By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Sometimes shots don’t fall, even good ones that come at the right moments from the right guys in the right places. Other times an NBA star has one of those nights, no matter what you do. The best teams experience both.
Championship contenders, however, should not be undone in the way the Bulls were Wednesday night in Indianapolis.
Not like that. Not knowing what was coming, not having just paid lip-service to what was going to be needed. Not after two days of extended practice and reaffirmation of the Tom Thibodeau principles of effort: move hard and purposefully without the ball, don’t get beaten down the floor in transition, help and recover multiple times in every defensive possession.
They scrimmaged intensely Monday to that end, after which Thibodeau said, “You have to put the work into it. You can’t hope it to happen, you have to make it happen. And we need everybody doing it. We can’t rely on a certain two or three guys to do everything. Our entire team is needed. This isn’t a Derrick issue. This is a team issue. And we have to correct it.”
The struggling Rose added this about the Pacers: “If we don’t come out with the same aggression like we do in practice, we’re going to get out butts whipped.”
Beyond the 17-point margin of loss were more troubling numbers, particularly so with those comments in mind. The Pacers destroyed them on the glass, outrebounding the Bulls 52-40, including 17 on their offensive end that extended scoring opportunities. The Bulls scored only four fast-break points.
They have emphasized the importance of finding shots closer to the basket and limiting such opportunities for the opponent, yet Indiana had a 28-14 advantage in points in the paint.
And stats only go so far. The Pacers had more active feet and hands on defense, their bigs won the downcourt races for deep post positions, and they were the team helping and recovering. Their bolstered roster was evident, too. Newcomers Luis Scola and CJ Watson combined for 23 points, with Scola and the rapidly-improving Lance Stephenson powering the decisive 18-5 run in the fourth quarter. And Indiana was playing without scorer Danny Granger and starting point guard George Hill.
The Bulls will look better when this final stage of Rose’s rehab accelerates. He is learning his new knee, and it will take time for his game to get back to the point where he can singlehandedly increase his team’s margin for error.
But it’s important to look at this in context, in that they purport to be challenging for the NBA title. If so, it can’t look like this. No Thibodeau-coached team is allowed to be beaten at its own game. The essence of everything they have done in his tenure is to outwork their way to regular-season wins. His guys never stop playing harder than your guys, no matter the lineup or situation, and the organization believes that can be enough to ultimately surpass the Heat, or whoever else stands in their way.
The problem is, they are not doing it yet. Even as they say they know they must.
It’s one thing to marvel at the historic, transcendent talent of LeBron James and understand that there’s only so much that all that grit can do in the face of greatness. It’s another to be clowned by Roy Hibbert.
The winless Utah Jazz arrive at an opportune time, providing the chance for a needed laugher to calm the waters. An already tense Berto Center wracked with conflict between coaching and management could use the break. Speaking of conflict, contrast the attitudes of Rose and his coach, from their comments well before last night’s embarrassment.
Rose: “It’s only three games. Everybody I guess is looking at it like it’s 30 games in because of the expectations of this year. We’re going to be fine.”
Thibs: “I want to get away from the notion that we’ll be OK, that we have a lot of time. That’s not the mentality you can have if you want to be a good team. You have to correct things immediately.”
Get to work, guys. That’s what you do, remember?
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.