The Bulls proved last night, against the Spurs, that they are ready to contend for a Championship. While the Spurs are aging, they have the potential to cause problems for Western Conference teams in the hunt this year. Do not forget that the Spurs had the second best record in the league last year, but lost a lot of credit after being bounced in the first round against the Cinderella-story Grizzlies. Honestly, it was a terrible matchup for the Spurs and, if they are healthy, expect them to come back stronger in this year’s Playoffs.
Led by All-Star Tony Parker, who is having the best year of his career, the Spurs came out strong, pushing the ball up the court and forcing it into the paint. After dominating much of the first quarter, the Bulls proceeded to shut down Tony Parker, who scored eight points in the first 12 minutes and three during the rest of the game.
The ability to adjust to an opponent is a must for a championship contender. The fact that the Bulls adapted defensively is a great sign that they are ready to take the next step. They came out in the second quarter, as a unit, forcing the role players to make big shots. The Bulls also proved to be a dominant force on the boards. Joakim Noah led the team with 13 rebounds as the Bulls out-rebounded the Spurs 50-42.
Bench play is another area where the Bulls must win in games. Bulls fans, you do not know how spoiled you are to have the Bench Mob. Coach Thibodeau showed trust in the bench unit to make plays down the stretch, proving the team’s depth; the Bulls bench outscored the Spurs bench 37-34.
One more coaching note: any coach who can get Kyle Korver to become a reasonable defender is fantastic at his job. Korver’s will, and ability to stay in front of the ball have considerably improved. As Reggie Miller would say, “Are you kidding me?!” Too bad I can’t say the same for Carlos Boozer. OK, back to the team…
The Bulls also have the ability to respond against the “run”. Every good team will have a sequence of plays on both ends of the basket to get back into ball games. When the Spurs came after the Bulls at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter, the Bulls weathered the storm and responded with a run of their own.
The Bulls are a special team right now. Like a championship team, they are unselfish, talented, athletic, deep, well coached, gritty, smart and mentally tough. For the Bulls to win a championship, they need to play balanced basketball by shooting more effectively and involving everyone on the court. They must continue to beat teams at the free-throw line and keep possession of the ball. They need to take advantage of mismatches (you saw Richard Hamilton post up the smaller Tony Parker in last night’s game) and exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. If all else fails, there is still the young superstar, Derrick Rose, who can easily take over a game.