Midway through the third quarter, Dirk Nowitzki scored seven straight points — two layups sandwiched around a three-pointer — to give Dallas a 55-43 lead.
That 12-point lead represented a 23-point turnaround from the 11-point lead Chicago had built during the second quarter. And I bet I’m not the only person who was having flashbacks to the Bulls’ third quarter massacre in San Antonio on Wednesday.
Anyway, Dirk was having one of those nights — a game-high 36 points on 15-for-26 shooting — and I was thinking that the story of this game was going to be Taj Gibson’s inability to contain Nowitzki.
Turns out the real story was Dirk’s inability to contain Taj.
Gibson, whose shooting during the first two games of the circus trip (1-for-16) was just a few degrees above absolute zero, had one of the best coming-out-of-a-slump games I’ve ever seen. The kid hustled. He fought. He scrapped. He finished with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and a career-best 18 rebounds. Even more impressive was the fact that 8 of those boards came on the offensive end.
Said Taj: “Coach knows I’ve been working on my jumper, but he said don’t rely on jump shots. Attack the glass and hit the boards. I’ve struggled the last two games so he challenged me.”
That’s kind of ironic, because the Taj Gibson moment of the game happened with 2:48 left in the game. The Mavericks were leading 77-76 and putting the clamps on defensively. C.J. Watson got to the rim but had his shot thoroughly blocked by former Bull Tyson Chandler. The ball ricocheted, glanced of Nowitzki and ended up in Gibson’s hands. With the shot clock about to go off, Taj let it fly over Dirk’s outstretched hands.
It was the first three-point attempt of Gibson’s career. He’s now a 100 percent three-point shooter, so look out NBA.
That trey was the biggest of several big-time shots the Bulls hit during their 32-point fourth quarter. Derrick Rose converted a tough layup and then hit a 13-footer while getting fouled on the very next possession. Kyle Korver beat the shot clock with a three from almost 30 feet out. C.J. Watson buried a three-pointer off a nice pass from Joakim Noah. Noah turned an offensive board into a layup that seemed to defy the laws of physics. Korver nailed another long jumper.
But despite all those clutch shots, the game came down to who wanted it more. And don’t misunderstand me. The Mavericks brought it. They swarmed the ball and really put it to the Bulls on the defensive end. But check out the rebounding stats: Chicago won the War of the Rebounds 59-34, including 20-9 on the offensive glass. According to the Basketball-Reference box score, Chicago’s Offensive Rebounding Percentage was 44.4 percent.
In other words, the Bulls pulled down nearly half of their available offensive rebounds. The Bulls ended up scoring 25 points off those offensive boards. Oh, and Chicago outscored Dallas 42-26 in the paint.
Noah, who had 17 rebounds himself, said: “I can’t go through the motions. I’ve got to keep going after the ball. We fought hard even when we were behind. We’re not a team that gives up.”
You know what? I’m starting to really believe that. Even looking at that third quarter collapse against the Spurs, the Bulls played well enough in that game to build a 17-point lead in the second quarter on the second night of back-to-back road games. And even after San Antonio blitzkrieged them in the third, they fought back and made the Spurs sweat out the fourth.
Then there was last night’s performance in Dallas. Big time. Just big time.
And mind you, Rose kept getting yanked in and out of the game after getting cut on the nose by Nowtizki with less than a minute left in the third quarter. I kept thinking the “Magic Johnson Rule” was going to cost the Bulls the game.
But everybody stepped up.
Sweet Play of the Night:
See Derrick dish it, then watch Luol finish it.
Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game: “Reasons why the Mavericks lost their fourth game of the season: Taj Gibson (17 points, 7-12 FG, 18 rebounds), offensive rebounding (Chicago had a monstrous 44.4 offensive rebounding rate), lack of offensive balance (Dirk Nowitzki had half of the Mavs’ field goals), and divine intervention. I don’t know how else to explain the consistently bizarre occurrences that came during the dwindling seconds of seemingly every shot clock. The Bulls worked hard enough to win, but they had some help.”