It’s a win. I’m not giving it back. But the Bulls’ 101-99 victory over the Wizards — otherwise known as “The Worst Team In The Eastern Conference” — really should have come a little easier than it did. Maybe even a whole lot easier. Washington is terrible, they were missing their second-best player (Caron Butler), and the guy who should be their first-best player (Gilbert Arenas) spent the day being about as big a distraction as a guy who hasn’t played a single game since signing a $111 million contract last summer could possibly be. I’m not sure all the cloak and dagger stuff is necessary for a 16-win team, but whatever. Anything going against the Wizards should have, in theory, worked in Chicago’s favor.
The Bulls fell behind by 12 points (22-10) less than seven minutes into the game, and I immediately started flashing back to their last trip to our nation’s capital. But they fought their way back to within six (47-41) by halftime, and things really picked up in the third quarter: The Bulls got dunks (three of them) and earned 13 free throw attempts, and — thanks to a 14-o run — outscored the Wizards 33-20 over that 12-minute span to take a seven-point lead (74-67) going into the fourth.
Chicago’s strong play continued in the final quarter and they were up 11 points (88-77) with 6:09 to play. That’s when things got…interesting. Antawn Jamison — whom I identified in the game preview as a player to fear and who finished with a game-high 32 points and 12 rebounds — scored the next eight points on two layups, a free throw (which he earned by getting fouled on the second layup) and a 25-foot three-pointer. He also snatched a bad pass by Derrick Rose between those layups, and that was one of the Bulls’ six turnovers for the game. Suddenly, what had been shaping up as a runaway win became a dog fight.
The Bulls and the road really do go together like Easter morning and Lyme Disease.
Fortunately, Ben Gordon went on a mini-run. Gordon hit a 19-footer, then (after a layup by John Salmons) an 18-footer and finally an 11-foot running jumper. That was some good timing. Mind you, Ben went scoreless (0-for-4) in the first half and, in fact, sat out most of the second quarter. But he lit up the scoreboard for 21 first-half points on 7-for-10 shooting.
The final 10 seconds were pretty crazy. Kirk Hinrich got a layup off a pass from Rose with 8 ticks left on the clock to put Chicago up by four (100-96). After a timeout, Nick Young hit a 26-footer to pull the Wizards to within one (100-99) with three seconds to go. Young then fouled Gordon with two seconds left and Ben hit the first foul shot and then missed the second. Washington snared the board but they were out of timeouts, so Jamison had to heave a 40-foot prayer at the buzzer. It missed and the Bulls escaped. Whew, huh?
As coach Vinny Del Negro put it: “Of course there’s a concern, but the biggest concern is winning and losing. That’s what it comes down to. We made enough plays today to win. We were fortunate a little bit at the end, but we got the job done.”
No arguments there.
Player notes: Derrick Rose finished with 12 points (6-for-15) and a game-high 8 assists. John Salmons scored 19 (5-for-12, 8-for-8 from the line). Joakim Noah just missed a double-double (9 points, 12 boards) and blocked a game-high 4 shots (one more than the entire Wizards’ team). Brad Miller did have a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Kirk Hinrich scored 12 (5-for-14) and Tim Thomas added 9 (4-for-8), all off the bench.
The playoff picture: The eighth-place Bulls are now 1.5 games up on the Bobcats, two games ahead of the Bucks and 2.5 games in front of the Nets.
The Thomas shot watch: Tyrus went 4-for-10 from the field, including 3-for-4 in the paint and 1-for-6 on jumpshots. He missed from 19 feet, 18 feet (twice) and 17 feet (also twice).