The bruised and battered Bulls (10-2) had little reason for optimism heading into Wednesday nights affair, except for the facts that their pride was at stake and they were facing the lowly Wizards (1-9). Led by emergency starter John Lucas III, Chicago made a defensive stand to hold off the visitors, 78-64.
I knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game. It was our third in a row and were hopeful that we can hang our hat on our defense when were not shooting well, said Thibodeau. The defense was, I thought, pretty good. The rebounding was terrific and I thought that was the difference in the game. Theres a lot of fight in our team.
Down both their superstar starting point guardDerrick Roses sprained-toe injury, suffered during the previous evenings win at Minnesotaand his usual backup, C.J. Watson, third-stringer Lucas (25 points, 11-for-28 shooting, eight assists) was the subject of much scrutiny leading up to Wednesdays contest. But the diminutive, yet experienced floor general proved early on that he had the chops to fill in as an emergency starterat least against the lowly Wizards, scoring six first-quarter points and dishing out six assists in a less-than-bashful outing.
I just wanted to go out there and step in, and control the team like Derrick would do and C.J. C.J. went down, I had to come in and get the Bench Mob going. Then, Derrick went down, I had to come in and do what I had to do. My teammates, theyre the best. They had a lot of confidence in me, coaches had a lot of confidence in me and I just had to go out there and perform, said Lucas, who played more than 45 minutes in the contest. I didnt know until I was driving to the arena that Rose wasnt going to play, so it caught me off guard. But youve always got to be prepared, always got to stay focused. I came in the game with the same mindset.
Even without Rose, one thing that remained consistent about the Bulls was their top-notch defense and it held the youthful, trigger-happy visitots to 35-percent shooting in the opening period. Although the home team didnt exactly light it up from the field themselves, a more disciplined style of play led to a 17-15 advantage after a quarter of play.
Washington was sparked by the play of backup guard Jordan Crawford (14 points), center JaVale McGee (10 points, 14 rebounds), who played his high school hoops in Chicago, and point guard John Wall (11 points, eight assists)Wall caught his counterpart, Lucas, with a monster, left-handed fast-break dunk, as the Bulls point guard tried to draw a charge late in the halfin the second quarter, showing fight that reflected their individual talent. However, the continued strong play of Lucas, who played the entire first half, and the scoring and rebounding efforts of Luol Deng (12 points, 15 rebounds) boosted the hosts lead to double digits.
Its a good feeling, but I know that it doesnt stop here, said Lucas. I just want to go out there and play, play in the game. Coach Thibs was just telling me, Just stay aggressive. Dont back off, dont stop shooting. If Im open, shoot it and I felt like I was shooting too much, and then he got on me for not shooting when I was open
Everybodyall 13 of uswe all stepped up tonight, he continued. John Wall and all of them, theyre great players, but when you go against D-Rose in practice, nothing surprises you that steps in front of you, I dont care who it is. Im just happy that Im part of this team and I get to play against him every day in practicealso C.J., whos a terrific playerand it makes me a better player.
Added Thibodeau: Hes not going to leave many bullets in the gun, thats for sure. I give him a lot of credit. He stayed ready. That was a tough game.
Well, actually, I was mad early because off on the pick-and-roll and he was wide-open, and he wasnt shooting and you cant play like that. If youre open, youve got to shoot, he continued. Once he hit a couple, then it changed things. It opened up things a little bit.
Help from the second unit in the form of Taj Gibsons (nine points, six rebounds, two blocked shots) always-energetic play, Kyle Korvers (14 points, six rebounds, four assists) outside marksmanship and Omer Asiks (eight points, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots) interior presenceone of the deepest teams in the league, the Bulls depth was truly being tested on this nightmaintained the winning margin. At the intermission, Chicago was in front by the score of 45-37.
After the break, the United Center guests charged back, apparently finally realizing how short-handed the Bulls were on the evening, and seized the lead midway through the games third frame. The suddenly-unselfish Wizards shared the ball and played to their strengths, led by the explosive Walls penetration and distribution abilities, and their size, length and athleticism on the inside.
It didnt help matters for the Bulls that Joakim Noah was ailing, suffering a first-half strain in his left thumb, but they plodded on, featuring Deng as the go-to scorer on offense and using swingman Ronnie Brewer at the point to spell Lucas. Receiving scoring from a surprising source in Asik, the home team took back the lead and headed into the final stanza with a 57-53 winning margin.
Buoyed by their defense, the Bulls controlled the games tempo in the fourth quarter, limiting impatient Washington to tough shots and using their inexperience against the visitors. At various junctures, Lucas, Deng, Korver, Gibson and Asik all stepped up for the hostsonce again, Noah, limited by the aforementioned injury on this evening, and Boozer were ineffective and pulled by Thibodeau for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and Asikhelping to keep a comfortable cushion and then watched their lead balloon.
Omer and Taj, when they shut the lane down, its hard to get anything inside on them.
Youre just going with how the matchups are going, how the game was going. We had a six-point lead, so you know you pretty much can have lockdown defense with those guys on the floor, and I thought we could win it with our defense, Thibodeau explained. Were in the midst of a lot of games in a short amount of time, so you just have to go with the guys who have some energy. We need those guys. Carlos and Jo are a huge part of our team. On a lot of nights, they carry us.
In some ways, its good because their minutes arent piling up and we feel the strength of our club is the depth up front, and theyre all different, so depending on what you need, you can go to whatever the skill set youre looking for. If you need more defense, you go one way. If you need more scoring, you go another way. You need playmaking, you can go another way. Theres a lot of versatility, so we want to take advantage of that.
Lucas, despite cramping up late, continued to fire away with accuracy, Korver made timely long bombs, Asik and Gibson were active on the interior and Deng was his usual steady self down the stretch, as the Bulls sealed the hard-fought win. Thibodeau recognized he had the game in hand in the waning moments and inserted fan favorite
Am I winded? I have a newfound respect for D-Rose and all the players who play 45, 48 minutes a game. But you have to grind it out, said Lucas, who played 45 minutes in the contest. Anything for this team. I would stay out there, even though I was cramping up. Thats how much I love this team. Id throw my body on the line anytime for them, he went on.