There’s a strange Groundhog Day-esque feeling that filters through the NBA in mid-late March as the season grinds inexorably closer to the Playoffs yet they never seem to get closer.
Saturday night was one of those games. The Bulls and Sixers met for the second time this week and, as in the first meeting, the Bulls let their much less talented counterparts hang around much longer than they should before closing the game out in the fourth quarter to win 91-81.
The game was effectively ended as a competition when Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin scored on consecutive possessions to open up a lead that let the air out of the Sixers.
Noah and Gibson pretty much had their way against Philadelphia, a team sorely lacking in NBA-calibre players especially in their heavily overmatched frontcourt.
Noah would finish with 20 points while shooting 6-10 on a variety of hooks and face up jumpers including a right-elbow fadeaway straight from the Dirk Nowitzki playbook.
Taj Gibson put forth another game to support his growing Sixth Man of the Year case, easing his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks in 28 minutes of play.
Jimmy Butler played a rather unnecessary 45 minutes but broke out of his recent shooting slump, hitting half of his eight shots to go with his eight boards and six assists. His defense was critical in holding Carter-Williams at bay.
D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy played well, punctuated by a another trio of threes for Augustin as part of his 16 points and a rare breakaway dunk for Dunleavy in the fourth quarter.
The Sixers have been open about their quest for a high draft pick and as such fielded a team largely comprised of fringe-quality players surrounding their core of rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams and Thad Young. Carter-Williams had a tough shooting night, hitting just three of his 14 shots. He did, however, pull down 11 rebounds and dish out six assists.
Thad Young seems to be the forgotten man in Philadelphia after he was not traded as the deadline came and went. The versatile forward led all scorers with 28 points, though harrying defense by Gibson and Noah meant he needed 26 shots to get there.
Another standout for Philadelphia was forward Henry Sims. Sims has had very little burn time in his NBA career but scored with 18 points combined with a game high 15 rebounds as the Bulls struggled to contain his energy.
The Sixers slid to 15-55 after their 24th consecutive defeat, the second-longest in league history behind the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers’ 26-game skid.
The win moves the Bulls to 39-31, just percentage points behind the 38-30 Toronto Raptors, who play the shorthanded Atlanta Hawks in tomorrow’s early tip-off.