It wasn't pretty for the Bulls or Luol in the first half. It looked like the Bulls offense would once again fall apart without Derrick Rose to bail them out, but there was no rope dropping last night. The Bulls came back through sheer effort and will power, dominating the Celtics on the glass, frequently getting multiple offensive rebounds per possession on misses and playing suffocating defense which gave Boston little room to do anything whatsoever.
With the win, the Bulls locked up a top three seed in the playoffs. Only Miami and Indiana can mathematically finish above them now.
It's not that he scored, but the way he scored
Luol Deng has had big nights before, but he wasn't the recipient of a bunch of open looks as a spot up shooter in this game. He wasn't scoring purely off basket cuts, offensive rebounds, or other high percentage shots. No, Luol Deng took over the game by creating shots off the dribble.
Deng caught the ball and pulled up for dribble drive jumpers over and over, and knocked them down repeatedly. He drove to the basket for hoops and even created shots for his teammates. Luol Deng was the offense in the fourth quarter, not in a superficial way of the guy who knocked down the shots but as the offensive initiator.
I don't know that Luol has ever been that aggressive in creating his own shot, and I certainly can't remember any time he's done so with so much success. While I doubt he can continue to create shots so well in the future as an initiator, Luol Deng picked up this Bulls team, put them on his shoulders and carried them to victory at a time where they desperately needed someone to do so.
Beyond his tremendous offense, Deng destroyed Pierce on defense. Pierce couldn't do a damn thing in the second half, and the combination of the two led the Bulls to victory.
Rip is coming along
Hamilton shot 4/11 on the night which isn't necessarily a ringing endorsement of his play, but he looks like he was moving along better this game and fitting in more with the team. It looks like his timing is getting there, and he looked a bit more natural on the floor to me.
It remains to be seen if Hamilton can ever give the Bulls efficient scoring, but his presence on the floor gives the Bulls so much more play making than Brewer/Korver do. I expect that Hamilton's presence will improve the team considerably by the end of the season where, should he stay healthy, he'll improve his timing and chemistry with teammates.
While the shoulder injury clearly hurt the Bulls for missing him for so long, Chicago might end up better off in the long run (presuming his should fully heals) as he'll hit he playoffs with much fresher legs than he would have otherwise.
Joakim has an old school mentality
Anyone else absolutely love the fact that Joakim hates his rivals? There's no nicey nice comments from Joakim about Boston or Miami. He can't stand those guys and wants to destroy them. He was beaming after the win, and there was no "this is just another game, we got to focus on the Knicks" instead he was amped at dispatching one of Chicago's rivals.
Noah had a huge night with 17 points on just six shots by knocking down five of six and getting to the free throw line repeatedly. He contested everything on defense and made more hustle plays on the offensive glass than his two official offensive rebounds would indicate.
Point guard play?
The Celtics rushed and trapped both Bulls point guards to cause incredible pressure in the backcourt. Lucas had a decent stat line for his nine minutes (2/4 for 5 points, 1 assist, no turnovers), but it doesn't reflect what a struggle it was for Chicago to get a quality shot off while he was in the game. Lucas was routinely forced seven to eight feet beyond the three point line in order to create enough space to pass the ball, and the Bulls struggled to initiate the offense in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.
Watson shot just 5/16 and had six turnovers to go with his eight assists, and despite the turnovers, he seemed to deal better with the pressure than Lucas. The Bulls were able to get into their offense faster, and he was able to get into the lane and set up others for shots. His turnovers were a big part of Boston's runs, but it was better to live with the turnovers and get more quality shots than with Lucas not turning the ball over but using 2/3rds of the shot clock before starting the offense.
Either way, teams have enough film on Watson/Lucas that they've played them much tougher as time has gone on. Particularly Lcuas whom teams are now playing Lucas ridiculously tight on the perimeter because they see he's not a threat to drive past them and do damage while he is a threat to shoot from anywhere.
Derrick Rose didn't play but word is that he's likely for Sunday
It always made sense to wait until Sunday for Rose to return given that by missing one additional game he was getting three additional days of rest. Rose also indicated he can't yet go at full speed, but he will go at full speed without holding back upon his return. Well you can't make both those statements and play.
I wouldn't be surprised if Rose doesn't come back Sunday, but he's practiced with the team on both off days and went through shoot around prior to the Celtics game, so he's clearly close enough that our worst fears have been relieved.
Chicago needed that one
Chicago has very little cushion on winning the number one seed which isn't a necessity to get past Miami but would make things much easier.
With 10 games left to play, Chicago's magic number for the #1 seed is nine. They play Miami twice and either team will almost certainly take the number one seed if they can win both games. In the case of a split, it should go down to the wire as Miami would only need to pick up one game in the loss column against Chicago the rest of the way.
Discounting the two against Miami, the Bulls schedule seems reasonable. They play four of the other eight against playoff teams, but two of those four are against the Knicks whom will be without Lin and Stoudemire for both games. The other two are against Indiana and Dallas near the end of the season.
It's possible neither team will have anything to play for at this point, Dallas, in their advanced age, may start scaling back minutes at that point, but I expect Indiana to look to make a statement at home regardless of whether the game means anything. The remainder of the Bulls schedule is @Detroit, @Charlotte, Washington, and Cleveland which should all be wins.
I think the Bulls can realistically go 8-2 down the stretch splitting with Miami and winning seven of the other eight games. If that happens, the Heat would need to win out in their games against other opponents in order to take the number one seed from Chicago.
Meanwhile, the Heat's schedule is fairly light down the stretch. Discounting the game against Chicago, they play Boston twice, @New York, and Houston combined with a bunch of scrubby teams mostly at home. Outside of the Chicago games and Boston, whom the Heat have struggled against at times, the Heat will be heavy favorites in every other game this season.
They Heat aren't likely to lose more than two games the rest of the year, so Chicago will need to be at their best to finish ahead of them.