Well…that transition was pretty seamless.
As I was watching Chicago absolutely destroy a Philadelphia team that had won six of its last eight games — including an overtime win over the Bulls — I had to marvel again at the fact that only two members of this season’s projected starting lineup were actually in the starting lineup. And not only did Hakim Warrick (15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots) and Flip Murray (12 points, 2-for-4 on threes, lots of communication on the defensive end) look better than the guys they just replaced, they played like they’d been Bulls for life.
Said Warrick: “It really felt like we’ve been together since preseason. Just the way the ball’s been moving. The new guys have come in just ready to play and the old guys have really just welcomed us new guys in and whenever we make a mistake or we’re in the wrong spot, they make sure to point us and get us in the right spot and get the play right.”
Against all reason, the team has not seemed this unified all season.
The result of that unity was pretty sweet. The Bulls established a new season-high for points scored (122) and — even more impressively — set a franchise record for fewest turnovers (4) while racking up 26 assists. It’s hard to gauge, the team might have provided season-highs in energy, effort and enthusiasm too.
Said Philly’s Allen Iverson: “They were finding the open man, just making the right plays.”
Indeed they were.
Chemistry is a funny thing. Last season, after John Paxson brokered the deal that brought in Brad Miller and John Salmons from Sacramento, Chicago’s chemistry shot off the charts, culminating in one of the great first round playoff series of all times. Unfortunately, that chemistry didn’t carry over into this season. It just didn’t. And the Bulls have been searching for answers all season. And now it looks like they’ve found those answers.
I guess it was addition by subtraction.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite their recent hot streak, the Sixers (21-34) aren’t a good team. And really, until a few weeks have passed and Chicago racks up at least a couple victories over teams on the plus side of .500, it will be hard to judge exactly what the Bulls have going for them.
But blowing an opponent out by 32 points on the second night of back-to-backs always feels kind of good.
And now let’s have a round of applause for rookie Taj Gibson, who grabbed a co-game-high 13 rebounds (5 offensive) and tied his career-high by scoring 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Despite being totally awesome, Gibson kept his Fonzie-like cool.
Said Taj: “You’re only as good as your last game.”
No self-serving sense of entitlement there. Unlike, ahem, some other former Bulls power forwards who shall remain nameless (and, thankfully, in Charlotte).
Added coach Vinny Del Negro: “He’s such a good kid. He is very coachable. He wants to learn and is always working. I like some of the passes that he and Hakim made to each other. They worked well against the zone.”
First off, that’s absolutely correct. Like I said above, Warrick played like he’d spent his career in the Windy City, and he and Gibson displayed something akin to ESP on a few plays. Second, all this goes a long way in explaining why Tyrus Thomas (okay, I named him) got benched after his forearm injury and was eventually sent packing…along with all his “limitless potential” (which more often than not equated to unlimited headaches).
I’ve said this more than once, but allow me to repeat: Gibson is already almost everything the Bulls wanted Thomas to be. And he’s a rookie!
But hey, I was talking about teamwork earlier, and this was no one-man show. Seven Bulls scored in double figures. Miller had a double-double (15 points, 10 boards). Derrick Rose had 17 points and 6 assists. Kirk Hinrich added another 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting and passed Ben Gordon to become Chicago’s all-time leader in three-pointers made (773). Luol Deng shot poorly (1-for-8), but he went 10-for-10 from the line and had a game-high four steals.
I don’t know if the Bulls can keep this up, but the immediate future looks pretty good. On Monday, they play the Wizards in Washington. On Wednesday, they have a home game against the Indiana Pacers. On Friday they play at home against the Portland Trail Blazers and they fly to Indianapolis for a Saturday night game against the Pacers.
There’s no reason they can’t keep this thing going.
Here we “Jo” again:
Joakim Noah made a surprise return from his seven-game layoff due to plantar fasciitis. Jo entered the game with 3:33 left in the first quarter and played…like someone who was rusty and dealing with an ongoing injury. Noah logged only seven minutes and finished with almost as many missed dunks (1) as rebounds (2), but at least he was able to run up and down the court a few times. Albeit gingerly.
Said Noah: “I’m happy to be back out there. I’m not happy about that missed dunk. But, hey, I guess it happens. … I really feel no pain, and I feel really good that we’re playing such good basketball right now.”
Former Bull factor:
Chicago’s former 20-10-50 guy scored only 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting. He did grab a team-high 13 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards. Still, it was a pretty silent night for a dude playing out an $80 million contract.
1st timeout: Deng was fouled before the timeout (2-for-2)
2nd timeout: Andre Iguodala was fouled before the timeout
3rd timeout: Thaddeus Young was fouled before the timeout
4th timeout: Elton Brand was fouled before the timeout
This was a blowout, so it’s pretty hard to see any kind of pattern…other than the fact that Vinny kept calling timeouts after somebody was fouled.