It’s amazing how much winning can do for the attitude surrounding a team.
With a 102-98 road win in Dallas, the Bulls completed a brutal back-to-back set against San Antonio and on the road against the Mavericks unbeaten.
Contrast that to the impending sense of dread spreading throughout Chicago’s media and the team’s fans in the wake of the loss to Cleveland Monday night with rumors of locker-room strife and a coach allegedly on the hot seat.
A hot first half from Derrick Rose and a tradedmark no-quit second half effort by Jimmy Butler let the Bulls hang on for a win amid a number of mental lapses down the stretch.
Before we progress to the blow-by-blow, a quick word on Tony Snell’s sudden emergence as an NBA-caliber player. Snell’s chances had been all but written off earlier this season as Doug McDermott and E’Twuan Moore moved ahead of him at times in the depth chart.
However he has now strung together a handful of decent games, rewarded tonight with a start and 30 minutes of burn. He finished with 10 points on 4-7 shooting, hitting half of his four from behind the arc.
Rose’s 18-point first half made it eight consecutive 18-point games. A 4-4 start including a pair of threes pushed the Bulls out to a 16-8 lead midway through the first quarter.
While Rose fell off in the second half – he was just 1-10 in the second half after going 6-7 in the first – Jimmy Butler channeled his December form coming up with big shots and timely rebounds right down to the final minute. His 20-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist night ultimately proved decisive.
Butler’s two biggest plays of the night came late in this game, poking loose a rebound Tyson Chandler thought he had which led to Aaron Brooks being fouled while shooting from deep. His second, a brutally tough jumper against good defense to keep the scoreboard moving as the Bulls hemorrhaged points on bad decisions and equally strong Dallas shot-making.
After Butler’s make, Dirk Nowitzki took his chance to make a ridiculous shot, off-balance while possibly being fouled, finding the net by way of the backboard to cut the lead to six, 99-93, with less than 100 seconds to play.
From there, the Bulls had a late shot-clock miss by Gibson (15 points, 7 rebounds), Chandler hit a pair of free-throws before Gibson drew a foul with 0.3 seconds left on the shot-clock and the Bulls threatening to cough up the ball and momentum to the Mavs.
Monta Ellis nailed an and-one 16-footer over Gibson, allowing the Mavs to play defense rather than foul with 28.6 seconds left and down just 100-98.
The Bulls struggled to find a good look, Rose missing while probably being fouled before coming up huge with a rebound on his own miss, quickly tossing the ball to Kirk Hinrich who wisely ran the clock down rather than launching an uncontested three.
Gasol hit two free-throws with 0.1 seconds left for the final margin.
The Bulls improve to 29-16, percentage points behind the Toronto Raptors and with the same number of wins as the second-place Washington Wizards.
Joakim Noah made his return and again didn’t look near his former Defensive Player of the Year self. Just six points and 7 rebounds tonight.
Both teams were perfect from the line until deep in the fourth quarter, the Bulls finishing 17-20 and the Mavs a perfect 18-18.
The Bulls dominated on the boards, winning that battle 47-30 despite it feeling like they gave up a handful of critical ones and the usual energy-sapping Tyson Chandler back-tap rebounds.