of Derrick Rose in a “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, in tribute to the tragic death of Eric Garner. Rose is the perfect person and personality to make a statement for justice like this, in this way. *applauds*

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7:05pm: The national anthem, the always chilling introductions, and the Kanye West “Power Clap” video never fail to change your mood from socializing to gametime. I’m amped and trying not to show it to the 6 new people I just met.

Quick tangent: The “Power Clap” (press play below) is the icing on the cake to our pregame intro — one as a whole that has to be unrivaled in hometown pride compared to the rest of the league. First, you got one of Kanye’s most famous, demonstrative songs and productions as the backbone of the pump-up. The core of ‘Ye asking for everyone to do the “Power Clap” is not from the original, but the Jay Z remix that you may have forgotten about. Plus, a seamless blend of “I’m a Chicagoan til Chicago ends” from the classic Dilated Peoples feature and an edited “You’re now fuckin’ with the best in the worrrlldd” from the “Lollipop (Remix)” complete the audio gem.

The visual set to the song features a mix of the players clapping with D. Rose’s chillness only being one-upped by Joakim’s chill golf clap. The most awkward was Aaron Brooks & Doug McDermott together, partly because they call each other Ray and Ron, but primarily because Doug McDermott doing anything on the jumbotron to a Kanye West song is as hilariously awkward as his photo with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Kid Ink.

Jimmy & Taj were the only ones who looked comfortable clapping, with Jimmy unofficially winning the most amount of Kanye lines lip-synched. Only fitting that the winner is the self-proclaimed “Baby Mike”.

The Power Clap:

7:20pm: The Bulls’ starters came out aggressive, but sloppy. Draymond has 2 3s already, about 5 minutes in. This is becoming a theme.

7:27pm: The Warriors feel like they’re converting every turnover into points. Ultimately, they get 27 fast break points in the first half and go on a 20-4 run in the first quarter. Still, two consecutive jumpers from Rose had AK and I hopeful we were there in person for Rose’s inevitable “F U game” on a big stage. Little did we know that this 3-pointer with 3:58 left in the first quarter was Rose’s last made field goal of the game.

7:31pm: The Warriors pull off one of their 3-man weaves and even though it wasn’t even their starters and it didn’t even lead to a bucket, it was oh so pretty. The quarter ends with the Warriors up 28-22 in what feels like it should be more.

7:38pm: Taj Gibson follows up an easy post-up layup with an emphatic block off the backboard of Shaun Livingston. This leads to an irrational confidence Aaron Brooks 3, a Bulls lead, and the largest rise out of the UC crowd thus far. All credit due to Taj’s spark plug energy; great to see in his first game back from a sprained ankle.

7:41pm: Taj tips in a Jimmy Butler miss but it looks like a clear offensive goaltending. Before we know it, play is stopped and Steve Kerr earns himself a Tech. I immediately see an assistant coach holding Steve Kerr back. Gotta hand it to the rookie head coach, he’s got that “looking like a badass while getting a Tech” thing down.

7:42pm: As replays on the scoreboard clearly show Kerr has a case, Jimmy Butler promptly misses the technical free throw. Although I can’t yell “Ball Don’t Lie!” because it’s against the Bulls, I do acknowledge the moment by telling AK, “That was a Ball Don’t Lie moment.” After a long pause, the guy next to me says, “Ball don’t lie is one of my favorite phrases in sports.”

Me: Yeah!
Guy: I miss Sheed, man.

*Tibs just made a new friend.*

7:48pm: The Bulls have been on a 25-7 extended run going back to the first quarter, erasing the damage caused by 10 turnovers in the first quarter.

7:50pm: Taj Gibson is wheezing on the baseline in between plays. He’s gassed in his first game back but Pau checks in for Mirotic instead.

7:58pm: Jimmy Butler matches a Harrison Barnes 3 with one of his own, dancing with a little bit of a crossover before hitting the contested pull-up. AK and I say to each other almost instantaneously, “Jimmy doesn’t even take that shot last year, let alone make it.” What a season he’s having so far.

8:05pm: Already three chicken tenders in, I finish up my Chicago dog and continue to ignore finger food and salad. Can’t fill up on the extras. I instead pace myself like a veteran for the even better dessert cart to come in the second half. Fortunately, not that much has happened during my second dinner, but the Warriors have stretched their lead out to double digits, dominating the last half of the second quarter.

8:08pm: Joakim Noah throws a terrible 3/4 court pass with 2.9 seconds left that turns out to be a solid strategy. The ball goes off the Warriors out of bounds so the Bulls have the ball past half court with 2.3 seconds left. Enough time for Noah to get the inbound near the elbow and drive for a buzzer beating layup to bring down the Warriors’ halftime lead to 12, 61-49. I’m proud of the sneaky 2 points going into the half, but the crowd is a little out of it due to the double digit deficit.

8:08:30pm: I bolt downstairs to the 300 level to meet my friends Hugo and Kristin for halftime. Hugo’s a fellow basketball nerd and we both immediately agree the Warriors look legit and that it’s not lookin’ good for a Bulls comeback. We catch up on life for a bit… they just got a new place, he’s going to California for a week for work, I plan on writing a new Gowhere NBA Awards this week. Big things poppin’ for both of us. Then this happens…

8:20pm: Derrick Rose & Joakim Noah come out to warm-up first. They both dribble up at the same time for their first jump shots, and of course, the balls hit each other in the air. This would be on Shaq’tin a Fool.

Me: Wait, did you just see that?!
Hugo: Hahah, yeah.
Me: C’mon guys, let’s be professionals.
Me: …This is why I love going to games, to see things like this.

To further visualize, I drew a diagram for you. (I have an architecture degree, this is how we communicate.)

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8:22pm: I begin my journey back to the suite to catch the start of the second half, but quickly walk past someone I play pickup with in the concourse. (Gotta love random run-ins. I’ve never talked to him ever, but now we’re going to have a convo about this tomorrow night and probably end up on the same team.)

8:27pm: I can’t find an elevator without a line and there are no stairs up to the penthouse. I’m stuck in the concourse so I just stop to an abrupt standstill, watching a video board for the beginning of the 3rd quarter. I got in the way of about 4 people in this process.

8:38pm: I just made it back to the suite, but missed the Dunkin Donuts race during the timeout (which alone could warrant its own running diary.)

Jimmy Butler hits a 3 for his second consecutive bucket and brings the Bulls within 2. Beautiful extra pass ball movement by the starters and the crowd is especially into it now.

8:43pm: Butler steals an errant pass from Curry, passes it ahead to Rose, who alley-oops it to Gasol for the Bulls’ first lead since the 2nd quarter. The crowd erupts and it’s ultimately the loudest the UC gets for the night.

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8:46pm: Teams trade baskets and the lead for a couple minutes, highlighted by Curry doing a fadeaway 16-foot jumper off the glass that only a unique scorer like him would even attempt. Worried this may lead to more.

8:49pm: Pau, having made his last 3 shots in the quarter, is feeling it when he draws some surprise oohs and aahs from the crowd during this crossover display. As you can see, it unfortunately leads to a Kirk Hinrich brick (not the best Kirk Hinrich game…)

8:55pm: Steph Curry with his most Steph Curry shot of the game. I was in awe of how fast he was coming off that curl, how quick he released it, and the fact that it was a no doubter splash.

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8:59pm: The score after 3 quarters, Bulls 80 Warriors 79. Thrilling quarter, shaping up to go down to the wire.

9:10pm: The second timeout of the quarter after a Kirk Hinrich 3 that brings the Bulls back within 2 with 8 minutes and change remaining.

Real thing I said to AK:
Man, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was at a game that really came down to the wire. It looks like it’s heading that way!

9:15pm: Klay Thompson hits a 3, blocks Kirk Hinrich’s 3 on the other end, then Draymond Green hits a 3 off a pick and pop that made D. Rose look silly.

Oh. 

The Bulls call timeout with the Warriors up 8 with 6 minutes to go. Pretty sure this is from the ensuing Draymond celebration:

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The lesson here is obvious: don’t jinx a close game by saying you haven’t been to a close game in awhile. Rookie mistake.

9:21pm: Jimmy brings back the deficit from 11 to 8 with 4 minutes remaining with his third 3 of the night. Draymond Green immediately responds with a United Center soul-crushing 3 of his own off a Klay Thompson pick and pop. That’s Green’s 7th 3 and a career-high 31 points. The disappointed gasp of the UC crowd was the most audible one of the night. You know it’s over and this guy, not even Steph or Klay, is killing us.

To make matters worse, we didn’t even get a dessert cart. #StillHungry #FirstWorldProblems

9:23pm: During the timeout, Benny The Bull went through his routine of attempting one handed half-court shots facing away from the basket. He’s remarkably good at this. I feel like I’ve seen him make it more than miss. He takes about 8 shots and comes close, but no cigar this time.

He then punts one of the basketballs into the stands. For the last basketball, he does the Hulk Hogan routine… finally picks a section and punts it. Two dudes in Steph Curry jerseys end up with the ball and obnoxiously celebrate to the crowd, milking in a shockingly loud number of boos. Out of nowhere, Benny sprints at them and silly strings both Warriors fans, much to the delight of the United Center. Benny The Bull, still the greatest.

9:35pm: The game ends rather anti-climatically, 112-102. After the buzzer, Steph gives a pat on the back to fellow Player of the Month, Jimmy Butler and to his Team USA teammate, Derrick Rose. Florida alum Joakim Noah and Marreese Speights handshake and hug at half court. I dunno, I always like to see who gives dap to one another after the game.

9:39pm: The Bulls’ music choice has been noticeably better over the years. “On To The Next One” plays at low volume, followed by the mellow “Hold On, We’re Going Home” as the UC crowd exits. Aw man, now this sad Drake song is making me feel even sadder.

#Analysis:

Derrick Rose 3.0

Contributing to the sadness is seeing Derrick Rose 3.0 in person. Summarizing this idea presented in this week’s Bulls Show, if Derrick Rose 1.0 was the wide-eyed rookie and Derrick Rose 2.0 was MVP Rose, then Derrick Rose 3.0 is post-injury, picking his spots Rose.

Now, I’m about as big of a D. Rose apologist as you can find, but I also can’t deny a trend in the early quarter of the season: over half of Rose’s field goal attempts since his return from the hamstring injury are coming from beyond the arc.

In those 7 games, Rose has attempted 87 field goals and of those 87, 46 of them have been from 3.

Rose is shooting the 3 at a 30% clip during that stretch, matching his below league-average 30% overall on the season. This is counting the ridiculous one-handed bank shot floater versus Dallas that sent the game to double overtime too.

Based on the shot attempts and the eye test, one can sense that Rose is still trying to figure out the times to attack the rim, or even pull up for a mid-range jumper. We’ve really only see him aggressively attack the rim in the team’s marquee games so far this year, most notably the home opener versus Cleveland and the post “be there for my son’s graduation” comments TNT game versus the Raptors. Hence my cautious optimism at the beginning of the diary that we could see a Bulls win and a more aggressive D. Rose with the Warriors being the elite opponent (best record in the league). It didn’t really happen beyond the first quarter with Rose finishing 1-7 from 3 and 2-11 overall.

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One more thing to keep an eye on going forward is Rose’s passing and ability to set up his teammates. It’s steadily improved as Rose has had 3 games with 2 or less turnovers in the past 5. Of course, in between was a 7 turnover outing versus the Mavs that was more close to his early November. Perhaps an underrated, lingering factor for the turnovers is one that’s non-Rose related: the games of his new and old teammates.

Eastern Conference Player of the Month Jimmy Butler is playing at an other-worldly all-star level he hasn’t touched in his career so far. It took LeBron James & Kyrie Irving just 1 month to play together more minutes than Derrick Rose & Jimmy Butler have in their careers. Think about that for a second.

Then you have Pau Gasol in vintage form, averaging 20.1 PPG (the most since ’06-’07) and 11.9 RPG (the most in his career). It’s early still, but both he and Butler are playing like all-stars and are focal points of the offense with or without Rose. In Rose’s entire career with the Bulls, he hasn’t played with offensive scoring options quite this impactful.

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So in conclusion, there is really no conclusion. Rose 3.0 is still a work in progress and we, whether a Bulls fan or analyst, have to maintain patience far beyond just a handful of games. The two focal points of Derrick’s game I’m carefully examining going forward are the 3-point attempts and the turnovers (and how he’s getting them.) I’m confident we’ll see both gradually decrease as Rose gets more acclimated to consistent full-speed games and his new teammates.

The City of Big Shoulders

Last night’s game marked the return of Taj Gibson after a 6-game absence with a sprained ankle. Great news for the Bulls, but it also pushed rookie Nikola Mirotic back to limited minutes. Niko only played 8 minutes in the wake of Gibson’s return, but his 2 TOs and 3 fouls in that time likely contributed to that. During Gibson’s injury, Mirotic averaged 12.7 PPG and 8.4 RPG in 27 minutes. He also leads all rookies with 3 double-doubles and is shooting the 3 at a 38% clip.

He’s proven he could play.

So where does he fit in the rotation now that everyone is healthy again?

The easy solution is to look at 34 year old Pau Gasol’s 36 minutes per game. Take 4 or 5 of those and give them to Niko, and it’ll save some burden on Gasol while preparing Mirotic for the playoff stage come April.

The asterisk is the notoriously stubborn Coach Thibs, but if Niko’s going to be under 10 minutes a game and Pau still at 36, I’m convinced there’s a clause in Gasol’s contract that he or the Bulls get a bonus for his all-star berth.

In addition to the minutes allocation, I’m intrigued to see what the Bulls do to resolve their defense versus the stretch 4. Draymond Green put the magnifying glass on this issue last night, probably singing “CoCo” while he was at it. 

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This is a challenge that we can date back to the preseason when the Noah/Gasol frontline allowed Thaddeus Young 17 points on 4 3s in 27 minutes, albeit on a much less mobile Noah in late October than now. Even still, as athletic as Noah is at full health, it’s hard to expect the center who anchored our defense at the rim to defend stretch 4s at the 3-point line, especially when they are roaming free in transition like last night. Taj Gibson is our best option for the Draymond Greens and Kevin Loves of the NBA, so we’ll keep an eye on the minutes to Jo and Pau in these specific matchups into 2015.

The Golden State Ws

Emphasis on Ws. That’s 12 of them now for Golden State — a new franchise record. Steve Kerr’s Warriors lead the league in Defensive Rating and on the flip side, Assists Per Game with a 4th place standing in Offensive Rating.

Basically, they’re legit.

The in-person experience was just as beautiful as it is on TV, even as a biased observer. The pick and pops, Steph’s left-handed swing passes, the 3-man weaves, Andrew Bogut… literally everything an advanced basketball junkee would want, in addition to everything the casual basketball viewer would want: the Splash Brothers.

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Come April, the Western Conference Champion will largely come down to health and matchups. But carrying its own weight is the continuity the Warriors have instantly developed under a new coach. Not only on the court, but off.

There have been stories that start from the top like Coach Kerr likening Draymond Green’s hustle after a loose ball to that of a beetle. Or the team plane Instagram videos of the team singing a song that’s basically about cocaine. (Someone finally caught on and told them to stop, ha!)

I saw it on their bench as their MVP-candidate leader Steph Curry led the rallying during Draymond’s galvanizing game-long heat-check. The intangibles of a team, or its “it” factor I suppose, is impossible to quantify, but at the same time: isn’t it simply pass/fail? Seeing them in person, the Warriors are emphatically a Pass.

2015 Finals Preview? Well, both teams have a lot left to prove still and we’re not even close to peak Bulls. But as a fan, you can bet I have the calendar circled.