Again I say: who are these guys and what have they done with the Chicago Bulls?
Or maybe the team we’ve been watching most of the season — the same one that coughed up a 35-point lead at home to the Sacramento Kings — was the imposter. Maybe now that Tyrus Thomas is back from injury and Derrick Rose is becoming the player everybody thought he would be, the Bulls will live up to the potential they showed in last season’s exciting first round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics.
Some people — including a commenter on this site — questioned the validity of the first three wins of Chicago’s current streak. And rightly so, considering they came against inferior teams. (Although the Bulls have suffered several losses to “inferior” teams this season.) But the Orlando Magic entered last night’s game with the fourth-best record in the NBA. And, according to John Hollinger, the Magic rank 6th in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency.
I guess you could say beating them qualifies as a quality win. And the Bulls might have won in a blowout if Matt Barnes hadn’t kept the Magic in the game by scoring 15 of his season-high 23 points in the third quarter.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy agreed with that sentiment: ”To me, there’s only one factor: [The Bulls] just played a lot harder than us. They played with more energy, more effort, defended harder and went to the boards harder than us all night. It’s amazing that we were within shouting distance at the end of this one.”
How did it happen? For starters, Rose continued to assert himself. Derrick scored a game-high 30 points and his aggressiveness led to a game-best 10 free throw attempts. He also had 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Rose has now scored 20+ points in seven of the last nine games, including two games with at least 30 points. Going back a little further, Rose has scored at least 19 points in 15 of the last 21 games.
Is Derrick finally becoming The Man for the Bulls? Said Rose: “I’m just trying to attack and do anything to get my team a win. They were giving me mid-range shots. I’ll take those any time. … Don’t count us out. We can compete with the best teams in the NBA. And we’re not stopping here. We’ve found our groove and we’re going to keep going.”
That sure sounds like The Man speak to me.
Added Taj Gibson: “He’s a totally different player. He’s looking to get everybody involved. He’s taking his shots well. He’s taking over the game sometimes when we need him to. Everybody’s clicking right now.”
The Bulls also made it happen on defense. Orlando’s big three of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter combined to score only 24 points on 8-for-31 shooting. The job Chicago’s defenders did against those guys was the main reason why the Magic shot only 35 percent as a team. It helped that Carter was forced out after hurting his ankle, but he was only 3-for-15 at that point…so it’s not like he was on fire or anything.
Brad Miller merits special mention for his defensive work against Howard, who is known as “Superman” in some circles. Howard is physically superior to Miller in virtually every conceivable way, but Big Brad used his, ahem, veteran cunning to stymie Orlando’s biggest gun. Said Miller: “I’m an old vet who knows how to play. You have to do something against Howard. I can’t bench (press) as much as him. I can jump about one-eighth as high as he can. You just have to use tricks on him.”
Howard finished with 9 points on 3-for-7 shooting. Apparently, those tricks worked.
The Bulls also controlled the paint, where they both outrebounded (54-48) and outscored (40-32) the Magic. No small feat against a team with (one could argue) the league’s most dominant center.
Chicago also got solid contributions from rookie Taj Gibson (10 points, 12 boards, 3 blocks) and Luol Deng (14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists). And John Salmons continued to thrive off the bench, finishing with 15 points (5-for-9), 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. It appears Vinny Del Negro made the right call by starting Kirk Hinrich and using Salmons as a super sub. So score one for Vinny, right?
And who says the streak can’t continue for a few more games? The Bulls next five games are versus the Thunder (18-15), at Charlotte (13-18), at Milwaukee (13-18), versus Minnesota (7-28) and versus Detroit (11-21).
Said Rose: “If we continue to play this way, good things are going to happen for us.”
He may be right.
Philip Rossman-Reich of the Orland Magic Daily: “A scrappy Bulls team outhustled and outworked a tired Magic team, taking as much as a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. Barnes was once again the offensive catalyst as Dwight Howard faced foul trouble and Vince Carter and Lewis struggled from the floor. Chicago had a 54-48 advantage on the glass and had 16 offensive rebounds, led by rookie Taj Gibson’s seven offensive boards. The Magic looked listless on offense throughout the night, helping the Bulls build their lead by shooting 35.9 percent from the floor. Orlando was held without a field goal for the first half of the quarter and watched the gap widen.”