The good news: The Bulls pulled out a scrappy home win over the Charlotte Bobcats, thus living to fight another day. For a possible playoff spot, that is.
The bad news: The Toronto Raptors pulled out a scrappy win of their own, a 128-123 overtime win over the 76ers in Philadelphia. Despite leading by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, the Raptors almost let the game slip away. Unfortunately for the city of Chicago, Chris Bosh stepped up with a couple big shots down the stretch.
Said Bosh: “I wouldn’t want to imagine the [playoff] scenario if we lost that game.
As it stands, the scenario is this: The Bulls are still 1 1/2 games behind the Raptors with only six games remaining. In other words, the odds are against them and the situation is grim.
The funny thing is, you know who’s killing the Bulls right now? It’s not Bosh. It’s Sonny Weems. I’m being completely serious. Weems scored 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting against the Sixers. On Wednesday night, Weems went a perfect 8-for-8 for 17 points in Toronto’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sonny Weems. Go figure.
But enough about the Raptors. Let’s talk about the Bulls. This game was a prime example of what might have been had the team been a little healthier during the second half of the season
Joakim Noah, once again starting at center, had a strong game. Jo’s shooting (4-for-14) was as grim as Chicago’s playoff odds, but he finished with a game-high 16 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and one memorable posterization of former teammate Tyrus Thomas:
Speaking of Tyrus, I was really excited to watch the game-within-a-game between Thomas and Taj Gibson, a.k.a the man who made T-Time expendable. Taj seemed to have a little extra spring in his step to start the game. He was skying for rebounds early — I mean, he was really going up after them — and finished with 15 boards, including a game-high 7 on the offensive glass. Gibson also scored 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Meanwhile, Thomas must have wondered whether he was back in a Bulls uniform. He logged only 16 minutes of playing time and the results were mixed. Tyrus blocked a couple shots and intimidated a few others. He started the game by posting Gibson for a short hook and a foul, then rolled in for an easy layup off a sweet dish from Raymon Felton on the Bobcats’ next possession.
But Tyrus went 2-for-5 after that, including an airball, and grabbed only 3 rebounds. Oh, and as I mentioned above, he ate that Wilsonburger served up by Chef Noah.
It was like he never left.
A few things worth noting. Taj obvious had a big edge in minutes played (42-16), but the edge was very minor in terms of plus-minus scores (+12 for Gibson versus +11 for Thomas). Do with that information what you will.
But in the final analysis, Gibson — while not as physically talented — is simply a better basketball player than Thomas right now. He plays smarter, he works harder and he usually makes the right plays. With Tyrus, you just never know. With Gibson, you usually do.
Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: “[Gibson] is incredibly coachable. He comes to work every day, plays hard. He makes mistakes like everybody, but he plays so hard. If he has a fault it’s that he helps too much defensively, which is a very, very rare thing. Especially for a rookie.”
Del Negro continued: “Ever since day one when he got here, he works every day. Whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s on the court. Pregame, halftime, he’s ready to go. And he’s such a great kid. It’s easy to root for a kid like that. You want him to do well, and he’s been a huge factor for us, no question, with everything we’ve battled throughout the year.”
Added Noah: “He’s always been someone who will always listen. He just works really hard. It’s not even just his rebounding. I think his positioning is really good. I think he’s relentless. He doesn’t give up just because somebody’s in front of him. He always keeps trying to go after that basketball. I think even offensively, he’s really getting better. He’s getting a lot of playing time, so he’s really making the best of his opportunity.”
In related news, Derrick Rose continued trying to back up his playoff prediction by scoring a game-high 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Rose was reasonably aggressive in seeking the rim, considering that nine of his 19 shots were layup attempts (including a couple acrobatic, Air Jordan-style circus shots). In fact, the Bulls attempted 33 layups versus 47 jumpers. That’s a much better ratio than they usually have…which is probably a product of how important they felt this game was. So was their 56-34 advantage on the boards.
While we’re handing out kudos, I’d like to give a gold star and a sheet of unicorn stickers to Kirk Hinrich. Captain Kirk might have been the best player on the floor. He scored 24 points while shooting a red-hot 9-for-12 from the field. For good measure, Hinrich added 6 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. He also had a game-high plus-minus score of +18, so you could say he had an impact.
The one blight on this game — other than a flurry of second-half turnovers that helped the Bobcats come back from a double-digit deficit and almost steal a win — was the play of Chicago’s bench. Brad Miller, Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick combined for 52 ugly minutes, during which they scored only 9 points on 3-for-17 shooting. In all fairness, Miller added some non-scoring value by snaring 5 rebounds, dishing a co-game-high 6 assists and (heh) blocking a layup attempt by Tyrus.
At any rate, it was a big win, and — one assumes — the kind the Bulls might have had a few more of minus an injury or two. But there’s nothing they an do about the past. All they can try to do is win out and hope the Raptors hit a rough patch.