Thanks to some strong second half defense — which allowed only 35 points — the Bulls beat the Amar’e Stoudemire-less Knicks. As they should have.
In doing so, they tied the San Antonio Spurs (who lost to the Lakers last night) for the best record in the league. The Bulls have a home game against the Nets tonight. The Spurs play in Phoenix. A Bulls win and a Spurs loss would give Chicago the regular season win-loss title and homecourt advantage in every possible playoff series.
If both teams win (or lose) and finish with the same record, things get a little hinky. The Bulls and Spurs split the season series and (in the case of an identical record) would have the same conference records. With the tiebreakers are all even, a random drawing would be held to determine which team would have homecourt in the case of a Bulls-Spurs Finals.
Now stop and think about that for a second.
The Spurs began the season on an historic run. The best start in their franchise’s history. They ran out so far ahead of the pack nobody was supposed to be able to catch them. Meanwhile, the Bulls lost Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah for a combined 60 games and were supposed to finish behind the Celtics, Heat and Magic in the East. Maybe even the Hawks. Heck, some people picked Milwaukee to win the Central Division.
Yet the Bulls might finish the season with the league’s best record.
Everybody deserves praise. Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau. Boozer and Noah. Luol Deng. The bench. Even Keith Bogans. This group brings it every night. They’re dedicated to winning and to each other. Forget about MVP debates or thoughts about the NBA Finals. Something really special happened in Chicago this season. No matter how this story ends, Bulls fans have been blessed with a really special team that hasn’t taken a night off this season.
But…should they have?
It’s question people are going to be asking. Ronnie Brewer (wrist) and Noah (ankle) both left the game with minor injuries and didn’t return. Luol Deng logged another 40+ minutes (44 to be exact). Rose and Boozer came close to 40 minutes as well (38 and 37, respectively). Boston coach Doc Rivers opted to start resting his team on Monday night. Last night, Gregg Popovich sent the “San Antonio Scrubs” out against the Lakers.
Meanwhile, the Bulls and Lakers both went for seeding and may pay for it. I already mentioned Chicago’s woes. L.A.’s Andrew Bynum re-injured his surgically repaired knee. Yikes.
Said Thibs: “Bumps and bruises. I didn’t see any of them. This is NBA, come on.”
Annoyance aside, Thibodeau understands the situation, and believes he’s making the best decision for his team: “I do think you have to strike that balance. It comes down to two things. You want to be playing as well as possible and you want to be as healthy as possible. The decision becomes, do you have an older team? Do you have some guys who are nicked up? And if you do, you’ve got to rest those guys. If they’re injured, you sit them. If you’re an older team and you’re not playing for anything, I think the wise thing to do is sit them in that situation. But if you’re playing for something and guys are healthy, then I think you take the rhythm of playing your best going into the playoffs and you want to be as healthy as possible.”
I understand where he’s coming from. Thibs and the players keep saying the team is a work in progress. That there’s more to be done. That they want to become a 48-minute ballclub. Last night’s win was nice, but the Knicks were without their best or second-best player (depending on where you stand on Stoudemire versus Carmelo Anthony). Chicago gave up 55 points in the second half and let a 21-point lead within to single digits before closing things out. And the Bulls gave up 35 points to New York’s bench.
There are very few perfect games. And this group is striving for perfection.
Seems like that should help them in the playoffs. Could hurt them, too, I suppose. If guys are hurt or worn out. But in all honesty, Kurt Thomas notwithstanding, this Bulls team is pretty young. They’re going to get a few days off before the first round of the playoffs opens. If they finish the Pacers off in relatively short order, they could earn some more time off, depending on the outcome of the Hawks-Magic series.
And anyway, there are no back-to-back games in the playoffs.
Live by the sword, die by the sword, right? This Bulls team succeeds because it has a ravenous nature to win every game every night. That’s not something that can be turned on an off. Not at this point. Older, more experienced teams that have played together longer — the Celtics, Lakers and Spurs, for instance — can flip the switch. I’m not sure the Bulls are there yet. That’s what they’re trying to build to. What they’re trying to become.
Some random thoughts about the game:
I really enjoyed seeing Luol Deng (23 points, 9-for-16, 2-for-4 on threes, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) outplay ‘Melo (21 points, 8-for-19, 1-for-6 on threes, 5 rebounds, 2 assists). Whether you call him “Do-All” or “Glue-All,” Deng has been redeemed this season. Remember how badly people wanted to include him in a trade package for Anthony? I bet he does.
Carlos Boozer didn’t shoot well (5-for-19), but the man did work, pulling down 22 rebounds. He was a huge part of why the Bulls outrebounded the Knicks 51-33. Yeah, Boozington got injured in that stupid “falling over his own sports bag” incident, but the man has worked hard and been a consummate professional all season. Hey, Boozer got his payday this summer, and some players tend to coast a bit after that happens. It’s human nature.
But Carlos hasn’t.
Whether that’s management, coaching, leadership from Rose and others, or just a team that can police itself, the bottom line is that of all the things you can question about Boozer — his injury history, his flat feet on defense, etc. — you can’t question his effort and dedication to winning.
Noah’s lingering ankle issue is really starting to worry me. Does he need rest so it can heal? Yes. Does he need to play for his conditioning and timing? Yes. It’s the official “between a rock and a hard place” scenario.
Derrick Rose had an efficient scoring night (26 points on 10-for-19 from the field) but finished with more turnovers (4) than assists (3). That wasn’t entirely his fault. He was a willing passer, guys just weren’t hitting shots, and the Knicks were surprisingly energetic on defense. That’s not to say their defense was great or anything. But they tried. Which is funny, because I heard they didn’t do that.
Ah well. Rose had a game-high plus-minus score of +17. He also had a few amazing dunks and even heard some “M-V-P!” chants. In Madison Square Garden of all places.
The Bench Mob had kind of an off night. By their standards. They got outscored 35-19 by New Yorks’s reserves. Kyle Korver went 0-for-6 (although the team was still +8 when he was on the floor). Taj Gibson was 1-for-4. Omer Asik didn’t do much with his 10 minutes of PT. Ronnie Brewer played only nine minutes because of his wrist injury and Kurt Thomas didn’t play at all. C.J. Watson had a nice 14-minute stint (9 points, 4-for-6, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals).
At any rate, it was nice to get another win, and to pull so close to the league’s best record.
The KnickerBlogger game thread features a lot of Knicks fans who were genuinely upset the Bulls tried to win this game. Last time I checked, that was the point of professional sports, right?
One commenter said: “It’s so cute seeing the Bulls come out after half-time with Game 7 like intensity. They are going to be in for a surprise come playoff team when their effort and hustle is not greater than the other team’s.”
They might want to turn that skeptical gaze back at their own team.