Hello Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. I really wasn’t sure what to expect after that disjointed and disappointing loss to the Pacers. And after the way Indiana’s Troy Murphy lit us up, I was terrified of what Dwight Howard was going to do: 30+ points and 20+ rebounds didn’t seem out of the question. Howard did end up having a reasonably strong statistical performance — 26 points (10-for-18), 12 rebounds — but the Bulls’ very unexpected 120-102 win was more about what they did than what Howard and the Magic did not.
The Bulls’ shooting was phenomenal: Almost 60 percent in the first half and over 56 percent for the game. Seven Chicago players scored in double figures. As a team, they scored 30 or more points in every quarter but the third. They won the rebounding battle 44-38. They limited their turnovers to 11 (and the Magic scored only 12 points off those miscues).
Derrick Rose didn’t suffer any mysterious benchings…until the start of the fourth quarter that is. (By the time Vinny put him back in, the Bulls were already up 17.) But he still scored a team-high 22 points (11-for-20) and shared the lead in assists (5) with Brad Miller. And speaking of Brad, he had the play of the game, pilfering a pass and then shambling the length of the court for a “slow break” dunk. You’ve got to see it. And if you’ve already see it, watch it again:
The new guys are already having an impact. In addition to the 5 dimes and that steal-and-dunk, Miller contributed 9 points and 7 boards. John Salmons did a little bit of this, a little bit of that: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks. And, most surprisingly, there was Tim Thomas — the guy who wasn’t even allowed to practice let alone play during his last stint with the Bulls — who scored 17 points and drilled four three-pointers in his 24 minutes. And if you’re a fan of advanced stats, Timmy also had the highest plus-minus score of the night (+19).
As I was drinking Hurricanes and watching the game — happy belated Fat Tuesday, by the way — what struck me about John Paxson’s last-minute before-the-deadline deals is that they made the Bulls a solid nine men deep. Before, with Larry Hughes banished and Drew Gooden on the injured list, our reserve corps consisted of Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and Aaron Gray. Seriously, that was it. Now we have a four-man second unit of Hinrich, Miller, Salmons and Thomas. Three of those guys could start, and now Vinny has the luxery of bringing them in off the bench. All four of those guys can shoot. Miller can rebound. Salmons can defend and swing between shooting guard and small forward.
As Tim said: “We have guys coming off the bench that know how to play. That’s very helpful. You’ve got guys in their second, third year that are out there with energy. When they get stuck, you bring in guys like myself, John and Brad, who understand how to get the job done. That’s a huge thing.”
It really, really is. Seriously, the Bulls are suddenly kind of loaded (for the East) and much more versatile. I know this is only one game, and I’m trying to keep things in perspective — the Bulls aren’t going to beat a team as good as the Magic by 18 points every night — but last night’s win got me really juiced up. The Bulls are only a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for that final playoff spot, and with them missing Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, you have to figure that Chicago is the better team. We’re only a game ahead of the Nets, and we play them tonight in New Jersey. Big game. BIG game…