Neither team played particularly great for any stretch with both squads going through long stretches of offensive dominance and offensive ineptitude. Chicago blew a 15 point lead in the first half and a 13 point lead in the second, but hung on to win on Jimmy Butler's block with two seconds to go.
Was that block a foul? It might have been. However, the refs swallowed the whistle with a couple seconds to go on a call that could have gone either way. Fair or not, that's normally how it works.
Point of attack
Kirk Hinrich was the Bulls best offensive player, a statement not made too frequently about the Captain in the past six years as his offense has regressed. However, last night he dropped 20 on the Raptors with 8/11 shooting and a perfect three for three beyond the arc.
D.J. Augustin added an efficient 19 points on 15 shots in a revenge game against the team that cut his confidence before cutting him from the roster.
The pair ultimately did the Raptors in because they were collectively 7/8 from behind the three point line. Chicago had plenty of trouble scoring at times, but whenever things looked bad one of the two would drill a three and propel the Bulls back into the lead.
What's someone what interesting is the pair combined for a grand total of one assist. One assist because...
Joakim Noah has become the defacto point-center
Noah had a career high 13 assists. He's racked up 11 or more assists in three of the past five games and has led (or co-led) the team in assists in four of the past five games. My favorite of the night was the fast break, behind the back pass to Kirk Hinrich in the corner for the three.
Mark Deeks tweeted "Enjoy Joakim Noah, you'll never see another player like him".
The statement is completely true, and I thought only half positive.
Any other player that could dribble, pass, rebound, and defend like Noah with his size and athleticism would be a complete superstar. Imagine if he simply had Taj Gibson's jump shot/post game added to the skills he does have? Really, have you ever seen a big man with Noah's ball skills that couldn't score?
With just a little polish on offense he might be the best center in the NBA given everything else he does well. That said, I'm long past pining for Joakim to improve on offense, he's a great player with an unusual flaw. I agree with Mark, Noah's one of the most unique players we'll ever see, and he's always been a joy to watch.
It's also been awesome watching Noah take the leadership role on this Bulls team with Rose out and Deng traded. I've always felt Joakim was a leader going back to his Florida days, and despite a few tough incidents early in his career, he's proven that out to be true. He's a winner.
Thank you Psycho T for causing shenanigans
In four minutes of completely worthless action, where Nazr Mohammed seemed to do just about everything he could to give the Bulls lead away, he at some point simply had enough and decided to subtlely tackle Tyler Hansbrough then get up on top of him and share some choice words while he was on the ground.
He was called for a well deserved foul on the play and mercifully removed for the night. We all appreciated him shoving LeBron James [or at least I did], but let's not go giving the opponent free throws because the scrub on their bench gets under your collar even though Hansbrough was out there trying to pick a fight with anything that breathes.
Hansbrough later decided that while boxing out Mike Dunleavy, it'd be a good idea to grab his arm and pull him to the ground, then when he gets up, plow straight through Dunleavy and carry him about 10 feet before bringing them both down to the court. Somehow, the pair were assessed double technicals on this play where Dunleavy had to be left thinking WTF did I do?
I bring these stories up to thank Tyler Hansbrough. He was that player that I hated on the Raptors doing things that I'd love him for if he were on the Bulls. Yes, he's a complete thug out there on the court, and yes, I was legitimately pissed at some of the stuff he pulled.
However, this was the first Bulls game I've watched with real emotional investment in awhile. I can't recall the Bulls and Raptors having any real rivalry moments in the past, but they played like it tonight.
Maybe D.J. Augustin got the team fired up to exact revenge. Maybe both teams simply want that three seed badly. Who knows. What I do know is this was one chippy game. Guys were going after each other, and it was great to watch.
Luol Deng on the trade block, Bulls expect to make no moves
The Bulls will likely make no moves at the trade deadline this year, and before anyone gets up and arms about it, just stop and ask if anyone worth acquiring is really going anywhere this trade deadline?
There aren't that many players in the NBA that would fill a real need for Chicago. They need a very good scorer/shot creator to help balance out the team, but the ones good enough to really help rarely move and none are available right now.
What might be interesting is to argue about the return of Luol Deng is dealt to another team. Cleveland is shopping Deng, and unlike the Bulls they aren't going to look to save money. I thought Chicago could have potentially had a deal with Phoenix who seems like a natural fit to trade for Deng then extend him next season.
We'll see if Deng moves, and if so, what Cleveland gets back for him. I think the Cavs have already assessed that keeping Luol Deng likely isn't an option unless the vastly overpay, because Deng's seen behind the curtain and isn't too thrilled.
That said, the Cavs are on a six game win streak and a trip to the playoffs is definitely not out of the question for them. The Cavs are three games back from the final playoff spot, but it's certainly quite plausible that they won't exactly have to catch fire to get there. Winning 60% of their remaining games might be sufficient to make up the distance.