By Mike McGraw
The Bulls have seen plenty of the defensive strategy that caused so much controversy at the end of Tuesday night’s 80-76 loss to Indiana at the United Center.
It started during the first-round playoff series in 2011. A Bulls player would drive toward the basket and a Pacers defender would fly at him, arms in the air and sometimes create heavy contact. Call it the “Wildwood Wall,” in honor of coach Frank Vogel’s South Jersey Shore hometown.
In that playoff series, it was usually Derrick Rose absorbing the contact with no foul called. On Tuesday, it was Luol Deng.
The Bulls trailed by 2 points and gained possession after rebounding an Indiana miss with 14.1 seconds left. Coach Tom Thibodeau designed a play for Deng to make a backdoor cut along the baseline and catch a pass from Joakim Noah.
That part worked fine, but when Deng went up for the shot, he was met in midair by 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. Bodies collided, Deng hit the deck, and no whistle was heard as the ball bounced away.
“In my eyes, he got wiped out,” Thibodeau said. “He had a layup. It was a train wreck.”
There was considerable contact; Hibbert was moving forward when he met Deng and the Pacers’ center wasn’t completely vertical. His arms were pointed forward when contact occurred. Then again, the Bulls have seen this situation plenty of times before from Indiana with no foul called.
“You’re allowed to jump straight up,” Vogel contended. “No matter where you are, you’re allowed to jump straight up and absorb contact. When he (Hibbert) learned that and went away from trying to draw charges, he went from not being able to stay on the court to one of the best defensive centers in the NBA.”
When Deng described the play in the locker room, he tried to focus on the things he can control.
“I’m mad at myself for not getting a shot up,” he said. “When he contacted me, I lost the ball, but if I would have got a shot up, even if I missed it, a teammate could have got the rebound. That’s the one thing I’ve got to do better with that play.”
And there were several things the Bulls could have done better in the game. They finished with 19 turnovers, shot 38 percent from the field and managed just 6 second-chance points, usually one of their specialties.
“I’m not going to put it on the officials,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve still got to get it done. Tough call that went against us.”
The Bulls (8-8) trailed by 9 points late in the third quarter before Nate Robinson led a comeback. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and put the home team up 72-68 with a pair of free throws.
Deng’s jumper made it 74-70 with 3:36 left, but the Bulls failed to score for the next three minutes. Robinson fell into a rough stretch with a couple of bad passes and a 3-point miss.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball down the stretch,” Robinson said. “I definitely take the blame for this one. I’ve got to be smarter with the ball, make the right plays and got to execute.”
Paul George, who hit 2 of 18 shots in his previous two games, was outstanding. He knocked down 14 of 25 shots for 34 points. Robinson led the Bulls with 19 points, and Deng had 17. Marco Belinelli scored 6 while starting in place of the injured Richard Hamilton.
George capped a 6-0 run and put the Pacers ahead 76-74 with 2:05 left on a 16-foot pullup jumper.
The Bulls missed two chances to tie the score and Lance Stephenson got loose under the basket for a layup that made it 78-74 with 45.5 seconds on the clock.
Carlos Boozer answered with a lay-in, Chicago’s first basket in almost exactly three minutes. But he missed the free throw that could have made it a 3-point play.
David West missed a jumper from the top of the key, giving the Bulls possession with 14.1 seconds left trailing by 2.
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