Two words: Kurt Thomas. The 15-year veteran had a brilliant night, with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks; playing a big role in the Bulls' 121-76 win over the 76ers.
He didn't do anything flashy, but boy, he controlled the paint and hit the medium range jumpers created for him by Derrick Rose drives.
Elton Brand, who came into the game averaging 15.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG, was held to just 6 points tonight on 2 of 9 shooting. Thomas did an excellent job of ripping the ball from Brand, and had a few blocks on him, too.
I thought from the get-go Tom Thibodeau would go with Taj Gibson as the player replacing Joakim Noah in the starting lineup, but I wouldn't be surprised if Thomas was given a major chunk of the starts at center with Noah out. But I'm shocked at the level of energy Thomas is playing with, considering the extended period of time he has spent on the bench.
Overall, it was a great night for the Bulls. However, there was one player who was the odd-man out in all the fun: Keith Bogans. Nothing new with Bogans, as him and John Lucas, who played garbage time in the 4th quarter, were the only players to not score.
I've been expecting a starting lineup change from Thibodeau for a while now, but the logic "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" fits properly with the situation. The Bulls haven't had any really poor losses -- such as blowouts -- to render a starting lineup change, but I certainly expect the Bulls to finish the year with Ronnie Brewer at the starting SG spot (assuming they don't go out and trade for a better SG).
Brewer, who provided energy and speed on the fastbreak the minute he came in, had 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists on 4 of 9 from the field. He even hit a three-pointer; when it rains, it sure does poor.
Rose continued his MVP-type performance, with 22 points, 12 assists, and 5 rebounds. He got to anywhere he wanted to go, making plays for himself and his teammates. He's playing banged up right now, but it doesn't seem to slow the third-year guard down.
Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng both had solid nights, with 16 points and 10 rebounds and 22 points and 2 rebounds, respectively. Boozer was relentless on the glass and had his mid-range shot going.
Deng has defined the word consistent this season; I've always thought that the ideal role for him is the third or fourth scorer on a contending team.
With Boozer in the fold, Deng gets to play the role that he fits best: a 3rd option.
Let's take a closer look at tonight's victory over the 76ers:
What led to the Bulls win
The Bulls played suffocating defense tonight, led by Thomas' 5 blocks. The 76ers looked helpless out there, and had to force up several shots to beat the 24-second clock.
They outrebounded the 76ers 40-37, but the Sixers had several rebounds to grab, as they shot a putrid 35% from the field.
Thibodeau proclaimed during his post-game press conference that he still doesn't know the status on Taj Gibson: (Per the Chicago Bulls Twitter Page)
Thibodeau on Gibson playing tomorrow night... "I don't know yet."
Frankly, I hope Thibodeau sticks to Thomas in the starting lineup during Noah's prolonged absence, assuming they don't go out and make a trade/signing. Thibodeau loves his vets, and had kind words for Thomas post-game, so there's a good chance that he'll stick with Thomas in the starting five for a while.
Thomas isn't as athletic as he once was, but he has very quick hands and plays very smart basketball. It's easy to tell his basketball IQ level is high; he knows where to be defensively and does a great job boxing out for rebounds.
What does it signify
This Bulls team, even without Noah, has extremely great chemistry. They had a season-high 32 assists tonight, led by Rose's 12.
It's tough to tell if the 76ers stink this much defensively, or if the Bulls are potentially this potent on offense. Probably a bit of both, but on nights like these the Bulls had everything going and shot a blazing 65% from the field.
It was expected that the Bulls would suffer with Noah out defensively, but I thought a big blow would come on offense as well, since Noah was a major part in pick-and-roll's with Rose and grabbed offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.
The 76ers were coming into tonight's game 2nd in the NBA in opponents FG%, but the Bulls really took it to them and scored a season-high 121 points. It's great to see this type of chemistry from an offense that just lost one of their most important players on both ends of the court.
Filling in for Noah, Kurt Thomas had a season-high 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks. As I've said several times, he was outstanding on defense, holding Brand to just 6 points.
On Saturday night against the LA Clippers, Thomas looked very slow offensively. Tonight, though, Thomas had his moments -- with a large array of shots, from mid-range jumpers to offensive rebounds leading to put backs.
The Bulls tried to go small last time out against the Clippers, the end result was a loss. Thibodeau went with Thomas tonight and they came away with a big win. I expect Thomas to stay in the starting lineup for most, if not all, of Noah's absence. That's what the Bulls signed him for: to be insurance for Noah.
Now, the Bulls will get the reward for the smart signing.
It was very fun watching the Bulls completely thrash the 76ers, who won 8 of their last 11 games coming into tonight.
The Bulls looked very sharp tonight without Noah and Gibson; it's great to see this team have good on-court chemistry even with their vocal leader out of the lineup.
Although the Bulls up by over 40 for most of the 3rd quarter/4th quarter, Thibodeau was still up off the Bulls bench preaching defense. This is the type of attitude he has instilled to the Bulls, and they didn't get complacent tonight after getting an early 23-13 first quarter lead.
Bulls (17-9) @ Washington Wizards (9-17). 6:00 pm C.S.T. WCIU/NBATV/ESPN 1000
The Bulls got a much-needed blowout win tonight, giving the starters most of the 4th quarter off. They'll need the rest, as they get back to action tomorrow night against the Wizards.
The Wizards have been without John Wall for 11 of their 26 games this season. He's been sidelined with a bone bruise below his right knee.
With or without Wall, the Bulls should be able to take care of the Wizards. The key will be to get off to a good start because the Wizards are a front-running team. Giving them any sliver of hope will give them confidence.
The Bulls need to come out as world beaters and cut the Wizards' throats, per say, early on.