Making the Magic disappear

Ben shoots

Hello Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. I really wasn’t sure what to expect after that disjointed and disappointing loss to the Pacers. And after the way Indiana’s Troy Murphy lit us up, I was terrified of what Dwight Howard was going to do: 30+ points and 20+ rebounds didn’t seem out of the question. Howard did end up having a reasonably strong statistical performance — 26 points (10-for-18), 12 rebounds — but the Bulls’ very unexpected 120-102 win was more about what they did than what Howard and the Magic did not.

The Bulls’ shooting was phenomenal: Almost 60 percent in the first half and over 56 percent for the game. Seven Chicago players scored in double figures. As a team, they scored 30 or more points in every quarter but the third. They won the rebounding battle 44-38. They limited their turnovers to 11 (and the Magic scored only 12 points off those miscues).

Derrick Rose didn’t suffer any mysterious benchings…until the start of the fourth quarter that is. (By the time Vinny put him back in, the Bulls were already up 17.) But he still scored a team-high 22 points (11-for-20) and shared the lead in assists (5) with Brad Miller. And speaking of Brad, he had the play of the game, pilfering a pass and then shambling the length of the court for a “slow break” dunk. You’ve got to see it. And if you’ve already see it, watch it again:

The new guys are already having an impact. In addition to the 5 dimes and that steal-and-dunk, Miller contributed 9 points and 7 boards. John Salmons did a little bit of this, a little bit of that: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks. And, most surprisingly, there was Tim Thomas — the guy who wasn’t even allowed to practice let alone play during his last stint with the Bulls — who scored 17 points and drilled four three-pointers in his 24 minutes. And if you’re a fan of advanced stats, Timmy also had the highest plus-minus score of the night (+19).

As I was drinking Hurricanes and watching the game — happy belated Fat Tuesday, by the way — what struck me about John Paxson’s last-minute before-the-deadline deals is that they made the Bulls a solid nine men deep. Before, with Larry Hughes banished and Drew Gooden on the injured list, our reserve corps consisted of Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and Aaron Gray. Seriously, that was it. Now we have a four-man second unit of Hinrich, Miller, Salmons and Thomas. Three of those guys could start, and now Vinny has the luxery of bringing them in off the bench. All four of those guys can shoot. Miller can rebound. Salmons can defend and swing between shooting guard and small forward.

As Tim said: “We have guys coming off the bench that know how to play. That’s very helpful. You’ve got guys in their second, third year that are out there with energy. When they get stuck, you bring in guys like myself, John and Brad, who understand how to get the job done. That’s a huge thing.”

It really, really is. Seriously, the Bulls are suddenly kind of loaded (for the East) and much more versatile. I know this is only one game, and I’m trying to keep things in perspective — the Bulls aren’t going to beat a team as good as the Magic by 18 points every night — but last night’s win got me really juiced up. The Bulls are only a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for that final playoff spot, and with them missing Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, you have to figure that Chicago is the better team. We’re only a game ahead of the Nets, and we play them tonight in New Jersey. Big game. BIG game…

Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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7 Responses to Making the Magic disappear

  1. john@illiniboard.com'
    Peter Clayton A. Smith February 25, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    What I liked about last night was the way the offense actually played. I have sat through many a Bulls game this season when the offense looked like it was a Big Ten offense, no movement and players not knowing what they were supposed to do. I started to see a change in the offense right before the All-Star break, but it seems to be much more consistent now at actually running some of the sets Del Harris has set up.

    It looks more and more like the Bulls are finally starting to understand the spacing needed to run an offense with a point guard that loves to take the high screen and get to the rim.

    Last night showed three plays that were working consistently:
    - The high screen with the defenders giving Rose the jump shot that he took and made.
    - The ball getting into the high post guy at the elbow, and him making a play happen, be it Miller with a pass into a cutting player or Noah seemingly having new confidence that he can drive the ball to the rim from that position.
    - The 1-4 set that is used to get one of the two wings open for a jump shot, or another slash right to the hoop once they get the ball.

    Sure these plays are not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but the Bulls were not executing these basic plays earlier in the season. I mean the change between the New Year’s Eve game and this one was amazing, and not just because Aaron Gray wasn’t on the court “defending” Dwight Howard.

    The team has matured, and seems to understand how to execute their offense again, and that will only get better as Miller, Tim Thomas, and Salmons get more comfortable with their teammates.

    Heck, the difference between how the three played in the first half versus the second is pretty amazing. In the first half, they were -5 when they were in the game together, and the offense was not running smoothly. In the second half, they were +4, with a smooth running offense.

    Hopefully we don’t see any Devin Harris end of game heroics tonight.

  2. weirdscience@mac.com'
    Dunc February 25, 2009 at 5:04 pm #

    BIG BIG BIG GAME

  3. sixthman3@hotmail.com'
    Kevin February 25, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    - Was at the game last night and felt very comfortable and confident about the way our squad was set up.
    You had Rose, Gordon, Noah, Thomas and Deng starting – our players of the future (well, at least one of them…) starting things out, playing pretty well on offense and defense AND not too many turnovers…
    And then you had Hinrich, Salmons, Thomas and Miller, (four guys who could be starters) coming off the bench – and they played solid! It almost felt like watching a decent young starting pitcher go six innings, then watching a great relief core close things up for the save.
    Although I agree with you (and just about everyone else in Chicago for that matter!) about having Rose on the floor for the end of the game, I would definitely like the second string in there at the end with him. The ball control was excellent and the veteran leadership was definitely apparent…..

  4. davebadasslarson@yahoo.com'
    BadDave February 25, 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    That’s only because Vinny stole Sloan’s playbook.

  5. davidpaulroosa@yahoo.com'
    AK Dave February 25, 2009 at 6:33 pm #

    …everything is proceeding as I have foreseen!

  6. mark.t.paulson@gmail.com'
    Mark February 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Leaving Rose out of the 4th (except garbage time) was a good idea last night because the reserves built a big lead. No need to kill the kid in a blowout game when Kirk is more than capable. He should have been in for the previous couple of games though. I’d rather see a starting pairing of rose/salmons and then have kirk/gordon come off the bench because the rose/gordon combo is a huge defensive liability. After that, mixing and matching anyone else of Noah/Miller, Ty/Tim Thomas, and Deng will be effective.

    I’m excited about where this team is going. Gotta give Paxson his due on these moves.

  7. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale February 25, 2009 at 11:10 pm #

    Peter Clayton A Smith — Excellent points, one and all. Like you, I’m glad to see Noah being a little more aggressive charging to the hoop. I hope that continues. He needs to do that, for his own confidence and to keep opposing defenses on their feet. Otherwise, it’s too easy for his defender to slack off and roam around on help…which sometimes contributes to the team’s turnovers. Anyway, I like the looks of how the team’s offense is progressing. Guys are getting used to each other, and the new vets, well, they can just play ball. Now if we can just iron out some of our defensive woes…

    Dunc — Yes. In more ways than one. Obviously for the sake of the standings and our playoff run. But I really want to see the Bulls bring it on the road in a back-to-back situation against what I feel is an inferior opponent. Certainly no better than an equal. I don’t care if they have Devin Harris and Vinsanity. The Bulls can’t choke it up like they did against the Pacers. Follow up a quality win with another quality win, not a poorly played defeat.

    BadDave — I wouldnt want to be the guy who stole Jerry’s playbook. Dude is old, but he’d tear Vinny to pieces. Then eat the pieces.

    AK Dave — Hey, share some of this forseeing with me, next time!

    Mark — I agree. Vinny rode the flow of the game. Sometimes it be that way, you know? The reserves were playing well, no need to disrupt the chemistry just to force Rose back in. He still got his minutes. Like you, I think Salmons should be starting with Gordon coming in for a spark off the bench, but I also know player politics are involved. I’m afraid BG would sulk big time if he was sent to the bench. It’s happened before, plus he’s playing for a new contract. If the chemistry keeps working, Vinny can start Gordon, but he also needs to yank him quick if a bigger guard is abusing us.

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