After watching the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat fall to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon, the Chicago Bulls got a little extra motivation heading into their matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Of course, Derrick Rose and the Bulls already had plenty of motivation, as they were looking to avenge their embarrassing defeat from earlier this season at the hands of the Sixers. But any little extra boost is nice, especially going up against such a quality opponent.
Despite playing rather poorly for much of the game, the Bulls were able to escape Philly with a hard-fought 96-91 victory that pushed their record to a league-best 31-8. And thanks to that Heat loss earlier in the day, the Bulls opened up a two-game lead in the Eastern Conference. While I will continue to stress that the regular season results don't mean much, it's still great to be that top dog. Hopefully they will be able to keep that spot, because any added help against the Heat in the playoffs will be beneficial (although again, I don't think they NEED homecourt).
The story of the game was once again the magnificent play of Rose. The way the reigning MVP talked in the days leading up to the game, many people figured he would come out with a little extra juice to help make up for the debacle against Philly earlier in this season.
Did he ever.
Rose had 13 points and two assists in the first quarter as the Bulls actually jumped out to a strong start offensively. Chicago led 26-24 in a surprisingly high scoring first quarter that saw plenty of great execution by both sides. The Bulls' offense bogged down big time throughout the middle of the game, but it was Rose who kept the Bulls afloat with countless shots of a varying degree of difficulty, including two buzzer beaters at the end of the second and third quarters.
With the game tied going into the fourth, it was Rose and another better late than never act from Luol Deng that opened up a 13-point lead for the Bulls, and it seemed like all was well. Despite just terrible stretches of offense for good chunks of the game, it looked like the Bulls would run away from the Sixers and get the vengeance they wanted so bad.
But then Doug Collins decided that enough was enough and began to throw hard traps at Rose on essentially every single possession down the stretch. Collins had the long and athletic Andre Iguodala man up Rose, and directed one of his rangy bigs to double Rose and force the ball out of his hands. The ploy worked wonders as Rose was not able to get free and the other Bulls were not able to convert open looks.
The Sixers - on the back of reserve big man Thaddeus Young – quickly closed the gap and got the lead down to two on several occasions. Luckily, Philly was never able to get over the hump and Rose delivered what wound up being the dagger with another one of those "how did he do that?" acrobatic shots that put the Bulls up four with 20 seconds left. Some poor free throw shooting kept the Sixers alive, but Iguodala terribly missed a desperation three in the final seconds and the Bulls were able to come away with the victory.
Rose finished the game with 35 points and eight assists (which amazingly would be only the third best point guard performance of the day), and it's games like these that should help vault him back into the MVP discussion. While I don't think he has a chance of winning because of the marvelous seasons that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are having, I do think Rose should at least be in the conversation. The Bulls may be able to survive games against bums without Rose, but they would be completely screwed in games like this one if he was on the sidelines.
Building on this point, this type of overall team performance somewhat worries me when it comes to postseason success down the road. This was yet another game where Rose HAD to be great in order for the Bulls to win, and while he's great more often than not, the Bulls simply can't rely on these types of performances every game against the Heat. Miami was able to slow Rose last year and we all saw the results in the end. The Bulls need to be able to show that they can win tough games without Rose going for 30+.
For that to happen, the rest of the starters need to perform better. An All-Star like Deng can't go three quarters without scoring. That's simply inexcusable. Sure it's great that he pulled a Tim Tebow (sorry, had to do it!), but he needs to show up for the entire game. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah had decent games, but they only combined for 24 points on less than 50 percent shooting and were not good defensively.
And then there's Rip Hamilton, who is still getting eased back into the lineup after returning from his leg injuries. Hamilton scored eight points in 19 minutes and hit some big shots while the Bulls were floundering in the third quarter, but he once again sat for the entire fourth quarter. I understand the guy is on a minutes cap and the Bulls should be cautious with him, but this was a perfect game to get him acclimated to the kind of defense the Bulls will see in the postseason. You're telling me he could not have played the last four or five minutes? Give me a break. I know the Bulls signed Hamilton for the playoffs, but I simply can't trust the guy until he performs in those situations. And he can't perform in those situations if he's not on the court.
Even with all these struggles and complaints, the Bulls were still able to grab a big road win against a team they have struggled with in recent matchups. It speaks to just how great Rose is, and when it comes down to it, I'll take my chances with Rose against anybody else. I may not currently think the Bulls will beat the Heat in a series, but I'll put my faith in Rose to try his damndest to do so.
The Bulls will have no time to rest as they have another revenge game on their hands when they face the Indiana Pacers at the United Center on Monday night. The Pacers beat the Bulls 95-90 at the UC Jan. 25 and Rose took exception to the way the Pacers celebrated on the Bulls' home court afterward. Several Pacers fired shots back and after the game last night, Noah added some more fuel to the fire.
Noah on Pacers game: "Roy Hibbert cannot out-celebrate me. So if they want to see some celebration, when we win, I can show them some."— K.C Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 5, 2012
I would expect a pretty similar game on Monday as to what we saw on Sunday in Philly. It will be a hard-fought defensive battle that is sure to get chippy. Rose better prepare himself for a good dose of Paul George and traps, so the Bulls must find a way to combat that. But enough talking about that game. Caleb will be along later to preview that one. Time for some more Bulls/Sixers notes.
- The Sixers absolutely killed the Bulls on the glass. They won the rebounding battle 50-42 and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. This discrepancy allowed the Sixers to take 15 more shots than the Bulls. Luckily, Philly was not able to take advantage of that…advantage. They made one less shot than the Bulls and had just one more second chance point.
- The Sixers' bigs handed it to the Bulls' bigs for a good portion of the game. Young, Elton Brand and Nikola Vucevic all had their way with the Bulls, and combined for 45 points and 30 rebounds (15 of those offensive). Brand himself had eight offensive rebounds, which simply should not happen. It's hard to blame Noah too much because he had 18 total rebounds, but he really could have had more. And Boozer finished with just seven rebounds. In a game with so many missed shots, that number is not enough for a guy who's supposed to be a great defensive rebounder. Then there was…
- …Taj Gibson. The reserve big man was absolutely dreadful all night. He took six shots, all from 16-23 feet, and made just one. He only had three rebounds in 17 minutes. He missed two clutch free throws at the end that kept Philly alive. Gibson is a very valuable piece off the Bulls' bench, but at this point, he's no more than a very good reserve player. His offense is not consistently good enough to garner starters minutes, which is why he will NEVER start over Boozer when he's around. And you know what? That's just fine.
- Omer Asik actually made a couple nice catches in traffic and converted two layups. Progress. Too bad he only had one rebound in 10 minutes.
- Looking at the shooting numbers, there are two areas we can point to that made a huge difference in the game. The first is three-pointers. The Bulls made seven threes (Rose had four), while the Sixers went just 1-11. The other was shots at the rim. The Bulls made 17-21 shots at the basket, which is an excellent percentage. Meanwhile, the Sixers were just 12-22. If Philly converts a few more of those bunnies, the outcome may have been different.
- I have to give a lot of credit to C.J. Watson. He sprained his ankle early in the game and it looked like he may miss the rest of it. Instead, he gutted it out and played the two for the majority of the fourth quarter. Not only did he do that, but he hit two huge jumpers in the final frame when the Bulls were starting to feel the pressure of the Rose traps. So while I was frustrated that Hamilton did not see any fourth quarter minutes, it ended up being okay because Watson hit big shots. However, can we really count on C.J. to hit those shots in the playoffs?
- Speaking of those Rose traps, I thought Tom Thibodeau did a horrible job of finding ways to creatively attack them. First of all, with Watson in the game, it probably would have been a good idea to have him bring the ball up and play Rose at the off guard. But since Thibs insisted on having Rose bring it up, he could have at least tried some different things to get better looks. But time and time again, it was Noah hovering around the three-point line and either setting a ball screen or just waiting for the pass. First of all, the ball screen essentially invites the double team, so doing that over and over was just dumb. And second, having Noah out there meant the athletic Young would be the one trapping Rose with Iggy, which made things very difficult for Rose. And third, while Noah is an excellent passer and above-average ball handler for a big, he simply does not make you pay enough for doubling Rose. Why not try pick-and-pops with Deng, Watson or Korver (who only played five minutes)? I sure hope Thibs looks at this tape and comes up with something better in the future.
- Iguodala got off to a really nice start, but Deng and the Bulls clamped down on him as the game wore on. Deng kept Iggy mostly to the perimeter, as 12 of his 15 shots were over 16 feet. He only made four of those 12 shots.
- Jrue Holiday also got off to a nice start, but Rose shut him down after that hot start. After coming into the league as a poor defender, Rose has really turned things around on that end.
- Lou Williams had a miserable shooting night. He went 0-7 from the field and missed some shots he usually makes. Considering he did dish out seven assists, he was not a complete train wreck, but a guy who leads his team in scoring can't not make a basket in a game.
- That last point illustrates the problem in the long run for the Sixers. Their leading scorer is a "microwave" type guard who comes off the bench. Unlike the Bulls who have Rose, the Sixers have no bona fide scorer that can take over games when the rest of the offense is struggling. If they did, I would consider them legitimate title contenders. But they don't, so for now, I see them as nothing more than a tough team that will give the Bulls or Heat a tough second round series.
- Jodie Meeks is terrible. He missed three straight shots in one possession. Get out of here son.
- I watched the ESPN broadcast, and their crowd mics were up REAL loud. I heard several clowns with some hilariously bad attempts at taunting of Rose and some other Bulls. It provided some good entertainment during the times when the Bulls' offense was busy being bad.
- Advanced box score via Hoopdata.
Bull of the Game: Rose. No further explanation needed.
Bum of the Game: I would say Korver because of his goose egg, but he only played five minutes. So instead, I'll give it to Meeks simply for the fact that he missed three straight wide open shots on one possession. And oh yeah, he went just 1-6 in 15 minutes overall. Not good.
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