No Joakim Noah.
No Carlos Boozer.
Two of the team’s best three players out of action.
Things looked bad.
As a fan, when things look bad, all you want to see out of your team is a sense of urgency. Guys stepping up. A team playing good basketball.
Well, that’s what Bulls fans got today.
Derrick Rose? His first career triple-double (22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds).
Luol Deng? A game-high 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and some killer defense on Rudy Gay. Mind you, Gay averages 21 PPG on 48 percent shooting (including 41 percent on threes). Today he finished with 9 points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Taj Gibson? He’s not the scoring threat that Boozer is, but he finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and a game-high 6 blocked shots. Oh, and a game-best plus-minus score of +16. Yes, Zach Randolp had a sizable double-double (21 points and 13 boards), but Taj helped harass Z-Bo into missing 13 of his 20 field goal attempts.
Kyle Korver? He scored 22 points off the bench while going 8-for-12 from the field and 6-for-10 from downtown. He even added 4 rebounds.
Kurt Thomas? Quiet numbers (9 points and 6 rebounds), big body, solid impact. He’s not the defensive foundation that Noah is, but he bangs and intimidates.
Chicago’s defense? It held Memphis 15 points below their season average of 99.6 and limited them to 37 percent shooting (including 1-for-7 from downtown). And check out the Grizzlies’ team splits: They averages 102.6 PPG at home. So the Bulls actually held them 18.6 points below their season average for home games.
Teamwork? The Bulls registered 24 assists on 36 made field goals and committed only 11 turnovers (the league average is 14.5 TOs per game).
It should come as no surprise, then, that Chicago built a 22-point lead before settling for a 12-point win. If it hadn’t been for an off-the-bench outburst by O.J. Mayo (15 points on 7-for-14 shooting) and a 35-19 free throw advantage (including 16-4 in the third quarter), the Bulls might have won by 30.
Still, it was a pretty sweet win, regardless of the margin of victory. The Grizzlies may be a sub-.500 team, but they had won five of their last seven games, including wins over the Lakers (30-12), Thunder (27-13), Jazz (27-13) and Mavericks (26-13).
And, as I pointed out, the Bulls were minus two of their three biggest guns.
This win made me appreciate some things even more than usual. The team’s defense-first focus. The way Luol Deng fills whatever role is asked of him. And the fact that Rose has become one of those superstars that can generate wins by his force of will.
It’s good stuff all around.
Admittedly, I’m worried about tomorrow’s home game against the Bobcats. It’ll be Chicago’s fourth game in five nights and their second straight without Boozer. And last week they finished up a stretch of five games in seven nights. Plus Rose, Deng and Gibson all logged at least 40 minutes last night.
Winning isn’t going to be easy. But this Bulls team keeps stepping up despite adversity. Why should I doubt they can do it again?