The Orlando Magic came to the United Center undefeated with monster scoring performances by Glen Davis and J.J. Redick through their first two games. The Bulls gave them a taste of what it's like to go up against a real defense.
The Bulls defended well most of the game, but Orlando hung around and captured the lead through some amazing three point shooting both percentage wise (42%) and in terms of degree of difficulty. The Bulls weren't simply lazy getting out to the three point line, the Magic made some awfully tough looks.
Outside of their work behind the arc, Orlando found it difficult to get much done against Chicago's defense which trapped and rotated crisply for most of the night. For most of the night Chicago also failed to get much done on offense though struggling to shoot the ball after an initial hot start in the first quarter.
That changed with Nate Robinson playing the role of energizer bunny in the fourth quarter. The Bulls scored on ten of eleven possessions through one stretch to take command of the game and held on for a relatively easy win. The Magic knocked down a couple more threes in the final minute to trim a 10 point lead to four, but Chicago answered, and the Magic never got closer again.
Nate started the stretch with two jumpers, followed by two assists to Luol Deng. Over the stretch he contributed seven points and four assists highlighted by a driving layup through the defense. Once again, Nate Robinson's play has pushed Kirk Hinrich to the bench in the fourth quarter.
What's most impressive about the game though is that the Bulls won based on their offense rather than defense and hustle. They won with a 31 point fourth quarter. They didn't force tons of turnovers (11) nor did they dominate on the offensive glass (9). They didn't grind the Magic into dust with their defense (41.9% allowed FG% is very good, but the high three point percentage allowed mitigated it).
They scored. When it mattered they scored virtually every possession and took the game.
Joakim Noah looks like an all-star
Noah's knocking down his mid range jumper, passing the ball well to create for others, and showing a more consistent baby hook in the post. In short, he's providing more on offense than in the past while remaining an absolute terror on defense. Historically his greatest strength has been rebounding, but he's now contributing at a high level in all facets of the game.
Through the critical game winning stretch Noah picked up a couple of assists including a quick precise bounce pass between two defenders to Taj Gibson for an open dunk. He blocked five shots and swarmed the Magic's perimeter players all night long on traps and pressure while still getting back to defend his man.
Taj Gibson is right there with Joakim in terms of defense playing with a similar quick, athletic style. Both players can defend the perimeter and interior, rotate quickly, and most importantly, make quality defensive decisions about when to help and when not to. The duo make Tom Thibodeau's schemes successful with their ability and effort level every night.
Gibson also scored six over the Bulls big stretch knocking down consecutive well contested 18 footers as well as the dunk from the sweet feed from Noah.
Luol Deng picked up all the scraps
Luol had the biggest night offensively for the Bulls. While Robinson provided the juice down the critical stretch, Deng was around all game long pouring in points to keep the Bulls involved while scoring six in the Bulls big run.
He did much of his damage at the rim on a combination of put backs, dives, and breakaways as well as hitting his patented mid range jumper.
Luol still hasn't found the stroke on his three point shot going 0-2 tonight and is now just 1-11 on the season. However, he always rebounds, always defends, and always finds a way to use his versatility to help the team. Deng has been the ultimate glue guy as he always finds a way to contribute on the floor.
For a guy who can't create his own shot or break players down off the dribble, it's hard to imagine a perimeter player having a bigger impact on the game.
My goal for the Bulls through the first four games was to pick up three of them. They pulled off the feat, and I feel good about that as a start even if the loss to New Orleans was particularly disappointing under the circumstances. Things are about to get a whole lot tougher, so we'll see how the Bulls can adapt to a higher caliber of competition.
Filed under: Game Threads