Let me start off by saying that watching the Bulls take care of business was pretty gratifying. Last night’s 117-102 win over the Bucks gave them sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, not to mention a 3-1 regular season series win over the Bucks. So, should the two teams finish with identical records, Chicago has the tiebreaker. And to break down the potato sack race for the East’s final playoff spot: The Bulls currently are sitting on it, one game up on the Bucks, one and a half games up on the Nets and Bobcats, two and a half games up on the Pacers and Knicks.
It’s good to be looking down on the competition for a change.
Reasons for joy: Ben Gordon had one of those “Air Gordon” games, scoring a game-high 34 points (10-for-19), getting to the foul line for a game-high 11 attempts and nailing four (out of six) triples. He also chipped in 7 assists (a team-high), 4 steals (also a team-high) and 4 boards (which is a lot for such a wee tiny man). Heck, BG even blocked Richard Jefferson’s layup attempt a minute into the first quarter. Little Ben was, without doubt, our player of the game.
Not too far behind, though, was Derrick Rose, who matched his career-high with 27 points (10-for-19, 7-for-7 at the line). Rose — who also had 6 assists and 2 steals — was a key component of Chicago’s 29-15 edge in fast break points. And the running of the Bulls had a major impact on the final outcome. Said Gordon: “We did a great job of getting out in transition and making the right plays. Every time we got a rebound or a steal, it seemed like almost every time we converted.”
Other notable performances: John Salmons scored 21 on 7-for-13 shooting (although he missed both of his three-point attempts). Joakim Noah had a game-high 13 rebounds (including 4 on the offensive end) to go along with his 7 points (2-for-4). Kirk Hinrich had 11 points (4-for-4) and 4 assists in the first half but missed most of the rest of the game due to a bruised right quadriceps he suffered early into the third quarter.
Brad Miller looked awful through three quarters, shooting 1-for-7 and committing 3 turnovers. (And some of his shots were truly ugly, forced up while under pressure with little hope of drawing iron.) But Brad came on in the fourth, contributing two jumpers (from 11 and 20 feet out) and an assist (to John Salmons) during a 10-2 Bulls run, later setting screens (one of which freed Gordan for an “And 1!” shot from the foul line) and knocking down three out of four free throw attempts.
Missing in action: Tyrus Thomas had his second straight clunker, scoring only 5 points (1-for-6) in 30 minutes. He did grab 8 boards and block a couple shots, though. Tim “The Other” Thomas, who — as I mentioned — had a score to settle with Bucks coach Scott Skiles, will have to settle it later. He went scoreless (0-for-2) and committed 3 fouls in 14 minutes of daylight.
Reasons for concern: Yet again, the Bulls got off to one of their patented slow starts: They fell behind 16-9 in the first six minutes before pulling to within a point (26-25) by the end of the first quarter. (I would really, really like to see them establish a little early dominance for once.) Chicago harnessed a little Promethean fire to go up by 16 points (57-41) late in the second quarter, but they couldn’t shake the Bucks, who pulled to within 3 points (87-84) early in the fourth before the Bulls finally ran away with it.
And while I’m giving our boys full marks for making plays down the stretch, the final fourth quarter surge was just as much due to the Bucks simply running out of gas. Milwaukee didn’t just lose points, rebounds and assists when Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut went down. They lost depth. The Bucks got big games from starters Richard Jefferson (team-high 27 points), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (21 points, 7-for-8, 11 rebounds), Ramon Sessions (20 points, game-high 11 assists) and Charlie Villanueva (19 points, team-high 12 boards).
However, their bench contributed only 11 points on 5-for-21 shooting. That was the difference. Sure, the Bulls were shorthanded too, without Luol Deng and with Hinrich going down in the second half. But it’s much easier to deal with that at home than on the road.
The win also disguised another bad night for the Bulls on the defensive glass. The Bucks helped keep themselves in the game by hauling down 17 offensive rebounds (compared to 6 for the Bulls). This squad, quite frankly, isn’t good enough to keep giving opposing teams so many second opportunities.
Reasons for abject fear: The Bulls are going to be hard pressed to hold onto that eighth spot. Take a gander at their next seven games: At Miami, at Orlando, at Philadelphia, versus New Orleans, versus Boston, at Oklahoma City, versus the L.A. Lakers. That’s a scary tough stretch.
Bonus stat: This victory gave the Bulls their fifth consecutive win at the United Center. It’s the first time they’ve taken five straight at home since December 2006.