How can you tell when a team is clicking?
When they blow out a solid playoff team with relative ease despite missing a guy who ranks second on the team in scoring, rebounding and player efficiency rating.
When said blowout happens despite the fact that Joakim Noah went scoreless (0-for-4 from the field and no free throw attempts) in 30 minutes. Jo did grab 11 boards to go with 2 assists, 2 steals and a block, though.
When the team’s superstar has a bad game (9-for-24 from the field and 2-for-9 from downtown) and yet plays great (a game-high 34 points, 14-for-15 from the free throw line, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and a game-high plus-minus score of +25). For the record, Rose outscored Atlanta 18-10 in the third quarter.
When Luol Deng fights through an injury — and people call him soft! — and posts an All-Star stat line of 18 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot while playing 40 minutes (again!). After the game, coach Tom Thibodeau said, “He’s the glue to the team.” And that wasn’t just a coach throwing his player a bone, either. It’s true.
When the defense slowly chokes the opposition into submission as the game goes on. After a 50-point first half, the Hawks were held to 26 points over the final 24 minutes. The Bulls have now held nine straight opponents under 90 points. In fact, for the season, Chicago is holding teams to only 89.0 PPG in the United Center.
When a guy like Kurt Thomas starts cold after a long stint on the bench — Big Sexy hadn’t played in eight games — and rips down a game-high 13 rebounds as the Bulls dominated the glass 50-28 (including 14-4 on the offensive end).
When the reserves come in and fans actually get excited about it…and with good reason. Seriously, the Bulls bench is coming into its own. Last night, the pine riders scored 38 points to go along with 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 blocked shots and 2 steals. Sure, that scoring total was padded by Brian Scalabrine’s garbage time jumper. But still. The depth of this team, and Thibodeau’s crisp rotations, are a not-so-secret part of Chicago’s success. The Bulls have won 12 of their last 14 games, by the way.
When, against all reason, despite the injuries and the doubters, the Bulls have pulled to within a half game of the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
I wonder if Ryan DeGama of CelticsHub is starting to have second thoughts about this post.
The best part of this win, for me, is how grounded the Bulls seem to be despite the growing buzz and their own stampeding momentum. Check out the quotes.
Noah: “Yes sir, it’s exciting stuff. But we understand, to get to where we want to get to, we just got to stay focused on the moment. Not worry about expectations, not worry about what you guys are talking about. When you win a couple games in a row, everything’s unbelievable and then you lose one it’s like the end of the world. We’re not worried about that; we’re staying focused on what we need to focus on, and that’s just getting better, improving, and winning ballgames. It’s good stuff.”
Rose: “Of course people talk about it, but that’s not the thing, just to be ahead of the Celtics. We’re not talking about that. We’re just trying to win games and put games together.”
That said…there’s a little pride mixed in there as well.
Deng: “All you guys want to talk about, ‘This team got three guys, this team got three guys.’ We’ve got a lot of guys who can play. Kurt Thomas can play. We’ve been a team all year. Guys have been very unselfish; we’ve got guys stepping up when their name is called. When we have injuries like that, guys are ready. Guys are ready to jump in and get the job done.”
And the Bulls, as a team, are getting the job done.