To continue what has become a common refrain this season, the Bulls had yet another “first time since the Michael Jordan era” moment yesterday when they reached the always-special 60-win plateau.
In fact, the only other times the Bulls have ever won at least 60 games was in the MJ era. Jordan’s teams did it in 1990-91 (61-21), 1991-92 (67-15), 1995-96 (72-10), 1996-97 (69-13) and 1997-98 (62-20).
In theory, win number 60 should have been a little easier than it was. After all, the Magic were minus Dwight Howard (not to mention J.J Redick and Quentin Richardson). Meanwhile, the Bulls were on fire: They hit 10 of their first 11 shots and finished the game shooting 60 percent from the field and 7-for-13 from downtown. They hit 22 of their 26 free throw attempts, won the rebounding battle 37-33 and registered 25 assists on their 36 field goals. Plus, Derrick Rose was unstoppable (39 points, 13-for-17 from the field, 3-for-5 from downtown, 10-for-10 from the line).
What the Bulls did not expect was such a spirited performance from an understaffed Magic team. Ryan Anderson tried to do his best Dwight Howard impersonation by scoring a career-high 28 points (9-for-18 from the f ield, 4-for-8 from downtown, 6-for-6 from the line) to go with 10 rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot. Jason Richardson was locked in (24 points on 10-for-14 shooting including 4-for-5 from downtown) and Jameer Nelson was ready to play (17 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals).
I’m sure Howard’s teammates all support his bid for MVP. But they sure don’t seem to agree with what has become the primary argument in Howard’s favor: That they’re basically a bunch of bums who would totally fall apart without him. They didn’t. Although their defense sure left something to be desired.
Of course, that D helped force the Bulls into 21 turnovers, which led to 23 points going the other way. That was the reason the Magic didn’t get blown out. That Orlando actually took a three-point lead in the fourth was a little stunning. But weird things happen when you give the basketball away.
Said Magic coach Stan Van Grumpy, er, Gundy: “It is hard to believe you’re even in the game. Their 21 turnovers were they only thing that kept us in the game. … We didn’t defend them well enough to win. They were breaking us down every time.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “They played extremely well. It wasn’t a good game for us. Our defense wasn’t very good, our rebounding was below average and we didn’t take care of the ball. We were fortunate (to) win.”
Sorry, Stan. Thibs will not be outdone in the “not happy with my team’s performance” department.
Rose was his usual clutch self, scoring 11 points in the fourth, including eight points in the final 4:26. The final flurry started with an eight-foot jumper to put the Bulls up 91-89. With 2:40 left, after the Magic had gone up 94-91, Rose drew a foul on Anderson and went 2-for-2 from the line. Luol Deng had the ball stolen by Richardson on Chicago’s next possession, then Taj Gibson stole Richardson’s pss and fed it to Rose for a dunk that put the Bulls up 95-94. Rose also went 2-for-2 from the line with nine seconds left to put Chicago up 100-96.
Still, there was added drama when Richardson drilled a three with two seconds left. Carlos Boozer was fouled and connected on both freebies to put the Bulls up 102-99. Nelson very neary tied the game with a triple at the buzzer, but video review showed he shot it a little too late.
Make it seven wins in a row and 19 in their last 20.
Still, the Bulls really should have won this game more handily, and they know it.
Said Rose: “We had them. We should have easily put them away. But we continue to let teams come back. It’s going to hurt us if we continue to do this. But we’re definitely happy with this win. We’ve got to learn how to put teams away.”
That’s what a leader should say. Leaders can’t be satisified. Rose never is. And it underscores the point made by ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell: That Rose is and has been a better leader this season than Howard. The main arguments against Rose-for-MVP revolve around stats. But it’s worth noting that leadership is an important component in that whole “Valuable” thing.
I know this makes members of the advanced stats community fidgety because you can’t really quantify leadership or its affect on teammates — some people will say it comes out in plus-minus, but leadership is much broader in scope — but Derrick leads better than Dwight. Even Howard’s coach seems to know that.
Said Van Gundy: “I think where the understanding’s got to be is, when you want to be a leader, how you project yourself is not just about what you think is best for you. It’s how it affects your teammates and everyone else. That’s sort of a fine line with Dwight. Dwight can be loose and a little goofy at times and it is hard to say it’s affecting his play because you just look at what he’s done this year, but it affects his teammates. It affects their preparation and it affects their play. I think he’s got to be able to weigh those two things.”
Anyway, not much more to say on that subject, and, anyway, you should read Friedell’s article. Hey, Rose is more concerned with titles than MVPs, and we probably should be, too.