The second of back-t0-back games is always an adventure.
One night after treating the Philadelphia 76ers to a near-historic butt-kicking, the Bulls faced the Wizards in Washington. The Wizards — minus rookie phenom John Wall — are not a very good team. For example: They rank only 25th in Offensive Rating.
Of course, that didn’t stop them from scoring 33 points in the first quarter.
You know how it is. Tired legs lead to flat-footed defense. The Wizards converted five layups during those first 12 minutes. They also knocked down several open jumpers. Washington hardly looked like one of the league’s worst teams. Chicago’s defense was making the Wiz look like one of the best.
The defense had to pick up. And it did.
Said Carlos Boozer: “We gave up 33 [points] in the first quarter and 10 in the fourth, so as the game progressed, our defense got more like Chicago Bulls defense. They had only 80 points total after scoring 33 in the first. It was a grind-out win, but we’ll take it and keep moving.”
Ah, Boozer. Or Boozington as Joakim Noah likes to call him.
On a night when offense was hard to find, Carlos hit six layups, went 5-for-10 on jumpers, converted eight of his 11 foul shots and finished with a game-best 30 points. Boozer also had a co-game-high 10 rebounds and a team-high 7 assists. He continues to be everything the Bulls hoped he would.
On that subject, Chicago is 9-3 in the 12 games he’s played this season.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “It’s amazing that he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s still working himself into shape. His legs aren’t under him yet in his timing.”
You could hardly tell by looking.
Then again, Boozer was called for two offensive fouls within a minute of each other in the fourth quarter. Those were followed by an offensive foul on Kurt Thomas that left both players with five fouls each. That’s when you take a player out of the game…right?
Not if you’re Tom Thibodeau.
Said Thibs: “Around the 6-minute mark, where they both had five, the question is, ‘Do you take one out?’ The way it was going, I felt we could take a chance.”
That gamble paid off. Boozer never picked up his sixth foul. What’s more, he converted a layup with 35 seconds left that put the Bulls ahead 85-80. And although 35 seconds is a long time in the NBA, that layup pretty much sealed the deal on this win.
But it sure was an ugly win wasn’t it?
The Bulls shot poorly (42 percent from the field and only 2-for-16 from downtown) and gave up 21 points off 21 turnovers. Again, those are the kinds of things that happen on the second night of back-to-backs. In these situations, bad teams falter and good teams make a gut check.
Gut checks are made a lot easier when a team can defend. Offensive comes and goes. Sometimes shots just don’t fall. But defense is more about focus and determination than talent. The Bulls are fairly average on offense (15th in Offensive Rating), but they’re strong on defense (3rd in Defensive Rating). As of this win, they have now held eight of their last nine opponents below 100 points.
Defense is this team’s bread and butter.
Well, defense and Derrick Rose, of course. Rose scored 25 points to go with 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocked shots. He went 0-for-6 from downtown but he hit seven of his 10 free throws. And, hey, 10 free throw attempts for Derrick? Seriously?
It’s about time.
And now the Bulls have won nine of their last 10 games. Despite injuries to Noah and Taj Gibson.
Up next: A Christmas day showdown with Amar’e Stoudemire and the New York Knicks.