I’ve been making noise about how the Bulls are a vastly improved team at home, but they aren’t so good that they should try to coast through games against inferior opponents. And yet that’s exactly what they did on a rare Saturday afternoon matchup with the Indiana Pacers. Despite falling behind by 14 points in the first quarter and then blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth, the Chi-towners still managed to eke out a 112-106 win, thanks to a pair of late-game three-pointers by John Salmons, but it was waaaaaay too close for comfort.
But hey, at least the Bulls went for over 100 points…so the fans got their free Big Macs. I’m not sure that quite makes up for the near heart attack, but whatever.
So yeah, I wasn’t too thrilled with the rather lackadaisical effort our boys put forth today, particularly Ben Gordon. BG scored a team-high 25 points (11-for-18) but was repeatedly burned on defense by Pacers rookie Brandon Rush. Like burned so badly he’s going to have to pencil in his eyebrows for the next few weeks. Rush scored 10 of Indy’s first 12 points, ended the first quarter with 18 and finished the day with a career-high 29 on 13-for-19 shooting. Memo to Ben: Putting up 25 is great, but when you do that and then give up 29, well, do the math.
One guy I’m not going to criticize for a change is Tyrus Thomas, who’s been tearing it up lately. Coming into today’s game, Ty had notched a double-double in four of his last five games. He didn’t have one today, but he came close (18 points and 8 boards). More importantly, Tyrus was a menace on defense, providing intimidation in the middle and rejecting 7 shots, one off the career-high he established against the Timberwolves back in January.
Ty’s biggest block of the game came with 27 seconds to go and the Bulls clinging to a 5-point lead. Danny Granger — who had a game-high 32 points — beat his man for what initially looked like an uncontested layup. However, a rotating Tyrus not only contested it, he swatted it and controlled the rebound. Jeff Foster was forced to foul him and Ty nailed both free throws, effectively putting the game out of reach. Said Granger: “I thought I had beaten my man, but he made a great play. Pretty much won the game.”
I’ll readily admit that I’ve been hard on Tyrus, in particular because of his sometimes iffy decision-making. But he’s been playing good, smart basketball lately. His jumpers typically still outnumber his shots in the paint — the ratio was 8:3 today — but his shot selection has become more, shall we say, judicious. And against the Pacers, he went 4-for-8 from the outside and 3-for-3 in the colored rectangle. He was focused. He was energetic. He was, quite simply, everything Vinny Del Negro wants him to be.
So the victory won’t go down in Chicago history as one of the great ones, but a win’s a win. The fourth in a row (matching the team’s longest streak in two years) and seventh in the last eight, to be precise. Plus, it keeps them in seventh place and only a 2.5 games behind Philly for sixth. So I guess in this case, the ends justify the means. Sort of.
Player notes: John Salmons continued his strong play by scoring 22 points (8-for-15) and knocking down four of his seven three-point attempts (including the back-to-back fourth-quarter daggers). Despite the sore wrist, Derrick Rose went for 16 (7-for-18) and snared a team-high 9 rebounds. Brad Miller had 17 points (6-for-11), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block off the bench. Tim Thomas went scoreless (0-for-3) in six minutes as Vinny continues to use what is basically a seven-man rotation.