It almost happened. The Bulls were this close to falling into the trap.
The Cavaliers entered last night’s game having lost five in a row by an average of 22.2 points per defeat. In each of those five losses, the Cavs had given up more than 100 points.
Finally, Cleveland coach Byron Scott pulled out the defibrillator and tried to shock his team’s pride back to life. He did that by calling his team out to the press.
Said Scott: “Everybody has to do some soul-searching. It’s not an Xs and Os thing. We have to take pride in what we are doing. People drive right down the middle of the defense, and no one gets upset about it. Guys have to take more of an onus on guarding their man.”
Cavs forward Antawn Jamison replied: “Are we going to fight or make excuses? We have to leave it on the line. These next few games are going to define the rest of the season.”
Sure enough, Cleveland came out and played defense like it matters. Which it does. They blocked five shots, forced 16 turnovers and harrassed the Bulls into 44.9 percent shooting while holding them to 12 points below their season average. The Cavaliers entered the fourth quarter with a 68-60 lead.
So what saved the Bulls?
They say bad teams find ways to lose games. Well, Cleveland is ranked 29th in Offensive Rating for a reason, folks. Throughout the final 12 minutes, the Cavs chucked up some of the worst shots known to man. Their go-to shot of the fourth quarter was the contested three-pointer with plenty of time left on the clock.
In fact, Boobie Gibson’s shot selection was so bad down the stretch that Bulls broadcaster Stacey King half-jokingly suggested naming Gibson Chicago’s player of the game. The only clutch-time three the Cavs managed to convert was one that Mo Williams unintentionally banked in.
Seriously, Tom Thibodeau should send the Cavaliers a thank you note.
They also say good teams find ways to win. Kyle Korver scored Chicago’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter. By the time Korver’s personal run ended, Derrick Rose took over. Rose scored nine of his game-high 29 points in the final five minutes and 13 seconds. His three-point play with 19 seconds left turned a one-point deficit into an 85-83 lead.
The team defense took over from there. On Clevland’s next possession, Taj Gibson forced Williams into a very difficult baseline jumper. Gibson managed to nab the offensive rebound, but he rushed an off-balance shot while kicking out his legs to try and initiate some contact that might result in a foul call.
Had Gibson just taken a normal shot, he might have tied the game. As it was, Noah rebounded Gibson’s miss and Anderson Varejao was forced to foul him. Jo drilled both freebies (clutch!) to give the Bulls a four-point lead. As if the game wasn’t already iced, Jamison threw a bad pass that was intercepted by Ronnie Brewer.
Special recognition should also go to Noah, who grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, and Brewer, who had a fantastic game off the bench: 30 minutes, 4-for-5, 9 points, 8 rebounds, 6 steals, 3 assists and a game-high plus-minus score of +20.
No, the Bulls didn’t play great. And Carlos Boozer (21 minutes, 2-for-6, 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) was all but invisible. But every team — except for maybe the Clippers — has games on its schedule that it’s supposed to win. This was one of those games for the Bulls.
And they did it.