The Chicago Bulls are leading the charge questioning NBA players’ passion for the game.
Patrick Beverley said “50%” of players in the league don’t love the game on the ‘REALONESLIVE’ stream on May 3. Teammate DeMar DeRozan “100%” agreed adding that there are some “sorry m*****f******” in the NBA on ‘Podcast P with Paul George‘ on May 15.
Now, it is Alex Caruso‘s turn, albeit a bit more indirectly, as he called into question the study habits the Philadelphia 76ers players displayed in their Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics.
“I…wonder if guys watch film,” Caruso asked rhetorically on ‘The Old Man & the Three’ with J.J. Redick on May 17. “If Jayson Tatum has the ball in his left hand, there’s probably a 95% chance that he’s going to shoot it…It was blowing me away that nobody knew he was going to shoot it…You’ve got to take something away.”
Miami “limited” Tatum to 30 points in the ECF opener.
Still, Tatum’s 51-point explosion in the loss led to Sixers head coach Doc Rivers being fired after just three seasons, the shortest stint of his 24-year head coaching career. It also led to a little interaction between Caruso and Redick on social media.
Rivers told ESPN’s Malika Andrews on ‘NBA Today’ on April 13 that his Los Angeles Clippers teams — which went to the postseason four straight years and in six of seven seasons from 2013-14 to 2019-20 — failed to get over the hump because they didn’t “cooperate”.
Rivers’ L.A. teams failed to make it beyond the second round, a feat they only accomplished three times in his seven seasons as head coach.
Rivers coached Redick with the Clippers from 2013-14 through the 2016-17 season.
Alex Caruso Laments ‘Missed Opportunity’ vs Heat
The Bulls were mere minutes away from making their second consecutive trip to the postseason but fell just short, losing in the second round of the Play-In Tournament to the Miami Heat.
That same Heat team is up 1-0 on the second-seeded Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“That Play-In game hurts,” Caruso told Redick. “Definitely a missed opportunity…just came up short. It was one of those years for us, too, where that was kind of our MO. We were just a little up and down, and we were down at the wrong time.”
Chicago held a six-point lead over Miami with just 8:27 to go in the game.
The Heat outscored the Bulls 27-10 the rest of the way, earning a 102-91 victory and Miami moved on to the playoffs where they have summarily dispatched the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks in five and six games, respectively.
But Caruso made note that the Heat have taken their play to another level since the regular season led by former Bulls (and Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers) star Jimmy Butler who scored 35 points in the ECF opener and has a 56-point effort – the fourth-largest in league playoff history – to his credit from Game 4 of the first round against the Bucks.
“To be fair, the Heat from that fourth quarter to moving on, they’ve been a different team than they were all season,” Caruso said. “They flipped a switch and did something.”
Caruso also pinpointed where things went wrong for the Bulls in that game.
“We didn’t make any shots in the fourth, and we just gave up too many paint points, and then Jimmy’s just a master at kind of getting to the stuff that he gets to.”
Chicago went 3-for-13 from the floor and 2-for-6 from beyond the arc in that stretch. Butler has had a strong postseason run highlighted by a 56-point outburst in the first round.
Alex Caruso Reacts to Making First-Team All-Defense
Caruso’s All-Defensive selection was the only accolade a Bulls player came away with this season after the team took a step back from last year. Despite that, Caruso set new career highs in effective field goal percentage (and overall field goal percentage), free-throw efficiency, blocks per game, total appearances, and starts.
The last two allowed him to showcase his wares and cement himself as one of the NBA’s best defenders.
“Towards the end of the year, I almost kind of expected it to happen just because I thought I had a really good year,” he admitted. “I didn’t really think many guys were as consistent as me and had the type of year defensively that I did. And, plus, just I guard everybody’s best player.”
As the reality of his accomplishment set in, Caruso says he took time to appreciate his progress.
“I watched some of my clips from when I was…in L.A., and I was like, ‘This guy went from that to making First-Team All-Defense,” Caruso said. “That’s a hell of a accomplishment.’
Caruso worked his way from being undrafted out of Texas A&M through the G League and a two-way contract into the Lakers’ rotation and helping key their first successful title run in a decade.
“I’ve taken stuff over the years that great defensive-minded coaches have had and just…kept building on it, and mixing it with some natural talent that I have to be able to know where the ball is going.”
Caruso tied New Orleans Pelicans swingman Herb Jones for fifth in deflections among players to see action in more than one game during the regular season, per NBA.com.
He credited former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Mark Daignault – a former disciple of Bulls head coach Billy Donovan and Caruso’s coach with the Thunder’s G League affiliate – and former Lakers head coach Frank Vogel for helping him become more disruptive since he first entered the league.