No. That score is not a typo. You’re not imagining it. It really happened.
The Magic eked out only 59 points. At home. Against a Bulls squad minus its best player (Derrick Rose) and another starter (Rip Hamilton).
Not that Rose and Hamilton act as defensive anchors for the team or anything like that, but the Bulls were undermanned and in hostile territory against a quality team. And while the Magic had played the previous day in Miami — the loss dropped Orlando to 7-8 on the second night of back-to-backs this season — this was an historic defensive success / offensive fail.
According to ESPN Stats and Information:
The Bulls set a regular-season team record for the fewest points allowed in a game, yielding only 59 to the Orlando Magic.
Orlando had significant issues in catch-and-shoot situations on Monday night. The Magic were 4-for-19 on such shots against Chicago.
They are not the first opponents to struggle against the Bulls on those sorts of shots. Bulls opponents are shooting 36 percent on catch-and-shoot shots. The resulting 0.88 points allowed per shot ranks second-best in the NBA (the Celtics are a hair better—0.87 points allowed per shot).
Holding Orlando to that sort of shooting performance is not easy. The Magic rank fourth in the NBA in points per catch-and-shoot shot.
The Magic did help the Bulls out by going 7-for-18 from the free throw line. The Magic’s 39 percent effort was the worst for any team that took at least that many attempts in a game in the NBA this season.
It was also the second-worst free throw shooting performance in Magic team history.
The Bulls did arguably have one defensive game more memorable than this one. They allowed 54 points to the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. That season ended with the team celebrating a championship.
Believe it or not, the Magic shot 70 percent (14-for-20) at the rim, but that’s pretty much where their success ended. From 3-15 feet, they were 4-for-11 and from 16 feet and beyond they went 6-for-37. Combined with their poor free throw shooting and turnovers (19 for 25 points going the other way) and you have clear signs of a team with no legs just kind of mailing it in.
Unfortunately for the Magic, they were playing against a team that never, ever, ever mails in a game. That’s not to say the Bulls always play their best or even harder than their opponents. They’ve been outworked a few times this season. It happens. But, by and large, they Bulls bring it every single night.
Dwight Howard knows what happened: “That’s it, they played harder than us. One through 15, whoever stepped on the floor just played harder than us.”
A lot of that trickles down from the top. The top being Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. Which might last night’s win made Thibs the fastest coach in NBA history to earn 100 career victories. He did it in 130 games. That’s one game faster than the previous record holder Avery Johnson and a dozen games better than former Bulls coach Phil Jackson. Who had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen at his disposal by the way.
Thibodeau’s humility and no-nonsense attitude has infused his players. To wit: Carlos Boozer had a man’s game (24 points and 13 rebounds) and has been killing it against the Magic this season (23.3 points, 11 rebounds, 58 percent shooting in three games). But he refused to take any credit after the game.
Said Booz: “The real story honestly is our defense. Our defense was … that was probably one of the best performances we’ve had this season. It was fitting because they kicked our butt in Chicago, (and) got a big win. For us to come back and do this … it’s a big win for us.”
More from Joakim Noah: “It’s one game at the end of the day. But we felt like it was probably one of our best defensive efforts of the year. We just got to keep it up, keep learning from what we’re doing well, what we can do better, stay humble, stay driven and hopefully get the good thing at the end.”
You know, I often feel that this Bulls team should be an even bigger story than they are. Humble. Hard-working. Dedicated to the cause and each other. Unselfish. Basically, if you are a sports purist with a strong sense of basketball ethics, then you know these Bulls are a template for everything the game is supposed be about.
Take John Lucas III. Third string point guard. Barely even in the league. Called upon only at need. After scorching Miami last week, he went out last night and lit the Magic up for 20 points on 8-for-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range.
And check it out: The Bulls are 3-1 in their last four games minus Derrick Rose. With two of those wins coming against the Heat and Magic.
I’m sorry if this makes me sound like an unabashed homer, but Chicago is hoops heaven right now. The Bulls play good basketball. They play it the right way. They play it without the need for acclaim or excuses.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy sees it. And he sounds downright envious: “Chemistry is a very hard thing to explain. I think it’s one of those things, you know it when you have it. You have an idea how to build it; putting guys in roles that will hopefully make them comfortable in what you’re doing. But … there’s a lot of unknowns. [The 2009-10 Magic] did have very, very good chemistry and very, very high character and that’s what I see in the Chicago team now too.
“When I’m talking high character, I’m talking basketball character; guys who are unselfish, willing to play roles, not worried about how many shots they get. Guys who can come in not having played a lot and come in and be ready and help a team win, like a John Lucas is doing now for Chicago. Like a Jimmy Butler’s doing. To me, those are the great teams and not necessarily even record-wise, but those are the great teams and that’s what chemistry’s all about. I thought we had it that year and I certainly see it in the Bulls and I think that’s why they’ve been able to overcome the number of injuries they’ve been able to overcome.”
Yep. It’s as close to a basketball fairy tale as you could ask for. I have no idea if it’ll lead to a championship. But it makes for a great, great ride.