Although the score board at game's end showed 110-89 in the Chicago Bulls' favor, make no mistake about it: the Indiana Pacers played the Bulls tough. Until the 4th quarter that is.
The Bulls outscored the Pacers 33-17 in the 4th quarter, getting whatever they want offensively and shutting down an isolation-heavy Pacers offense.
Still bothered by stomach ulcers, Derrick Rose played a very solid game, with 20 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds. Rose scored 15 of his 20 in the 2nd half, relying on mainly jumpers tonight. Why? He struggled to finish at the rim at times tonight, but like he always does, found ways to get to the paint and make plays. There's no doubt the stomach ulcers have had an effect on his game, although it's effecting his finishing ability more than his jumper.
Carlos Boozer, coming off a 16 points and 16 rebounds game, notched his 19th double-double of the season: 24 points and 10 rebounds. Tonight, he shot much better than he did on Friday night against the Magic, going 11-for-21 from the field. Boozer paced the Bulls in the first half, and he manhandled Roy Hibbert or Josh McRoberts, who had a team-high 20 points. On the flip side, Boozer struggled mightily on McRoberts; failing to put a body on him on defensive rebounds, and not running out to the three-point line on McRoberts. Then again, Boozer wasn't brought here for his defense. And overall, the Bulls held the Pacers to just 89 points.
Although the Bulls stand at 33-14, it came at an expense. Taj Gibson went down with a supposed ankle injury in the 4th quarter after stepping on Ronnie Brewer's foot. He was helped off the court and into the locker room, failing to put any pressure on his foot. However, he came back onto the Bulls' bench under his own power, and could have played if needed, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
...Gibson returned to the bench under his own power and, though he didn't play, he could have.
Hopefully the ankle doesn't swell up too much on Sunday morning. The Bulls can't afford to have Gibson out.
Let's take a closer look at tonight's win against the Pacers:
What led to the Bulls win
The Bulls got great all-around performances tonight; every player who came into the game (except Brian Scalabrine; played 1:52) scored.
The bench came up huge tonight with 33 points, led by Kyle Korver's 16 points. The Bulls did a good job finding Korver running off screens tonight, and he did his part hitting the shots. Although Korver's shooting has been up-and-down this season, teams have still respected him and that really opens up the floor for the Bulls.
Ronnie Brewer and Gibson each had great efforts tonight, too. Brewer scored 8 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, but the play of the night was his facial dunk on McRoberts, which was given the number one play of the night on ESPN's SportsCenter. It had such an impact that two technical fouls were called after the play--one on coach Jim O'Brien, giving him his second of the night, thus an ejection, and one on the recipient of the facial, McRoberts.
Gibson, before going down in the 4th quarter, had just 4 points, but grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. He's been a force defensively and is the ideal backup for Boozer. Although his offensive game has regressed as the season's worn on, his defense has made up for it.
What does it signify
Well, the Bulls are a whopping 19 games over .500. The schedule certainly gets tougher, but it's hard to envision this Bulls team struggling for a long stretch. Sure it can happen, but the Bulls are playing so well with out Noah, and this team can take leaps and bounds towards more success once he's back.
Also, the last time the Bulls gave up 100 or more points was January 7th, against the Philadelphia 76ers (105). Their defense has been flat out suffocating and they're at the top and/or near the top of several defensive categories.
The Bulls haven't been winning games with their offense: before tonight's 110 points, the last time the Bulls scored 100 or more was January 4th against the Toronto Raptors (111).
One night after torching Hedo Turkoglu, Luol Deng was at it again early on against the Pacers. Deng scored 11 of his 19 points in the first half, picking up the slack for a struggling Rose. Deng also chipped in 8 assists (typing a career-high) and 6 rebounds.
Deng's chances to make the NBA All-Star game are slim-to-none, but there's no doubt he's the MVP of this Bulls team. Behind league MVP Rose, of course.
Deng has locked down his counterparts all season and plays his role as a 3rd option perfectly. As long as Deng keeps this up, the Rose-Boozer-Deng trio will be among the league's best big-three. No doubt.
Here's an interesting stat: the Bulls are now 12-0 when Keith Bogans scores 6 or more points. What's more hilarious, that he's only scored 6+ points 12 times, or the fact that his impact on this team has been so minute? Both scenarios go hand-in-hand, though.
At 33-14, watching the Bulls is fun once again. After going through an entire decade of fulility--although, they did make a few playoff appearances, but never contenders--this team is showing everyone that they are legitimate contenders.
Can a comparison with the previous Bulls dynasty be made? The Bulls weren't contenders--not even pretenders--before Michael Jordan was drafted in 1985. Likewise, the Bulls were never considered legit contenders during either playoff run during the 2000's.
That is, until, the Bulls drafted Rose, and then acquired talent around him. Similarly, the Bulls' dynasty didn't thrive until players like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant developed and technically, Pippen was an acquisition of sorts.
It'd be foolish to compare this team to one of the best in NBA history, however, this Bulls roster has the blue print to get to the top, too. At least that's the hope in Chicago.
Feb. 2nd: Bulls (33-14) @ L.A. Clippers (18-28). 9:30pm C.S.T. CSN/NBATV/ESPN 1000
After a six-game homestand--in which they went 5-1-- the Bulls will now open up a five-game west-coast road trip. Game 1: against an L.A. Clippers team that has played well recently.
Led by Blake Griffin, who is a mere lock for the All-Star game, the Clippers have gone 12-7 in their past 19 games. One of those wins came against the Bulls at the United Center, 100-99.
As most Bulls fans remember, that was the game Rose went to the line with the score 100-98 with no time left in the game. Had he made both, the game would have went to overtime. After making the first, Rose missed the second one short.
The Bulls will face the Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, and New Orleans Hornets during the five-game road trip. Frankly, the Bulls have a shot at winning each game. Although, the Bulls do struggle on the road, holding a 10-10 record away from the United Center.
After the five-game trip, the Bulls will return home for a couple games against the Charlotte Bobcats and San Antonio Spurs, before heading into the All-Star break. Getting four, five wins during this trip would be a success. Maybe even Noah will make an appearance during this trip.