It took a while, but the Chicago Bulls put together one good quarter out of four on Saturday night, and thankfully it was enough.
Thankfully, we were playing the Milwaukee Bucks.
In what proved to be a sloppy, inefficient outing for both teams, the Bulls proved that a veteran presence and a rising superstar is just too much to overcome most nights. Though Derrick Rose didn’t fill up the stat sheet like he has been prone to do recently, he did enough on offense, and his defense was impressive on Brandon Jennings all night. Jennings, who leads the Bucks in Points per game at just under 16, finished 2-6 from the field with four points and finished with just two assists.
However this game started like so many other games against sub-par teams have for the Bulls this season. Early on, they were just simply playing down to their competition. In the first half Carlos Boozer was doing his best Chris Bosh impression, missing nearly every shot he took and being out-hustled constantly. Bogans proved again that we really probably should have gone out and gotten a SG at the trade deadline. The only Bull who seemed to play with any urgency at all in the first 24 minutes was Joakim Noah, who was playing his 2nd game since returning from a thumb injury that kept him sidelined for since December 10th.
However when the Bulls came out of the locker room after halftime, something clearly clicked. Not only was their defense stingy and difficult to penetrate, but their offense was fluid and, frankly, looked how it should have all game. The man who you would’ve thought was an MVP candidate in the first half, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, was severely slowed down to the point where he essentially quit taking shots. The Bulls gave up 25 points to a bad Milwaukee team in the first quarter, but only allowed 50 points through the final three quarters. On the other end, though the Bulls offense was sketchy at best in the first, second and fourth quarters, they erupted for 31 points in the third, outscoring the Bucks by 11 in the quarter and never looking back.
3 Balls, 2 Strikes:
Game Ball #3 – Derrick Rose:
His shooting percentage has been down since the all-star break (perhaps a sign of weariness) however he always seems to find ways to will his team to victory. Rose wasn’t exceptionally efficient again tonight, but did what he needed to do.
Game Ball #2 – Luol Deng:
In my opinion, Deng has been the second most consistent player on this team all season. I love Boozer for what he does, but Deng’s all-around play has evolved, and he is in the midst of the best season of his career. He did the little things again tonight – timely 3’s, shutdown defense – to put the Bulls over the top.
Game Ball #1 – Joakim Noah:
How sweet it is to have your starting center back. Joakim, though he is still trying to get his legs back under him after the long layoff, is finding ways to be productive. He led both teams in rebounds with 17, including nine (!!!) offensive rebounds. He also had eight points in the game, and that number will increase as he gets re-acclimated to the Bulls offense.
Strike #1 – Carlos Boozer:
As said earlier, I love what Boozer brings to the table. However, when he’s off, he’s not much fun to root for. Boozer ended the night with a respectable 13 and six on 5-9 shooting, but his play in the first half was just awful. I expect better from the 2nd scoring option on my team, and I’m sure I’ll get it on the next outing.
Strike #2 – Starters’ Mentality:
Too many times this season we have entered games extremely flat against competition we should be beating by 30 points at halftime. It happened again tonight, and it must be addressed. It cost us a game against Toronto a few nights ago, and I expect my team to be professionals for 82 regular season games. This lackadaisical approach to games needs to end, and now.
The Bulls won a game they should have won, and keep an impressive winning streak against their division in tact (12-0 this season). Though I would’ve liked to have seen a better offensive performance, the defense was solid as usual and they did enough to win. We’ll need much better performances on this road trip, however. Atlanta, Orlando and Miami won’t be near as forgiving.
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