One of the bromides baseball managers find most soothing after a loss is, “Some nights you’ve just got to tip your cap to the other guys.”
And although there are no caps in hoops, let us tip ours anyway to the Chicago Bulls for a brilliant effort at both ends of the court, and fire a 21-cap salute to Derrick Rose, who has been a thorn in Phoenix’s side ever since he came into the league.
Rose not only scored 32 points, but needed only 21 shots to do it, and many of those were highlight quality. And an especially deep doff of the cap to the Bulls for bottling up Steve Nash, which is the basketball equivalent of putting toothpaste in the tube.
Nash not only had a decidedly uncharacteristic 4 for 12 night from the field, but never really was able to generate any of his patented havoc-creating penetration. Somebody, more often than not Kirk Hinrich, always seemed to be in front of him. And when he did get past that roadblock the Bulls inside people did a good job picking him up.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of all this is that while the Bulls had won only four road games all year, this wasn’t one of those cases where a below .500 team somehow managed to steal one. In administering what was basically a wire-to-wire walloping the Bulls simply looked like the better team.
However, while the Bulls richly deserve full credit, this does not mean the Suns don’t deserve any blame.
Defense has never been the Suns’ long suit, but this time they were flat out void, especially in the first half.
The Bulls are very athletic, but a scoring machine they are not. They came in averaging less than 95 points a game and shooting 44 per cent. Yet they torched the Suns for 64 big ones in the first 24 minutes while shooting 58 percent from the field.
And while Coach Alvin correctly noted, they did hit some tough shots, they also had a slew of wide open looks against what appeared to be a 3-2 defense— three of the Suns playing zone and two man to man.
Meanwhile the Suns, who lead the league in scoring, hit only 39 percent from the field, and the Bulls, as noted, do deserve much of the credit for that. But not all of it. There have been nights lately when the offense seemed to lose its way, and this is a luxury this defensively challenged team can ill afford.
Somewhere along the line the offense that was purring like a well-oiled machine in November has developed a few knocks, and this is perhaps the most discouraging thing about the 11-16 record since December 1. Like it or not, the way this team is put together, offense is what it has to hang its hat on.
The bottom line: There’s no need to hit the panic button yet, but it wouldn’t hurt to check just where that sucker is just in case.