Bulls impress former champs, move into first

Bulls impress former champs, move into first
March 13, 2011, 3:34 am
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Saturday, March 12, 2011
Posted 9:52 p.m. Updated 10:58 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A halftime ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the franchises first title perhaps overshadowed an evening when the Bulls (47-18) tied Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference, following a 118-100 win over the Jazz (34-33) Saturday night, the teams sixth consecutive triumph.

WATCH: 1991 Bulls ceremony

After a stellar first-half performance complete with a 17-point first-quarter outburst from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and a team record-setting three-point shooting mark with 18 shots from deep the Bulls let their foot off the gas a bit, but their huge lead was enough to carry them to victory.

Given the beginning of the contest, the second half wasnt played with the focus the Bulls have emphasized all season. Given the distractions at hand, however, that should probably have been expected.

We didnt want to lose, thats the biggest thing, Rose told CSNChicago.com in a United Center hallway afterwards, as Bulls legends Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant briefly offered postgame congratulations to the young star. It was an honor being in their presence. You just saw how the fans treated them and you wanted to be in their shoes one day.

Whether motivated by the upcoming halftime ceremony or not, the Bulls certainly played inspired, getting out to an 11-0 start, with Joakim Noah (16 points, nine rebounds) scoring six points in the run after a scoreless outing the previous evening. Despite a Jazz timeout, the onslaught continued, as Chicago s defensive intensity overwhelmed the visitors, coached by former DePaul star and longtime NBA player Tyrone Corbin.

WATCH: Noah loves praise

With luminaries such as Michael Jordan looking on, Rose got off to a quick start hitting four of his first five shot attempts, all from long range, prompting the now-customary M-V-P chant earlier than usual as did Luol Deng (26 points, seven rebounds, six assists), allowing the Bulls to maintain their double-figure advantage. The lead ballooned to 20 by the opening periods end, capped by Roses fifth three-pointer of the quarter at the buzzer, giving Chicago a 37-17 lead.

Nothing, Rose, a major reason why Chicago set records for made triples in a quarter and half, told CSNChicago.com when asked about what adjustments he made in his shooting stroke, as he had been struggling from deep as of late. Just keep shooting. I told you, Im not going to stop shooting. Im not the one. Everybody gives me confidence to shoot and tonight, they were just falling.

Added Deng: We came out aggressive. We did a good job, we shot the ball well, we got stops and we went up. It was a great atmosphere, too. We were excited to start the game and we did a good job. Derrick was making great plays.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau employed a lineup of five reserves to start the second quarter (as opposed to four members of the second unit and Deng) and his second unit responded well, as the home teams lead was extended even further.

It was a group effort, as the perimeter shooting of C.J. Watson (the backup point guard shot 3-for-3 on three-pointers, while also notching three apiece of rebounds and assists) and Kyle Korver (12 second-quarter points, 17 points overall, 3-for-3 from three-point range), combined with the inside play of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik was too much for Utah to handle.

Thibodeau filtered his starters back into the contest by then, the lead was approaching a 30-point margin to close out the half and although Jazz big man Al Jefferson (the man who replaced currently sidelined Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer in Utah) and reserve swingman C.J. Miles (13 points) attempted to provide the United Center guests with some semblance of a scoring punch, Utah was unable to significantly chip into the deficit. At the intermission, Chicago held a 68-41 lead.

Theres no doubt that when you see the love that those guys get, its well deserved. When were on the road and we get the love that we get, a lot of it is because of what they did, said Noah. The Bulls are a franchise that is recognized all over the world and it is because of those guys. To be part of that is something very special. Were trying to do something special to respect the tradition.

Through the early portion of the third quarter, the Bulls maintained their comfortable advantage, as the Jazz perhaps shell-shocked from the first half were unable to mount much of a challenge for the time being. However, the visitors gradually cut into the seemingly insurmountable deficit and when Chicagos lead dipped to under 20 points.

Thibodeau, dissatisfied with turnovers, defensive lapses and generally sloppy execution, put a halt to the proceedings to refocus his squad.

I was concerned at halftime. We were taking a lot of threes. The first thing we did when we came out was take a three instead of establishing our inside-out game, said Thibodeau afterwards. You have a tendency to relax. Keeping your focus is critical. I knew going in, it would be a tough game. We came off back-to-back and a lot of games in a week.

The powerful Jefferson (33 points, 18 rebounds) continued to be an inside force for Utah and coupled with balanced scoring from his supporting cast and the Bulls offensive inefficiency despite the respective scoring efforts of Rose and Deng the visitors made the score look somewhat more manageable. Heading into the final stanza, the home team still led, 88-71.

Jefferson continued to torment the Bulls early in the fourth period, but after an early-quarter adjustment by Thibodeau via timeout, Dengs scoring and Watsons (16 points, eight assists) blend of playmaking helped the second unit steady the ship. Thibodeau went back to his starters, who came out with more energy.

Thibodeau paired Watson with Rose to counter Utahs smallish backcourt and the quiet Las Vegas native, freed from the responsibility of running the offense, knocked down a triple, prompting Corbin to call timeout midway through the quarter, as the gap between the teams again threatened to hit 20 points again. Utah didnt wilt, playing an up-tempo style in order to play catch-up at a rapid pace, but Chicago always seemed to have an answer.

Thats any NBA team. Theyre going to play hard, Rose told CSNChicago.com. We slacked on defense a little bit, but we were able to finish the game out.

A basket-for-basket exchange had taken hold of the contest and while that style isnt favored by Thibodeau, the Bulls lead appeared to simply be too much for the Jazz to overcome. While Jefferson was almost unstoppable in the low post, point guard Devin Harris (24 points) found his touch, but Noah and Deng took turns carrying the scoring load down the stretch to finish off the Jazz.

As far as the games significance in the standings, Deng took a familiar, focused tact.

It doesnt mean anything, said Deng of tying the Celtics for first place in the East. We play Washington next game. Thats going to be our main focus.

Chimed in Thibodeau: We are still chasing. I want us to continue to improve every game. The really good teams do that. The whole idea is to play your best at the end of the season and to be as healthy as you can. That is what we are striving for. Weve been playing solid and we have a lot of room for improvement.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more