After game #81, the Bulls are tied for the best record in the NBA after handling the Knicks 103-90. It also marks the first season since the Jordan Era in which the Bulls beat every team in The Association.
The inevitable question after the Bulls (61-19) 103-90 victory over the Knicks (42-39) in New York became the seriousness with which a team in the Bulls position ought to approach the game.
As far as we know, everybody's "fine," but being result-oriented on the decision goes both ways. The decision itself is still controversial, but what isn't controversial is that playing basketball since October has taken a toil on everyone across the NBA. The dilemma being: do you gain more from a couple of rest days than you lose from players getting out of their rhythm; does being idle and iced pay off more than increasing risk of injury that results from increasing faitgue?
The Knicks were without Amar'e Stoudemire (ankle), who said he could've played were it a playoff game, but the team has no ground to gain in any direction. The Bulls, on the other hand, have sealed homecourt against every team in the NBA except the Spurs -- who lost 102-93 in L.A., benching Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. So, add to the risk of sitting players not having homecourt in a hypothetical Finals matchup against San Antonio.
When confronted with a follow-up citing other teams resting key players, Thibs was asked if he valued the "momentum" of winning arguable garbage games. To which he responded: "I do. But I do think you have to strike that balance. It comes down to two things: you want to be playing as well as possible and you want to be as healthy as possible. So, the decision becomes: do you have an older team, do you have some guys that are nicked up; and if you do, you gotta' rest those guys. If they're injured, you sit 'em.
"If you're an older team and you're not playing for anything, I think the wise thing to do is sit 'em in that situation. But if you're playing for something and guys are healthy, I think you take the rhythm of playing your best and going into the playoffs and you wanna' be as healthy as possible."
There you have your backhanded expression by Thibs that he will not risk losing a Game 7 on the road in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. Take that for what you will, but the team's bought into this past your cookie cutter remarks of standing behind your coach for ceremony.
K.C. Johnson followed up asking if he likes the approach of "sprinting to the finish line" and Rose said, "Yes. It's been working for us."
We'll have all of the data to answer that in June, now, won't we?
The game at the arena with the most annoying PA man in the NBA
The first quarter was on the ugly end, where the Bulls couldn't close out on shots, where NY went on a little 14-5 run, but the pace was one fast enough for the Bulls to exploit with better shot selection. The bench unit had issues in the second quarter and the Knicks' 27-24 lead was quickly extended to 40-31. The Bulls took the lead back with an 11-1 run, but still went into halftime down 55-52.
After halftime, as we've seen for months, the Bulls kicked their opponents in the crotch and suffocated them with a 26-2 run out of the gate. "Rose scored seven unanswered points, followed by six in a row from Deng," Adam Zagoria wrote (NBA.com). "The highlight of the run was Rose's theft of Anthony and subsequent double-pump, reverse tomahawk jam."
The Knicks had spurts of life with blind squirrel 3-point shooting, but Carmelo Anthony (21 points on 8-for-19) was removed shortly into his fourth quarter shift and Mike D'Antoni conceded defeat.
The Bulls didn't shoot as highly efficient as they should've against a no-D Knick squad (36-for-83, .434 FG%, 7-for-20 on 3s, .476 eFG%), but hit their FTs (24-for-27, .889) for a good enough .543 TS% and crashed the boards hard for 19 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. They exploited the pace (93) enough to accumulated buckets at a high rate (110 ORtg).
The defense was terrible when it sputtered, but prevented penetration. 'Melo's ball-stopping allowed for efficient weak-side sagging and floating the perimeter allowed for good-enough positioning to close out on 3s. Sure, NY hit eight 3s, but they chucked 31 attempts (.258). Overall, the Knicks shot terribly (34-for-83, .410 FG%, .458 eFG%). They're small with Amar'e and just looked like a rec league squad without him on both ends.
The Bulls dominated the glass (51-28, 60.7 TRR) -- led by Carlos Boozer's 22, one off his career high 23 -- and took care of the basketball enough (13 turnovers, 12.1 TOR) with their defense to apply their winning formula in closing out the novelty task of beating the 29th team they've beat this season. It's the first season since the Jordan Era the Bulls have beaten every team in the league.
Like the Orlando game, Tuesday provided a great for the Bulls to rotate their defensive spreads and collapses, Tom Thibodeau said after the game.
"I think it was a good game for us, the last two games, because of the ways those teams were shooting 3s and spreading you out, so it tests your defense in different ways," Thibs said. "Of course with Billups and Anthony, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. You have to have clean pick n' roll coverages. And the way they shoot the 3, if you don't have a multiple effort mentality against them, you're gonna give up open looks at the 3-point line. And if they start makin', it could be a long night for you."
Must love Luol Deng. He got his eighth double-double of the season (23 points on 9-for-16, 2-for-4 on 3s, ten rebounds, four assists in 43:54). I would've liked to see him play the stretch-four more if he was going to log such minutes. Taj Gibson was getting spun around in a bad way by more athletic forwards.
Without Brewer, it would be understandable mid-season to shove Taj in, but once it became a garbage game, installing Rasual Butler at the three doesn't hurt, as he's exactly the type of perimeter defender to help Kyle Korver -- whereas Deng's more of an weak side inside helper and on-ball isolation stopper on the perimeter.
In a playoff spot, Taj needs to sit major minutes against stretch-fours for Deng-Brewer, Korver at the PF-SF-SG spots. That said, Taj on a Ryan Anderson, who isn't a threat to put the ball on the floor isn't a problem, so maybe one the Bulls won't face.
Boozer didn't shoot well (14 points on 5-for-14), but notched his 30th double-double of the season. In only 58 games, this ought to be commended. That said, he's sucked at finishing at the rim since tweaking his ankle in Charlotte. He hit 4-of-5 FTs against a too-small Knicks teams, but aggressiveness is aggressiveness sometimes.
"His rebounding was off the charts," Thibs said. "Offensively, it seemed like he had a lot fo bobbles. They were saying the ball was slippery."
Boozer also had a block in the first quarter.
That block was forgotten within seconds, thanks to this sexy alley-oop from Brewer to D-Rose in the Booz-ignited transition:
The Bench Mob Flop. The bench played a bit garbage-y. Losing Brewer hurt them, but both major shifts saw the Knicks light up the scoreboard. Bad defense from everyone off the bench, except for Brewer.
After a terrible 13-13 start on the road, the Bulls won 13 of their final 15 to close the season with a 26-15 record away from the United Center. What was an Achilles' hell -- or pedestrian, at best -- became the 4th best road record in the NBA, behind the Mavs (28-13), Heat (27-13), and Lakers (26-14). With a loss on Wednesday in Sacramento, the Bulls would tie L.A. for 3rd.
Thibs is a win away from a record. His 61-20 record gives his the best W-L% (.753) in NBA history, regardless of games coached -- Phil Jackson's .704 is the undisputed best eligible. But if the Bulls win on Wednesday, his 62 wins will tie Paul Westphal (1992-93) for the most wins ever by a rookie coach.
Westphal won Coach of the Year in '93 and, of course, the Bulls beat Westphal's Suns that year in the NBA Finals to complete the first three-peat of the Jordan-Pippen-PhilJax Era. The vomit-inducing storyline for a Bulls-Lakers Finals in June just expanded a little.
The Bulls will close out the regular season against the Nets (24-57) at the United Center. Every NBA team will play Game #82 that night, meaning so will the Spurs. Because the two split the season series and are both 23-7 against the others' conference, the tiebreaker would be a "random drawing." Whether this involves pieces of paper in a hat or a coin toss, I have no clue.
Wait? The Spurs in the Finals? BWAAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAAAA!!!!