Chicago had already clinched a playoff berth when Charlotte suffered a three-point loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Friday Night, but that hardly effected the quality of play. Both teams still wanted desperately to win this one, the Bulls for playoff positioning and the Bobcats for a little thing called pride. What ensued was an exceptionally competitive game, with nine ties, 18 lead changes and neither team going up by more than 10 points.
In the end, Chicago’s home court mastery and Charlotte’s road court ineptitude led to a 113-106 Bulls victory. That’s right: The Bulls now win games down the stretch instead of losing them. (At home, anyway.) Ben Gordon and John Salmons both started steaming in the fourth quarter, combining for 24 of Chicago’s 35 points. Meanwhile, the Bobcats melted down like a brick of cheese in the summer sun, committing 8 of their 16 turnovers in the final 12 minutes. Said Charlotte coach Larry Brown: “I can’t explain it because it’s not like we’re being trapped or pressed. We just throw it all around.” Sounds kind of like the Bulls of a couple months ago, doesn’t it?
What a transformation. In addition to the fourth-quarter execution, the Bulls now take care of the ball — they finished with only 9 turnovers last night — and then try to cram it down their opponents’ throats. Chicago has become a running team, a high-scoring team. Back in January, they were putting up 99.6 points per contest. In February, it increased to 104.6. In March, it rose to 106.4. This month it’s gone up to 109.8. To provide some perspective, the Phoenix Suns currently lead the league in scoring at 109.2 PPG.
Think Mike D’Antoni is starting to wish he would have picked Chicago over New York?
The Bulls also are sharing the ball. Versus the ‘Cats, they assisted on 27 of their 40 baskets, and five players finished with at least 3 assists. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — yes, Joakim Noah — took co-honors with 7 each. The defense is still a little lacking, as Charlotte shot 50 percent from the field and an incredible 60 percent from beyond the arc (9-for-15). But while the Bobcats were sizzling from the outside, Chicago’s interior defense held strong: Charlotte got only two dunks and missed 14 of their 24 layup attempts. So at least the Bulls — who blocked 6 shots — are protecting the rim.
There were plenty of hero medals to pass around, the first of which went to Air Gordon. He exploded for a game-high 39 points (13-for-25), drilled seven of his 12 three-point attempts and went a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. Then there was Rose. In addition to dropping dimes, he scored 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting. And the early-season criticism of his jumper is way past its freshness date. Rose has been knocking them down lately, and last night he went 9-for-13 from the outside. You can do the math on your own, but I’ll go ahead and tell you that that’s pretty good.
Other heroes include Noah (11 points, 10 boards and 2 block to go with those 7 assists), Salmons (who finished with 19 after a terrible first three quarters) and Kirk Hinrich (who scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting off he bench).
Playoff positioning: Thanks to the Pistons’ four-point setback to the Pacers in Indiana, the Bulls are in sole possession of seventh place right now, a full game ahead of Detroit. They’re also within a half-game of sixth-place Philadelphia and only 1.5 games behind fifth-place Miami. So, within a week, Chicago has gone from “might not make the playoffs” to “could finish fifth in their conference.” Give that a few seconds to sink in…
…feels good, doesn’t it?
Masters of their domain: Drumroll please: The Bulls now have won 14 of 15 at the United Center, where they are 28-12 on the season. That’s the fifth-best mark in the Conference (behind Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and Atlanta).
Streakin’: The Bulls are 11-3 overall in their last 14 games. Only one of those three defeats came at home (to the Los Angeles Lakers) and the other two were an overtime loss in Toronto and a two-point setback in Indianapolis.
A return to old (bad) habits: After earning a career-high 14 free throw attempts against the Sixers, Tyrus Thomas fell back in love with his jump shot. He finished 3-for-10, going 1-for-7 from the outside.
Stacey King, quote machine: When Vladimir Radmanovic committed a frustration foul on Aaron Gray with 42 seconds left in the third quarter, King exclaimed: “He came over like Edward Scissor Hands!” He then suggested that Vlad’s bushy beard was quite possibly a sign that Radmanovic was in the witness protection program.