But they certainly are taking care of business without him.
Mind you, the Bulls are also minus Joakim Noah (ankle), Taj Gibson (ankle) and John Lucas III (groin).
Depth? Neil Funk and Stacey King named Mike James (9 points and 10 assists) player of the game…and James was playing in the D-League two weeks ago.
Said James: “When you play with a team that really wants to make the extra pass for the next player and there is not a lot of selfishness on the team, you just have to blend in. You can’t be the lone wolf and think it’s all about you.
“You can just feel the vibe and the love because everyone wants to win. It’s not just about individual stats. That’s a championship locker room, that’s a championship team.”
What a team. What a system.
Don’t get me wrong. Taking down the Cavaliers and Bobcats on back-to-back nights without a handful of key players won’t win the Bulls a championship in June. It doesn’t even guarantee they’ll finish this lockout-shortened regular season with the league’s best record.
But the Bulls have the best record in the league right now. They’re weathering the brutal scheduling and inevitable injuries of this abbreviated season better than anybody else. And whatever the end result may be, that’s got to make Chicago fans feel good.
Said Rip Hamilton: “When guys are hurt, they cheer for guys that are out on the floor. In the NBA, that’s hard to find.”
Yeah, well, teams that go to war together the way the Bulls do are darn hard to find.
Hamilton had a season-high 20 points on efficient 9-for-15 shooting. That was a pretty heartening sign, considering Rip was brought in to give the team a little extra scoring punch to support D-Rose.
Speaking of extra scoring punch, Carlos Boozer (23 points and 9 rebounds) has been bringing it in Rose’s absense. Booz has averaged 24 points on 57 percent shooting over the past three games.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “Carlos has been playing at a very high level now for a number of games. He’s in rhythm, he’s walking into his shots, he’s got great balance.”
And let’s not forget the contributions of Luol Deng (22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), C.J. Watson (11 points and 9 assists), and Omer Asik (15 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots).
It was Asik’s first career start. Not too shabby.
Said Boozer: “Look at Omer. At the last minute, [we] find out that Jo can’t go. Omer comes in and has 15 rebounds, plays like a man in there. Get him in that rookie/sophomore game by the way. Vote for Omer Asik.”
Give John Paxson and Gar Forman a lot of credit. They have done an amazing job managing this team. And it is excellently coached by Thibs.
There’s very little not to like about this Bulls squad.
I’ll admit, I’m still wary of the Miami Heat, even if they did lose to the Milwaukee Bucks today. When push comes to playoff shove, will the Bulls have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with a (presumably) healthy Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James? Will anybody?
Of course, just last June, the Dallas Mavericks showed that great team chemistry can trump that trio of superstars (well, if you want to call Bosh a superstar, which may be stretching things a bit).
If any team this season could replicate that achievement, it would be these Bulls.
In the short term, though, injuries are becoming more and more of a concern, depth or no. Rose is still day-to-day with his toe injury. Ditto for Gibson. Also ditto for Deng, who sprained his left wrist against the Bobcats. Noah thinks he’ll be ready to go against the New Jersey Nets on Monday, but man, the Bulls are getting more shorthanded by the day.
But what can they do? Play. Just play. It’s been working pretty well so far.
Bobcats Injury Report:
DeSanga Diop: questionable (right knee inflammation)
Corey Maggette: out (strained left hamstring)
Eduoardo Najera: out (knee surgery)
Reggie Williams: out (knee surgery)
Chicago returns home tonight and looks to win their third game in a row, all of which came without Derrick Rose. They will probably be without their star again when they try to improve to 7-0 at home, but if the last two games are any foreshadowing; the Bulls should be alright against Charlotte.
The Bobcats have had off since Tuesday though, while the Bulls are playing the second night of a back-to-back. Chicago should still be pretty well rested.
Carlos Boozer (31 minutes), Joakim Noah (32), Luol Deng (33), Richard Hamilton (26) and C.J. Watson (31) didn’t play huge minutes. When Deng only plays 33 minutes something went very right or very wrong in the game (or Thibodeau was kidnapped and replaced with someone who believes Deng can rest). And this time everything went right.
You also know things went right when Mike James and Brian Scalabrine get eight minutes of playing time. I could get used to Scalabrine getting minutes, because that means the Bulls are winning big and getting rest.
Chicago shot 55.4 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from three, 94.1 percent from the line and won by 39. The Bulls’ defense was back to their stifling ways, holding the Cavaliers to 75 points on 30.3 percent shooting. And the Bulls were also playing Cleveland, which usually helps make you look good.
I don’t want to just spit numbers at you, but I’m going to for a second. The Bobcats are 26th in offensive rating, 29th in defensive rating, 23rd in effective field goal percentage, 26th in opponent effective field goal percentage, and 28th in free throws per field goal attempt. Really you could pick almost any stat and the Bobcats would be in the lower half of the league, but those jump out. They can’t score, can’t defend and don’t get to the line. Not quite the recipe for success.
With all that said, the Bobcats have been trouble for Chicago recently. Last year, the Bulls split the four games with Charlotte, even losing one in Chicago.
The Bulls lost the first two matchups of the season. In those two games, the Bobcats only turned the ball over 14 times; while Chicago coughed it up 23 times. Charlotte is holding onto the ball this year as well, ranking ninth in turnover percentage. The first loss came without Noah and the second loss came without Noah and Boozington.
Boozer scored 23 in the first game, while Deng added 22. Rose scored 17 in this game, but shot 29 percent. In game two, Rose found his touch and shot 50 percent, but no other starter shot better than 33 percent. Deng scored only ten points and the Bulls fell by one point. The Bobcats went 0-13 from three and still found a way to win that game.
Chicago flipped the script and won the next two each by double digits.
Back to this year, Chicago returns to the United Center where they are undefeated this season and allowing just 71.8 points on 36.7 shooting.
But the Bulls have their injury problems. Obviously Rose is hurt, and unlikely to play, but Taj Gibson left Friday’s game with an ankle injury and was seen afterwards with a walking boot. John Lucas was also injured in the Cavs game, but should be ready to go tonight. The Bulls are starting to look like the Tune Squad at the end of Space Jam.
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That’s what Cleveland coach Byron Scott said shortly before tipoff when he found out Derrick Rose would miss the game due to his toe injury.
But after the Bulls beat his team by 39 points — the biggest home loss in Cavaliers franchise history — I had to wonder what kind of prayers Byron has been saying.
I guess the Basketball Gods have a sense of humor.
The Bulls shot a blistering 55.4 percent from the field and held the Cadavers, er, Cavaliers to 30 percent shooting while sharing the ball like it was Christmas (27 assists) and owning the boards (55-38). And Chicago’s Offensive Rebounding Rate was nearly 40 percent.
How dominating were the Bulls? They led by as many as 42 points despite committing 20 turnovers. There was Cavalier blood in the water and the Bulls were the sharks.
And after this execution, Scott wasn’t talking about prayers. He was talking cold, hard reality: “Chicago was aggressive and physical and the more (shots) they hit, the more we took steps back. We didn’t react to their physical play whatsoever — besides the whining. You can not let a good team like they are come in and play harder, be more physical, more aggressive and expect to win or even be in the game. We have a long way to go. Simple as that. We have a lot of work to do.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls are destroying opponents without the league’s reigning MVP. Plus Taj Gibson (sprained left ankle) and John Lucas III (strained left groin) got hurt during the game.
Said Carlos Boozer: “Deepest team I’ve ever played on, 100 percent,” Boozer said. “Other than All-Star and Olympic teams, this is the deepest team. Most teams go to their bench and hold their own. We got to our bench and they can open the lead.”
It was another all-around team effort. Luol Deng led the team in scoring with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Carlos Boozer had a big-time double-double (19 points and 14 rebounds). Joakim Noah barely missed a double-double (10 rebounds and 8 points). C.J. Watson had 15 points and 7 assists. Rip Hamilton chipped in 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting. The Bench Mob contributed 38 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists.
And of course there was the defense that held the Cavs to 78.9 points per 100 possessions.
Look, I expected the Bulls to win, even without Rose. But I didn’t expect the outcome to be this lopsided. I mean, the Cavaliers aren’t great, or even good, but they’re not terrible.
I guess those Bullies are pretty good.
After this team overachieved last season, experts and pundits openly questioned whether the Bulls could go all out every night again. Whether they could exhibit the same desire, effort, and intensity for a full season.
Well, it hasn’t been a full season yet, but it sure looks like they can and they will, doesn’t it?
I hate to go all cliche here, but the Bulls play basketball the right way. This is a fun team to watch.
Unless you’re a Cleveland fan.
As for the status of Gibson and Lucas for tonight’s game against the Bobcats?
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said: “Day-to-day. They’re nicked up a little bit, but they’ll be fine. [Bulls team trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] will have a better read on it [Saturday].”
Added Gibson: “I could play tomorrow probably, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
You know, at one time, I would have been worried. But the way things are going, I feel like the Bulls will be fine either way.
Cleveland Injury Report:
Anthony Parker: probable (sore lower back)
Derrick Rose could miss his third straight game when the Bulls try to win in Cleveland tonight.
The Cavaliers and Chicago have both had off since Tuesday. The Bulls dominated the Suns on Tuesday, without the reigning MVP, while Cleveland lost to Golden State. That loss to the Warriors was the Cavs homecoming after a seven game road trip. Kyrie Irving had himself an impressive stat line in a losing effort, scoring 18 points and adding eight rebounds and five assists. Anderson Varejao recorded a double-double with 10 points and 13 boards.
Irving is averaging 17.7 points, 5.2 assists and is shooting 48.6 percent from the field (he is also shooting better than 44 percent from three in his last ten games).
Some of the Bulls had some very impressive games against Phoenix. C.J. Watson scored 23 points and dished five assists filling in for Rose. Watson had zero turnovers in 33 minutes as well. Carlos Boozer scored 26 points in the first half, and finished with 31 points and six rebounds. The 31 points is a season high for Boozington. Rip Hamilton returned from injury to score eleven and added six assists. Joakim Noah got back on track with 13 points and 12 rebounds, his third double-double of the season.
Part of this was the Suns inability, and apathy, on defense, but still these were impressive numbers by the Bulls’ players in a game in which they needed to step up.
But the Bulls allowed the Suns to shoot 51.4 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from three and score 97 points. Not quite the great Bulls defense that is expected when they play in the United Center.
And it doesn’t appear that Derrick Rose will be playing tonight. ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell tweeted earlier today “Doesn’t sound like Derrick’s playing tonight. Said this turf toe injury is worse than the one he had two years ago.” Rose didn’t participate in the morning shootaround and will be a game-time decision. Derrick did say that he did want to play, but I think it is better that he rests.
This is the best time for Derrick to sit out some games, and actually heal. Chicago plays Cleveland, Charlotte and New Jersey in their next three games, which should be wins even without Rose. Add to that the Phoenix game Derrick just missed, and this is probably the easiest four game stretch the Bulls have all season.
Plus C.J. Watson played well, and has always played well, in Rose’s absence. Watson averages better than 24 points in games which Rose is out. Even John Lucas stepped up that one time Derrick was out. You remember that, right? When he had 28 shot attempts…good times, good times.
It would’ve been fun to see Derrick Rose go against rookie Kyrie Irving, but we will have to settle for Watson and Lucas most likely. And until Rose is actually healthy, that’s the way it should stay. The first game the Bulls should need Rose is Wednesday against Indiana.
Last season the Bulls were 4-0 against Cleveland. Chicago won by an average of nearly ten points, with their biggest win being by thirteen. So the games weren’t big blowouts like some may have expected.
The Cavs were one of the few teams to bring down more offensive rebounds when playing the Bulls. Cleveland averaged 11.5 offensive rebounds per game, while Chicago averaged just 8.0. That was the Bulls’ lowest offensive rebounding total against any team last season. Chicago did average more total rebounds than the Cavs though.
Antawn Jamison averaged 23.7 points and 8.7 rebounds against Chicago last year. While, Carlos Boozer averaged 21.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the last three games against Cleveland. In the first game he scored just four points and grabbed three rebounds in more than 20 minutes.
If Derrick Rose is once again out, the Bulls will need players to continue to step up. Who is it going to be tonight?
The Bulls were still without Derrick Rose (toe injury), but they were at home and facing a Phoenix Suns team that was playing defense like…
…well, okay, the Suns weren’t playing any defense. None that I could see anyway.
The Bulls got whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it. I mean, 118 points on 53.5 percent shooting is crazy, especially considering the extended garbage time. And check out these advanced stats: Their Offensive Rebounding Rate was 27.9 and their Free Throw Rate was 27.3.
So, basically, the Bullies either a) hit the shot, b) rebounded their miss, or c) got fouled.
Chicago scored a season-high 39 points in the first quarter and finished the first half with a season-best 67 points.
And boy oh boy was the ball moving. The Bulls ended up with 31 assists on 47 made baskets. With only 6 turnovers!
Said Carlos Boozer: “We’re a very unselfish team. We had a meeting earlier this season saying guys were too unselfish and passing up open shots. We know when we have 20-plus assists we’re moving the ball well and most games we have that.”
Speaking of Boozer, he played like he was in NBA2K with the Difficulty Level set to “Rookie.” Booz finished with a season-high 31 points on ridiculous 14-for-21 shooting.
C.J. Watson played like an All-Star: 33 minutes, 23 points, 8-for-12 from the field, 3-for-3 from downtown, 4-for-4 from the line, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and zero turnovers.
Joakim Noah finally played, well, the way Bulls fans have been waiting for him to play, finishing with 13 points (6-for-10), 12 boards, 3 assists and a steal. He also tied Boozer with a game-high plus-minus score of +24.
Oh, and Rip Hamilton returned to the starting lineup, contributing 11 points and 6 assists in 21 minutes.
Said Boozer: “We came out with a great sense of focus. For us, we wanted to get back out there and play after playing so poorly last night.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “I thought it was great. We had a lot of guys play well.”
The Bulls got open shot after open shot. And they were hitting them. Via Hoopdata, here’s a breakdown of how they fared from each shot location:
At the rim: 14-for-21 (66.7%)
3-9 feet: 6-for-12 (50.0%)
10-15 feet: 5-for-9 (55.6%)
16-23 feet: 17-for-33 (51.6%)
Three-pointers: 5-for-10 (50.0%)
Here’s where I get to be a killjoy. Know which of those numbers jumps out at me? The 33 attempts from 16-23 feet. That’s the worst zone a basketball team can shoot from: the long two-pointer. The Bulls attempted more field goals from that than any other.
And they were extremely hot.
Normally, Chicago shoots 37.1 percent from 16-23 feet, which ranks 17th in the league.
All I’m saying is this: They played great and the blowout was fun and games…but it was also a bit of an abberration. As much as their blowout loss to the Grizzlies was the night before.
But then again, looking around the league at all the odd results, this seems like it’s going to be a season full of abberrations.
But enough naysaying. The Bulls dominated a bad team without their leader and best player. And C.J. Watson was great in replacement. I quoted the stats above. In only his second game back from a dislocated elbow, he played a nearly perfect game. Credit him for staying in shape and practicing his butt off during his two-week layoff. The kid works. Make no mistake: Watson wants to be a starter, but his only opportunity to do so on this team is when Rose is out.
Said Boozer: “It’s crazy tough [to be in that situation]. Look how good he’s been playing. He played great [Monday] off the bench, to the point where Thibs was like, ‘I got to go and start this guy with D. Rose being out.’ He came back tonight and had another great game. That’s the thing about it, though. C.J.’s been a great player his whole career. He’s always played behind guys that were very good. It’s tough playing behind the MVP this year … He leads our Bench Mob when we’ve got a full roster. He’s a very good pro to say the least.”
It was a good night and the post-game mojo was great. After that Rose-less performance, it’s pretty likely the team will go ahead and rest Derrick for this weekend’s games against the Cavaliers and Bobcats.
Phoenix Injury Report:
Grant Hill: day-to-day (groin, knee)
Chicago was without their star and their “A” game in their loss to Memphis on Martin Luther King Day. In all honesty, they were without their “B” game too.
Games like the one against Memphis show how far the Bulls have to go to be a championship team. It magnified their troubles when Derrick Rose isn’t on the court. To say the Bulls looked lost on offense would be an understatement. They were so lost at times they couldn’t have found their offense with a GPS. Chicago recorded only 12 assists on 33 made buckets. The Bulls went 1-12 from three—a very Memphis-like showing from behind the arc.
Ronnie Brewer went 3-9, Joakim Noah went 1-4 and Kyle Korver went 0-4. When Korver isn’t scoring, he is almost totally worthless, except for the attractive quota…right ladies?
And the Bulls defense might have been worse. Chicago gave up 102 points on 54 percent shooting. The Bulls gave up 62 points in the paint. Chicago was giving up 37.3 points in the paint per game, seventh in the league. Did Derrick Rose take the interior defense with him to the bench?
It easy, and fun, to rely on Derrick, but he can’t play 48 minutes a game (that’s Luol Deng’s job). At some point the Bulls will have to learn to perform without long stretches of the MVP.
The Bulls got outrebounded by 15 against the Grizzlies, something that shouldn’t happen tonight. The Suns are 28th in defensive rebounding percentage, at .705. Chicago is first in offensive rebounding percentage (.325) and fifth in defensive rebounding percentage (.760).
Yes, the Bulls didn’t have Rip Hamilton, and John Lucas started the game because it was C.J. Watson’s first game back since his injury, but the Bulls need to be able to contend without Rose. Memphis was playing without Zach Randolph and they still scored those 62 points in the paint.
Rose told media after the Memphis game that he wanted to play against the Suns, though. “If it was up to me…I want to play tomorrow,” Rose said.
This season, Rose’s offensive efficiency is 115 and his defensive efficiency is 98, according to Basketball-Reference. Against Memphis, the Bulls’ offensive efficiency was 90.5 and their defensive efficiency was 107.4. Now that was just one game, and Memphis wanted revenge for the big loss on New Year’s Day, but it scratches the scab off Chicago’s biggest problem—if Rose isn’t doing everything, like when he is out with an injury or foul trouble, no one else comes close to filling his void.
When Chicago’s offense deteriorated into Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson playing hot potato until there was five seconds on the shot clock, something needs to be changed.
Maybe a change of opponent and of venue will be enough. The Suns aren’t great this season, and they are currently on a four game skid. Marcin Gortat is leading the Suns in scoring, at 14.3 points per game. But Phoenix (sadly) isn’t running-and-gunning like they used to. The Suns are 20th in pace—Mike D’Antoni would not approve.
Steve Nash is still doing Steve Nash things, averaging 10.1 assists, but his scoring is down somewhat, to 13.2 points per game. The Suns only have three players averaging double digit points (Jared Dudley being the third).
The Bulls have been spectacular on defense when at the United Center. Chicago is allowing 66.8 points per game at home this year. Opponents are shooting 34 percent. But maybe the rims are smaller in Chicago, because the Bulls are scoring 85.4 points on 40.5 percent shooting. Imagine those numbers without Derrick Rose…It may be a repeat of the 78-64 win over Washington in which the Bulls shot 36.7 percent.
Chicago won both games against the Suns last year, but they were both close. The first contest went into double overtime before the Bulls pulled out the win. Rose scored 35 points and added 12 rebounds and seven assists. Luol Deng scored 26 points, grabbed ten rebounds and played more than 53 minutes. Korver scored 24 points off the bench. Steve Nash scored 14 points and dropped 16 dimes, while Grant Hill scored 27.
In the second match-up, the Bulls had six players in double figures, Steve Nash once again recorded 16 assists and Keith Bogans scored three points in almost 18 minutes—gosh I miss him.
But those games were with Rose on the court. Without Derrick, anything can happen, and it’s still unknown if he will play today.
Said Rose: “I went out there to shoot. (I was) a little sore. Sorer than usual. And I decided to sit out. (I was) mad. Mad the whole time. But hopefully in the future it gets better. It’s my decision … they left it up to me for (Tuesday).”
But there was more at work than just a missing superstar. Speaking of which…
…beware of revenge games.
Remember: The Bulls beat the Grizzlies by 40 points on New Years Day.
The Memphis players weren’t going to forget that.
No way. No how.
And before the game, Mike Conley made sure of it: “I said, ‘Let’s not forget what happened. That was the last thing I said to them: ‘That was an embarrassing loss. Let’s go out there and just play hard and leave it all out there on the court.’ I thought guys really took that to heart, especially in the first 6-7 minutes of the game.”
They sure did. And the Rose-less Bulls weren’t ready for it.
Said Luol Deng: “I don’t think we did a good job mentally preparing for them. We should have been ready for that. We should have known that anytime you beat a team like that in the NBA, next time, they can’t wait to see you. We should have been more prepared.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “They got great shots. They killed us on the boards. They turned us over. If you don’t defend, you don’t rebound and you turn it over, you don’t give yourself much of a chance to win.”
The numbers are ugly.
The Bulls rank first in Opponents PPG (85.0) and second in both Points Per Shot (1.03) and Opponents Adjusted Field Goal Percentage (.443). But the Grizzlies finished with 102 points on 54 percent shooting.
The Bulls lead the league in rebounds per game (46.6) and, more importantly, rebound differential (+8.2). But Memphis won the rebounding battle 46-34. And the Grizzlies’ Offensive Rebounding Rate was unbelievable 41.7.
Memphis scored 62 points in the paint and converted Chicago’s 19 turnovers into 26 points going the other way.
Yes, Rose and Rip Hamilton were both out, forcing Thibs to go with a starting backcourt of John Lucas III and Ronnie Brewer. But that wasn’t reason enough for what happened. Derrick may be the heartbeat of Chicago’s offense, but he’s not the driving force behind the defense and rebounding.
The Bulls came out flat. They were smacked around and then beaten down.
I get that their schedule has been challenging: 15 games in 24 days, 10 of which have been on the road, plus injuries and almost no time to practice. But there were other problems.
Such as another fourth quarter benching for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Boozer dropped 13 points in the first half before going scoreless in the second. At least Booz kind of contributed. Noah — whom many people thought could be an All-Star this season health permitting — was awful: 22 minutes, 2 points, 1-for-4, 5 rebounds, 1 block, zero assists, zero steals, 3 turnovers.
I actually wanted Noah off the floor.
I’m officially worried about this. Jo is one of my favorite players ever. I love his fire and energy. But he’s playing like somebody used a time machine to bring back the rookie version of Joakim Noah. I keep wondering: Is he hurt? Like, really, really hurt? He’s playing that badly.
And I have other troubling questions. Such as:
How long will Hamilton be sidelined?
How bad off is Rose’s toe? Will the pain linger all season and into the playoffs?
It’s just one game. The sky isn’t falling. The Bulls still have the best record in their conference.
But I can’t shake the feeling that things are off. Time will tell…
Monday will be the second time Chicago plays Memphis in half a month, and the second year in a row the two teams faced off on Martin Luther King Day. The New Year’s Day game was one to forget for the Grizzlies. Chicago won 104-64, one of the worst losses Memphis has suffered—since Elvis of course. Brian Scalabrine played six minutes in that game. That should tell you a little about how the outing went if you couldn’t tell from the score.
Let’s go through a few of the stats. Memphis shot 31 percent from the field. This is something the Bulls have been doing all season (the Bulls are second in opponent effective field goal percentage). Two of Chicago’s last three opponents, Toronto and Washington, shot lower than 35 percent.
The most shots made by a Memphis starter was two—done by three different players. Those two made field goals came on six shots, 12 shots and 13 shots. The three starters that played more than 20 minutes recorded plus-minuses of -36, -36 and -38. (Zach Randolph only played eleven minutes before going down with an injury. He’s expected to be out six to eight weeks.)
Chicago outrebounded the Griz by 15, had eleven more assists and eight more blocks.
What I’m trying to say is that the Grizzlies got dominated by Chicago in every way imaginable. The Bulls may have even taken their lunch money and given them wedgies.
But Monday’s game is a new chance. First of all Memphis is playing at home, finishing up a four game home stand. The Grizzlies will have starting point guard Mike Conley for this matchup, instead of Jeremy Pargo starting. Memphis won their last two times out going into Monday’s game, wins over the Knicks and Hornets.
Against the Hornets, Rudy Gay scored 23 points on 9-23 shooting, Marc Gasol scored 20 points and grabbed eleven rebounds. Conley scored 17 points, had 7 assists and recorded a game-best plus-minus of +23.
Another change may be the pace. The Bulls had 33 fast break points in that first matchup. But that was when the Bulls were running a lot. In the last three games combined the Bulls have had only 20 fast break points.
Chicago may get back-up point guard C.J. Watson back though, who was injured in the last Memphis game. Watson is averaging 6.2 points, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals this year in five games. This would mean the end of John “28 Attempts” Lucas getting to shoot in professional basketball games. I’m alright with the end of that.
And the Grizzlies’ two game win streak is cute, but Chicago is currently on a five game run of their own. The Bulls have been doing it Tom Thibodeau’s way—with defense. Three of Chicago’s last five opponents have scored 68 points or fewer (granted those teams were the Raptors, Wizards and Pistons, but still). Boston couldn’t get to 80 against Chicago. The Timberwolves got to 100, but they have Ricky Rubio, so that’s understandable; and the Bulls were playing on the road. The Bulls are allowing 66.8(!) points at home, but are giving up 93.2 away from the United Center.
The last time Chicago faced Memphis on Martin Luther King Day, one year ago, Derrick Rose recorded his only career triple-double, with 22 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Rose only shot 35 percent in that game (7-20), but got to the line nine times to help his poor shooting night. Bulls fans could surely go for another MLK Day triple-double from the reigning MVP.
But still…didn’t every other team get locked out too?
The Bulls did. And that lack of prep and conditioning has probably contributed to their injury woes. Derrick Rose, C.J. Watson and Rip Hamilton have combined to miss 17 games so far.
And, thanks to post-lockout scheduling, Chicago is eight games into a stretch of nine games in 12 days.
The Bulls’ record during that stretch: 7-1.
Their record overall: An NBA-best 11-2.
Some teams have it. Some teams don’t. The Bulls have it. The Celtics do not.
But, again, not everyone agrees.
Said Ray Allen: “We’re still young in the season and by no means is it discouraging. We know what’s in us and we know what this team is capable of.”
Added Celtics coach Doc Rivers: “It’s been frustrating. But listen, I’d rather have it now. You’re going to go through adversity or stuff; I’d rather have it right now. Like I told our guys, I said, ‘If you get through this, it’ll make you a hell of a basketball team.’ And I always use the word ‘if’ because you have to. You have to fight through it.”
Boston’s banged up captain, Paul Pierce, had a rough night: 36 minutes, 13 points, 3-for-12, 5 assists, 1 rebound and a plus-minus score of -18.
Remember: After he was named Finals MVP back in ’08, he said (when asked whether the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was the best player in the world): “I don’t think Kobe is the best player. I’m the best player. There’s a line that separates having confidence and being conceited. I don’t cross that line but I have a lot of confidence in myself.”
Forget Kobe. Last night, Pierce couldn’t handle Luol Deng, who lit The Truth up for 21 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot and a plus-minus score of +16.
Paul isn’t talking about being the world’s best player any more.
Said Pierce: ”I have to play better for us to win ballgames, and I realize that. I’m not going to say I’m 100 percent. I didn’t come back 100 percent. I’m getting back in basketball shape. The heel isn’t all the way where I’d like it to be. At some point in the season, it will be. It’s nothing I’m worried about right now.”
Maybe that’s the veteran in him talking. Maybe it’s wishful thinking.
I guess time will tell.
Things are looking pretty good for your Chicago Bulls, though.
They have played nine of their 13 games so far on the road. Hasn’t mattered all that much. Last night, they charged into the TD Garden, went up 26-13 after 12 minutes, and led by as many as 20 in the second half.
Yes, the Celtics made their run, cutting Chicago’s lead to a single point in the fourth.
But that only highlighted another difference between these two teams.
The Bulls have a superstar. The Celtics do not.
Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen used to be.
Rajon Rondo is close. But close only counts in horse shoes and nukes.
(As an aside, remember early last season when everybody was debating whether Rondo was better than Rose. A lot of people were saying Rondo. A lot. I don’t hear any of that these days.)
After Mickael Pietrus’ three-pointer cut Chicago’s lead all the way down to 67-66 with 10 minutes to go, D-Rose did what D-Rose does.
With 9:00 left, Rose drove in for a layup (69-66).
With 8:20 left, Rose drew a foul and hit both freebies (71-66).
With 7:30 left, Rose drilled a triple (74-68).
With 4:58 left, Rose knocked down another three (80-71).
With 2:14 left and the Celts making their last gasp, Rose drove in for another layup (84-73). And it was a pretty amazing one at that:
Derrick didn’t do it alone. He got help from timely buckets by Deng, Joakim Noah and Ronnie Brewer. But when the Bulls needed a closer, Rose did the closing.
It’s not like the Celtics just stood and watched. They tried to stop Rose. They just couldn’t.
Not down the stretch anyway.
Rose, who has an injured toe and was in a walking boot before the game, had a tough shooting night (9-for-21, 2-for-6 on three-pointers). But he finished with 25 points to go with 7 assists, 4 rebounds and all those clutch plays.
Said Rose: “They were giving me the shot. I probably was out a little bit further than I normally am, but they didn’t come and contest and I was just shooting. My teammates have confidence in me. They see how hard I work on my shot and my game. And at the end of the game like that when situations happen, they’re going to give me the ball.”