The last time carrying the ball was considered a real violation in the NBA was, when, 1965?
That era is right in coach Fred Hoiberg’s basketball wheelhouse, so you can understand why he complained Sunday that referees didn’t call Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas for hesitating on his dribble in Game 4 — and every other game of this playoff series.
But carrying the ball is not the reason Thomas scored 33 points in the Celtics’ 104-95 victory over the Bulls. Talent is. The Bulls’ inability to play defense is. And hearing Hoiberg whine about something that has become part of the game makes you wonder if he gets misty-eyed at Bob Cousy highlights.
“Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor … but when you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s impossible to guard when you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down.’’
Is the correct spelling boohoo, boo hoo or boo-hoo?
Hoiberg has complained to the referees about Thomas’ dribbling habits before and during these games. The referees apparently have smiled, patted Hoiberg on the head and told him to run along.
Asked when was the last time NBA officials enforced the rule against palming the ball, he said: “That’s a great question. They talk about it every year being a point of emphasis. It should be called.’’
Then he refused to answer any more questions about the raging fire he had started.
A coach has to fight for his team, but pick a fight you have a chance of winning. For whatever reason, traveling and carrying the ball are not called in the NBA. They just aren’t. And they won’t be. Why waste your breath?
Worse, there’s a distinct possibility that Hoiberg has ticked off Thomas, who argued after the game that he’s hard to guard because of his abilities, not because of some illegal tic in his game.
“I don’t think I’ve been called for it one time this year,’’ he said. “I don’t think that will change. I could see if I’ve been called for it a couple of times a game, but I can’t recall one time this season I’ve been called for it.’’
Thomas is gifted and fearless, which more than makes up for the fact that he’s generously listed at 5-9. Again and again, he drove to the basket, a shrub surrounded by trees, and again and again he either scored or got to the free-throw line. The Bulls have no one like him, whether Rajon Rondo is healthy or not.
An injured Rondo was fined $25,000 for sticking his foot out while the Celtics’ Jae Crowder ran by the Bulls’ bench in Game 3. He didn’t connect, and it’s unclear if he meant to. But hmmmmmm. Terrible defense hasn’t worked against Thomas. Tepid coaching hasn’t worked, either. Felonious assault? All the Bulls need is better accuracy out of Rajon’s leg. Kidding!
Game 4 went a lot like Game 3, which is to say it went nowhere fast for the Bulls. Gerald Green, who hadn’t started a game in 2016-17 before Game 3 of this series, killed the Bulls in the first half, scoring 16 points and making four of seven three-pointers.
The Bulls started the game down 14-4 and missed 10 of their first 12 shots. Hoiberg started Jerian Grant at point guard for the second straight game for no apparent reason and with no noticeable positive results. He played four minutes, 41 seconds and was a minus-10.
The Bulls’ lineup at the end of the second quarter was Isaiah Canaan, Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis and Jimmy Butler.
All of the above is why this series is tied 2-2 mere days after the Bulls returned from Boston with a 2-0 series lead against the East’s No. 1 seed. What happened? Well, yes, Rondo did fracture his thumb in Game 2 and didn’t play in either game at the United Center. But his absence doesn’t completely explain the bad defense or the anemic offense.
I’d get mad, but it’s like getting mad at a dog that has writhed in something smelly in the backyard. Dogs do things we don’t like, and so do average basketball teams.
Give the Bulls some credit. They were down by 20 at one point and came back. They took a couple of charges and clawed their way back. They actually took a two-point lead in the third quarter but were back down by double digits later in the quarter.
They lost because the Celtics’ star point guard is great. End of story.