How high have the expectations gotten for these Bulls?
On a night when the Bulls won by 19 points and took over first place in the Eastern Conference despite missing their second and third-best players — Carlos Boozer (sprained ankle) and Joakim Noah (flu-like symptoms) both sat this one out — there was an overwhelming sense that they should have won by more than 19 points. Should have crushed the Wizards much sooner and much harder.
The Bulls held Washington to 79 points on 43 percent shooting while scoring 22 points off 16 forced turnovers. The Wizards scored only 33 points in the second half. Again, this was without Noah, who leads the team in Defensive Rating. And yet Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was unhappy with his team’s defense.
Yeah. I’d say the expectations have gotten pretty high.
I’ll admit, I fell into the expectations trap last night. When Washington erased a double-digit deficit by outscoring the Bulls 27-19 in the second quarter, I was like, “Whaaaaaa…?!” The Bulls were 29-4 at home. The Wizards were 1-29 on the road. It felt like some universal law was being violated.
Let me repeat: Minus their second and third-best players, it felt like the Bulls should have been up by 30 at the half. And giving up 46 points over the first 24 minutes seemed like abject failure.
That’s how good the Bulls have been this season.
Of course, the Bulls almost always crank up their defense in the second half, and it happened again tonight. The Wizards managed only 14 points in the third quarter. They scored 19 points in the fourth only because JaVale McGee was busting his butt to get a triple-double during garbage time. He got it on a dunk with 18 seconds left and celebrated by hanging on the rim and screaming. While his team was down by 18 points.
I guess you could say the Wizards are at the other end of the expectation spectrum.
Derrick Rose had another Derrick Rose-like game (23 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and yet seemed pretty quiet. Luol Deng did what he’s been doing (20 pints, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) but (ugh) logged another 43 minutes (too many in a blowout if you ask me). Kurt Thomas continued to defy the laws of nature and aging by ripping down a game-high 15 rebounds. Taj Gibson added 13 boards and scored 9 points. The bench contributed 21 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
And then there was Keith Bogans.
Bogans — who’s been persona non grata in Chicago all season — nailed five three-pointers and scored a season-high 17 points. (In case you’re wondering, his career high is 28 points, which he set against the Utah Jazz on November 16, 2004.) And despite playing his best game of the season, Bogans was still the subject of mockery in ESPN’s Daily Dime Live chat. I guess Keith exists at the low end of the expectation spectrum, too.
Said Bogans: “It doesn’t frustrate me at all. I’m being talked about. I’ve been around long enough, people are going to say things. But, I’m here for my team, I want to win. I’m not worried about individual stuff. I’ve had individual things; my main goal is to win a championship. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Yep. That’s a 2010-11 Chicago Bulls attitude for you.
“My job on this team is to defend first. I don’t get caught up in ‘I’m a shooting guard.’ We’ve got Derrick, we’ve got Carlos, we’ve got Luol [Deng]. They take the bulk of the shots. I’m going to get us going defensively and when my shot’s there, I’m taking it. I know my role on this team.”
And, really, that concept is what has made the Bulls so effective this season. There’s no confusion. Players know their roles. They understand what’s expected. Then they go out and do it.
Said Thibs: “If we are preparing the way that we are supposed to and doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves.”
Currently, the results are that the Bulls are 48-18, dominating their division and sitting alone in first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the final day of the 1997-98 season.
Yeah. I’d say that speaks for itself.