Despite Almost Blowing 22-Point Lead, Bulls Shrink Magic No. to 3 After 'Fortunate' Win

Despite Almost Blowing 22-Point Lead, Bulls Shrink Magic No. to 3 After 'Fortunate' Win

With five games remaining in the season, the Bulls shrunk their magic number to three to clinch the East with a 97-94 win over the Suns.

The Bulls (57-20) almost completely lost a 22-point third-quarter lead, but pulled out the 97-94 win over the Suns (37-40) on Tuesday at the United Center. The Celtics (54-23) beat the 76ers 99-82, as the Bulls' magic number to clinch the Eastern Conference shrunk to three -- two to clinch a top-two seed over the idle Heat (54-23).

A win's a win, but a 22-point lead shrinking to two within 11 minutes against a lottery team made the win "fortunate in the end," according to Tom Thibodeau after the game. He citeid Derrick Rose's bad night (19 points on 5-for-19, 1-for-5 on 3s, 6-for-6 on FTs, four assists) , Marcin Gortat (10 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) leading the "tough" Suns to beat the Bulls on the boards 43-41, and the Bulls "not playing tough with the lead."
He added: "Our shot selection hurt us. Our defensive transition hurt us. We were fortunate in the end to get the win, but we gotta' do a lot better and we gotta' clean up a lot of things.... Overall, 94 points [allowed], 54 in the second half. That's not good enough."
The Bulls shot only 18-for-48 (37.5%) on jumpers, but went a strong 8-for-19 (42.1%) on 3s for a .458 eFG% on jumpshots for the game. What likely frustrated Thibs was the lack of movement off the ball to create more inside and chucking shots earlier in shot clocks to give the Suns more possessions, as opposed to controlling the pace with the lead to minimize the opportunities to lose a huge lead.
The Suns were able to get 16 fastbreak points, largely due to 13 turnovers, but the quick shots didn't allow for the bigs to crash the boards. The Bulls finished with only 13 second-chance points on only nine offensive rebounds, despite 42 missed FGs for a 22.3% ORR on the night. On the other end, the Suns logged 17 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.
Joakim Noah (12 points on 6-for-7, four rebounds, four steals, one block) played his first game after missing three with an ankle sprain, marking only the 24th game of the season he's played with Carlos Boozer (12 points on 5-for-13, nine rebounds, seven assists). The Bulls are 19-5 in those games, but Thibs is concerned with Noah's "rhythm," overall. Only grabbing four rebounds on the night, he chalked up to being kept away from the basket assigned to stretch-four Channing Frye (13 points on 5-for-15, 3-for-8 on 3s, nine rebounds).
"Offensively, I thought pretty good; defensively, I can see his timing isn't quite there," Thibs said of Noah. "He played away from the basket a lot; he was guarding Frye. He's hurting a little but, but overall, good.... I'm concerned that he hasn't been able to get into rhythm because he's missed so much time. He's missed half the season.... He's still rehabbing, but hopefully he'll get better each day. But we need his rebounding. For us to be the team we want to be, he needs to rebound big."
  • Blowing a huge lead is bad, but don't discount creating it. Just as when the Bulls pull comebacks, I credit the heart of the champion bladdie-blah of coming back, but pound them for playing so shitty to need to comeback, they came out stomping on a tough team capable of being stomped on every night and that's a very, very good thing. There was an 11-minute stretch of bad that in most games would be catastrophic.

    So, fortunate, yes, but the Bulls' early dominance showed to be more powerful than the Suns endgame heroics that included Bull Killer Vince Carter scoring 19 of his 23 points off the bench in the final 15:28 of the game, where he was never subbed out.... Wait, the Bulls dominating 17 minutes in the middle of a game won out over the Suns dominating for 11 minutes in the late-mid/early-endgame? How is that possible when it defeats all narratives? Because spread out dominance is more valuable than clutchiness. That's basketball.

  • Nice D, Booz. Check out Steve Nash's (six points on 3-for-8, 16 assists, two steals) smile on the replay in the final second of this video. He knows exactly who he exploited:

  • Speaking of an 11-minute brainfart, how often to we see Luol Deng fade off his man this far because he over-committed to helping on dribble penetration? I think this is proof that a sense of non-alertness spread through the Bulls like a wildfire somewhere midway in the third quarter. Deng hesitates a bit much at times, but no more often than any strong defender, but rarely does he make such a bad decision to over-commit help too late, let alone too early:

  • Speaking of Lu, until falling asleep on Vinsanity (in about as worse a way possible) for a long stretch, he was the "glue." The Bulls had a 14-2 run interrupted by a Suns 7-0 run; to which the Bulls immediately responded with a 7-0 run in the third quarter largely due to Deng's eight third-quarter points on 3-for-4 shooting, hitting both 3s attempted. It's a shame his fourth quarter sucked, but the first 26-to-27 minutes of his 39:15 game was about as solid as it gets on both ends. He finished with 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting -- 2-for-5 on 3s -- with four assists.
  • Back to midgame dominance: Bench Mob! "As the Bulls built a 53-40 halftime lead, the bench had 26 points and the starters had 27," Kent McDill wrote at "The bench increased the Bulls' lead from one point to 10 through the first seven minutes of the second quarter."

    Taj Gibson led the bench, scoring 10 points to go with his nine rebounds, but he only had three in that second quarter. C.J. Watson had all six of his points, Ronnie Brewer had five of his 10 (with five of his six rebounds and two of his four assists), Kyle Korver had five of his six in that quarter. In a game where the Bulls won by four, the bench players in the game totaled for a +14, for what it's worth.

  • Cheers to Grant Hill. He deserves to be commended for some excellent work defending Rose and Alvin Gentry deserves credit for keeping Nash away from Rose. This coaching decision prevented a 110-80-type of ass-whopping where Rose goes off and Nash expends too much energy failing to stop it.
  • The Bulls won their fourth-straight overall and eighth of their last nine, 19 of their last 22. Not to mention, the 16th of their last 17 at home to extend their UC record to 34-5.
Bulls. Celtics. Thursday....
The Bulls' magic number is three, but with this one win, they wouldn't win the tiebreaker against the Cs. Why? Were the Cs to win out and the Bulls to go 2-3 in the final five games, the two would be tied at 59-23 on the season, but the Cs would win the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Bulls even the four-game season series on Thursday, they'd win #58 and lower Boston's maximum win total to 58 and tie the secondary tiebreaker of conference record at 35-13.
The next tiebreaker is records vs. East playoff teams -- BOS is currently 18-5 and CHI is only 12-9. The Cs have obviously clinched this tiebreaker, so the Bulls' magic number would be at one over the Cs after a win on Thursday.
If the Heat lose to the Bucks on Wednesday, the Bulls' magic number would shrink to one over Miami, having swept the head-to-head three-game season series.
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