Well, now. That was more exciting than it should have been.
And by “exciting” I mean “nerve-wracking, aggravating and potentially crippling to Chicago’s late-season playoff run.” They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good one, so I’m going to take today’s 103-94 win over the New Jersey Nets and just keep on walking. But still…
When you consider the quality of the opponent along with the fact that Vince Carter (4 points on 2-for-10 shooting) was hobbled by a sore left Achilles tendon and Devin Harris — who absolutely killed the Bulls in New Jersey earlier this season — was merely “okay” (14 points, 4-for-9, 5 assists, 4 turnovers), shouldn’t this have been a blowout in the home team’s favor? I mean, the Bulls have beaten better teams than the Nets much more handily than this in recent weeks.
I suppose this was simply one of those games that serves as yet another reminder that, despite the improvements brought about by the acquisitions of John Salmons, Brad Miller and Tim Thomas, the Bulls remain a team that lives and dies by the jump shot. They were cold all day, hitting only 15 of their 41 outside shot attempts, “led” by Ben Gordon’s 3-for-14 brick-a-palooza. Of course, they didn’t fair much better inside the painted rectangle, missing 16 of 30 layups and a dunk. Gak.
Of course, it looked like the Bulls were going to run away with the game early when they built a 16-point lead in the second quarter. Unfortunately, Chicago’s misguided shooting — not to mention some killer off-the-bench performances by Jarvis Hayes (14 points, 4-for-7 from downtown) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (9 points on 4-for-6 from the field) kept New Jersey in the game, and eventually the Nets came all the way back to take a one-point lead (94-93) on a hook shot by Brook Lopez with just under three minutes to go in the fourth. And I’ve gotta tell you that Brad Miller’s inability to contain Lopez down the stretch — and Vinny Del Negro’s inability to, you know, notice that fact — almost cost the Bulls the game.
Lopez — who finished with a game-high 20 points (7-for-10) to go along with a co-game-high 10 boards and 3 blocked shots — had an immense two-and-a-half minute explosion late in the final quarter. At the 5:16 mark, he got free for a dunk. With just under four minutes remaining, he posted Miller up, made a nifty move, drew the foul and then hit one of two free throws. With 3:21 left, he slid past Brad for a layup, got the “And-1!” and nailed the ensuing foul shot. Finally, at the 2:49 mark, he once again beat Miller for that hook shot that gave New Jersey the lead.
After that, Vinny finally switched Joakim Noah onto Lopez, who didn’t score again. In fact, none of the Nets did. Chicago went on a game-ending 10-to-nothing run thanks to a mini-implosion by New Jersey. Hayes fouled Miller while trying to fight through a pick, which gave Brad two free throws, and he hit them both. On the Nets’ next possession, Salmons poked the ball away from Devin Harris, who then committed a (somewhat iffy) flagrant foul on Salmons as the Bulls were running the other way. John hit one of the flagrant freebies and then Ben Gordon drilled a triple to put Chicago up 99-94 with 58 ticks on the clock. The Nets weren’t able to get anything going, and the Bulls closed out the game with foul shots by BG and Tyrus Thomas.
Like I said, any landing you can walk away from…
Playoff update: Thanks to the win over the Nets and Detroit’s 95-90 loss to the Sixers in Philly, the Bulls have taken over the seventh spot by a half game over the Pistons. Chicago is also 2 1/2 games up on the ninth-place Bobcats. Oh, and in case you were worried about New Jersey, you don’t have to be anymore. The Bulls won the season series 3-1 and therefore own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets.
Player notes: Derrick Rose shot 7-for-12 and had a rather routine 15-point, 5-assist performance. Salmons overcame his sore groin to net 17 points (7-for-16). Gordon, despite the craptacular shooting, still ended up with a team-high 18 on the strength of his accuracy from the charity stripe (10-for-12). Noah had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and 4 steals. Miller (13 points, 4-for-7, 7 boards) and Tim Thomas (12 points, 2-for-2 on threes) were strong off the bench. Tyrus had a rough shooting day — 1-4 on layups, 1-for-3 from outside and 0-for-1 on dunks — and got outrebounded 8-5 by New Jersey’s point guard.
Free taco excitement update: Little Ben’s free throws with 25 seconds left put the Bulls over the century mark, thereby earning the fans in attendance free greaseburgers from McDonald’s. And the crowd went wild. Said Gordon: “I planned that tonight. I wanted to make it exciting. I wanted to get the Big Mac for the fans. It was a little part of my master plan.”