Through three periods the Chicago Bulls scored 42 points. No one deserves to be in a basketball game when they've scored 42 points through three periods. Not in the NBA. However, their defense played fairly well over that stretch holding the Hawks to 56. 14 points, a lot to overcome...
Of course, by the time you read this, you'll know that the Bulls did it anyway. They struck quickly and within a few minutes into the fourth quarter the teams were separated by just three points. The Bulls spend the rest of the period trying to get over that final hump but were unable to take the lead until just under one minute to go.
The comeback was led by, who else, Derrick Rose; he knocked down three triples in about three minutes and scored 17 in the quarter. Luol Deng chipped in 13 as well including the game winner, not bad for a guy who doesn't show up in the fourth quarter. Outside of Deng/Rose, the only players to score in the fourth were Korver (fadeaway two pointer on the first play of the quarter) and Gibson (offensive putback).
Gutsy, guys play call by Thibodeau to use Derrick Rose as a decoy on the final offensive possession after he successfully went to Rose and had him successfully slice through the lane on the previous two plays for scores.
Seeing the success of the play, it was easy to say "GREAT PLAY CALL!", and I thought so as well, but with a little reflection, you see how dangerous that was. Joakim Noah was coming in cold not having played for the last 22 minutes of game time and becomes the primary facilitator of the game winning shot.
I love Noah as a passer, and the fact this play was ever called shows how much trust Thibodeau has in him as well. To bring a center in cold, and set him up as the passer while your superstar PG sets a pick and then runs around a back screen as a decoy is simply fraught with danger.
If Noah bobbles the ball from not handling it, if Noah throws a bad pass, if anything goes wrong at all, Bulls nation is up in arms that the Bulls didn't get the ball to Rose who'd just killed the Atlanta defense the last two plays.
It was a great call because it worked, and I think it would have been a great call either even if it had failed. Rose wasn't going to get another near uncontested look like his first shot to take the lead, and his second shot barely snuck over the the outstretched hand of Josh Smith. The Hawks were looking to deny Rose at all costs, and they were successful in doing so, but left Luol Deng wide open for an easy lay in.
If Noah had thrown the ball away, it was still clear that Derrick Was going to have to take a one on three or one on four approach on that final shot if he got the ball and shoot some kind of crappy step back jumper, so I'm happy Tom Thibodeau is confident in himself and his guys, because it's the type of play that skewers him on talk radio if it fails.
Concerned about Boozer/Noah?
We've always been concerned about Boozer due to his defense. His effort defensively looks a touch improved this year, but his scoring is way down, and I still can't stand it when we try to isolate him in the post. Boozer is what he is though, and the Bulls will decide whether to amnesty him in at the start of the 2013-14 season when they'll have the greatest luxury tax threat.
Noah struggling is a bit of a newer thing. It's not as bad as it seems. His rebound numbers appear way down as do his scoring numbers, but he's still averaging 12/10 per 36 with his offensive rebound rate / scoring rate inline with his career averages.
His defensive rebound rate has dropped a bit, but Boozer has generally been a monster on the glass so far which accounts for it.
The biggest problem right now is the fouling. Joakim Noah's averaging nearly 5 fouls per 36 minutes, and he's unable to stay on the court. We haven't seen him really make a big impact on games either [well I suppose besides making the game winning pass coming totally cold off the bench].
It's not time to panic about Noah, and he's somewhat been a victim of cheap foul calls, but point blank, he needs to find a way to stay on the court for more minutes.
Luol "4th quarter" Deng
Luol Deng has long held a reputation of disappearing in clutch. This year, he's been a monster in the fourth quarter in the games we needed him most. 13 points including the game winner against the Hawks. 9 points including 5 (and a steal and block which basically won the game) in the last minute against the Lakers.
Sure it's early, and sure Deng still isn't the greatest shot creator in the world, but Deng's stepping up big when it matters most for Chicago, and he's doing it on both ends of the court.
What more can you say about Derrick Rose?
I said in the pregame write up that this was a game the Bulls might need Derrick Rose to have a big night to win. They did. He delivered. Derrick was amazing, especially when it mattered most. Look past the 8/22 shooting, because all of the free throws [and these weren't superstar calls he was getting wacked in the face] and three pointers gave him a very efficient night overall.
Derrick's now shooting 37.9% on the season from beyond the arc, but the reality of that number is probably even a bit better. He's had at least one fourth quarter heave and probably had three desperation threes at the end of the Golden State game that he'd normally never take. When he's taking the shot in rhythm, he's largely been very effective with it this season.
I think Rose has improved his court awareness over the off season, he seems to have an excellent feel of when it's time to try and get his teammates involved and when it's time for him to put his stamp on the game. I look for Rose to continue to try to feed teammates as long as they're having success and take over quickly when they aren't.
Tough game for Ronnie Brewer
The Hawks played a lot of zone defense which generated plenty of open looks for Ronnie Brewer, but he was unable to knock them down. Brewer's been great on the year shooting the jumper, but this was the type of game where the Bulls relied on him to knock it down rather than it being a bonus. With the pressure of the zone on, Ronnie couldn't deliver tonight.
Hopefully he gets em next time, but the game really shifted in momentum once Kyle Korver entered. Korver busted the zone before he hit a single shot. He went 1-4 on the night with his one make being a crazy fadeaway long two while missing pretty good looks from beyond the arc. Still the threat of Korver was enough to tremendously loosen the defense.
Can't break the iron Asik
Omer played one of his best games as a Bull. Outside of a nifty reverse layup, he looked nearly helpless on offense, but he played defense at an elite level and really helped turn the game in the Bulls favor. He contested shot after shot, forcing Atlanta into tough looks and played great help and man defense.
If he can improve his hands a bit more to catch and go up strong quickly and effortlessly it would really help the team, but not many teams in the league have a defensive show stopping center they can pull off the bench to play big minutes.
Taj Gibson played Asik light
Much like Asik in this one, Gibson made a tremendous effort on defense in his minutes holding down Atlanta's offense, but he also couldn't get much done offensively. He didn't look quite as helpless doing it, but he kept missing his open jumpers and was limited to a layup and a putback.
Still like Asik, it's a luxury for the Bulls to bring in PF who can play incredible defense on the opponent. If Gibson can ever master the mid range jumper, he'll be a tremendous role player [he's already very solid].
This game highlighted a lot of the good and bad about the Chicago Bulls. On offense, they still don't really have as many options as you'd like them to have at times. Granted, C.J. Watson and Richard Hamilton missing the game probably had a lot to do with that, but you'd still like to see them have one more shot creator.
The zone can still give them trouble if guys aren't making jumpers, and the Bulls have a lot of streaky shooters on the team.
All that said, the Bulls had tons of good looks in this game that they simply failed to finish. A large part of the first three quarters had more to do with their poor shooting than Atlanta's great defense.
On the other hand, the Bulls defense kept them in the game. The Hawks have been on fire offensively, but Chicago limited them to 15, 18, and 18 in the final three periods after allowing 23 in the first. Heck, even a 23 point period is a pretty good effort, but 15, 18, 18 is simply an elite defensive effort.
In a way, these wins don't fill you with confidence due to poor execution, but these are the games other teams simply lose. Chicago hangs in there because of elite defense and a superstar to take over. They're simply never out of a game with this team because their defense can step it up to an elite level and stop anyone, and Derrick Rose can go into beast mode and dominate at any point.
For those reasons, no matter how far they're down, they'll always be a threat. As excruciating as that first half was, it was worth it to watch the end of this one.