Thursday, December 28, 2006

Are the Bulls Soft?

My thoughts on a topic that's gonna be discussed ad nauseum today on sports radio, Sportscenter and sports blogs.

Two incidents dominated yesterday's Bulls / Heat game:
  1. Dwyane Wade injured his wrist, and according to Pat Riley it happened because Kirk Hinrich yanked D-Wade's hand fighting thru screen. Riley, for all intents and purposes, said the play was dirty and goes unnoticed all the time.
  2. James Posey committed a flagrant foul on an airborne and defenseless Luol Deng, leaving Deng writhing in pain while holding his wrist.
Initially the incidents look separate and unrelated. The Wade injury happened before half of the first quarter was over and the Posey flagrant foul happened with about half of the fourth quarter left to play.

But I wonder.

Wade was conspicuously pissed about the wrist. He didn't leave the game right away; while trying to play thru the pain he delivered a shoulder block to the sternum of Andres Nocioni setting a pick for Kirk Hinrich. Olin Kreutz would have been proud of the hit, and Wade was clearly upset. Pat Riley voiced his opinion about the Wade injury after the game:
"Hinrich pulled his hand. Hinrich grabbed his hand, which he does all of the time," Riley said. "That's what he does anytime Dwyane comes off screens. They always either grab his shirt or hand. It's a little bit of a tactic down below the body. The officials can't see it. So he had Dwyane's hand and tried to pull it out of there."
Reading between the lines, Riley was calling the play dirty; he was calling Kirk Hinrich a dirty player. And to a greater extent, by his use of the word 'they,' he was calling all the Bulls defenders dirty. I don't have to remind Bulls fans that this is the man by and large responsible for the mucking up of NBA basketball in the 1990's. He was the architect of the defensive-minded New York Knicks and utilized tough, hard-nosed players like John Starks, Anthony Mason and Xavier McDaniel. Some might go so far as to call those players dirty. Some might go so far as call those players thugs. Some might even go so far as to say Pat Riley specifically used playground tactics in direct opposition to the high-flying style of basketball he once employed as the coach of the 1980's, Magic Johnson-led 'Showtime' L.A. Lakers. So Riley is no stranger to the nuances of dirty play and should be able to call it as he sees it.

But Riley is also no stranger to the psychological side of basketball either, and neither are Bulls fans like myself who can remember clearly the days of Phil Jackson at the Bulls' helm. So when Riley spouts off to the media about dirty play and Kirk Hinrich, he's more than calling attention to perceived dirty play. He's planting a seed in the minds of officials and NBA management to keep an eye on the Chicago Bulls and their style of play.

Obviously the ploy is working for D-Wade; he's second in the league in 10.4 free throw attempts per game, and anyone watching Game 5 of last year's NBA Finals recognizes a referee with instructions to watch out. (This isn't a conspiracy theory in favor of the Miami Heat but acknowledgment after watching thirteen years of MJ play.) As for the Hinrich side of the Riley ploy, Kirk is tied for third in the league amongst all guards at 3.4 fouls per game.

Are Riley's words and Hinrich's fouling related? Maybe, maybe not. But when one of the NBA's pretty boys (a la MJ) and major marketing toys becomes end
angered, you better believe the suits will intervene regardless of how much wolf is being cried.

Let's also not forget that Pat Riley is an old school guy. He played during the era of Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier, and in those days no rough foul went unrewarded or without retaliation. So when the opportunity presented itself in a meaningless regular season game to pay back the Bulls for their hard play with superstar and NBA stud D-Wade, should we be surprised that James Posey responded with a flagrant foul?

This isn't James Posey's first run-in with the Bulls either. During last season's playoffs, Posey intentionally blindsided Kirk Hinrich on a Bulls' fast break with a shoulder block; said blindside earned him a one game suspension. Opening night, Halloween 2006, Posey welcomed Bulls' rookie Tyrus Thomas with a flying elbow (needless and hence intentional after viewing the video) that broke the rookie's nose and required the use of a face mask by the rookie. He's been responsible for other little shots and fouls that, while not as egregious as the flagrants, still take their toll on the bodies and minds of his opponents.

Posey's place in the Heat scheme of things is seemingly complex. He has nice range from beyond the arc, can man up defensively and has length to utilize on the boards. But deeper than that he's an instigator, a player who can contribute but not fear the implications of league judgment on his rough play because his team doesn't necessarily need his contributions. Basically he's an enforcer with skills in the Charles Oakley mode if not in stature.

Picture Pat Riley in the locker room at half time inquiring about the status of D-Wade, and then giving the team a "win one for the Gipper" speech all while not taking his eyes off James Posey. The subliminal message does not go unheeded by Posey, and Luol Deng becomes the target of Posey's and -- latently --Riley's ire. Pat Riley is too smart to ever actually call for a flagrant foul, but incitement and motivation are certainly tricks of the trade, and he's a master at his craft.

But tell me this Bulls fans, where was the defense of Luol Deng? Where was a teammate with a shove or a even a harsh word for the punk play of Posey? Closest to Deng in terms of on-the-court spacing was big, bad Ben Wallace. Has the judgment from the Malice in the Palace so jaded him that he fears a small man in a suit more than he does a guy 6' 8", 217lbs.? Maybe Ben can be forgiven knowing the consequences of such actions, but where's Kirk Hinrich? Surely someone so closely acquainted with the dirty play of Posey would tire of the thuggery and do or at least say something. Where's Chris Duhon, team leader and voice? Where's Andres Nocioni, Luol's new, close friend? Were Tyson Chandler still around, I know he would did something.

Listening to Bulls coach Scott Skiles post game interview one could palpably feel his anger. Saying it would be "politically incorrect" to voice his opinion, I wonder if silently Skiles was disappointed in his team's reaction. I wonder if he thinks his team is soft. Were Skiles still playing, I have no doubt he'd do just what Nate Robinson of the Knicks did recently, only with a little more justice on his side, and jump head-first into the fray to protect a teammate.

And now after watching the video of the flagrant foul, I wonder how many other teams are gonna think they can get away with picking on the Bulls. How many other teams will try and push the Bulls around, take overly hard fouls? How many other teams will not fear repercussions of physical play against the Bulls?

But this is truly fence straddling territory, as throwing punches or retaliatory flagrant fouls would certainly cost the team in terms of game suspensions and even momentum, and I am not advocating violence. In fact I'm kind of impressed at the Bulls restraint, but just once I'd like to see a Y2K Bull pull an MJ-in-Xavier's-face just to show everyone they're not a bunch of sally's. Then maybe James Posey would think twice the next time he jumps at a Chicago Bull.


Blogger Jeeves said...

Don't forget the Oak-Tree, biggest thug of them all, maybe.

I'm sort of glad the Bulls didn't retaliate after Deng got hurt. If they did I think Stern/Jackson would have turned around and levied a heavy suspension on the retaliator.

I'm really worried about Deng though. He's been arguably are best player and he's had a history of problems with that wrist.

1:30 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger Fornelli said...

I'm happy they didn't retaliate. Best way to say fuck you is to beat them.

Besides, I don't feel like dealing with suspensions.

And as Hawk Harrelson would be quick to point out

"I'd be waiting outside that locker room to open him up like a can o corn."

2:34 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

We're saying at Blog-a-Bull that they should send a Kryhapa or Sweets, i.e. 11th or 12th man, to do the dirty work, someone whose loss won't affect the Bulls' rotation.

I guess I'm just surprised no one said much or did anything. I was expecting more outrage from Deng's teammates, something, anything.

2:49 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger Soxually Repressed said...

The problem with this goes straight to the head of the league office. If Stern doesn't learn to be equal across the board on these kind of matters, someday it will lead to bigger problems, like multiple brawls a year. IF Hinrich is playing dirty, stop him. If Posey is just crazy, stop him. If this escalates into something bigger, blame Stern.

Interesting in that it seemed national media thought far less of this than the local media, despite it coming on the heels of the fight in MSG. Anthony threw a punch, got fifteen games, and some said it cold/should have been more. Posey repeatedly, seemingly premeditatedly, commits hard fouls, and gets one game suspensions, even in the regular season. (NO "playoff effect" now.)

Are the Heat, with WAde and O'Neal, a protected NBA species?

4:12 PM, December 29, 2006  

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