By Philip Rossman-Reich
The Bulls had a reminder of their resiliency sitting on the bench with them on the road for the first time since the December Circus road trip. They had that reminder when Carlos Boozer toughed it out and played through an injury to start for the Bulls and help guide them back from a 14-point third quarter deficit.
Then there was Jimmy Butler sitting on the floor, still in his uniform with ice packs taped gingerly to his knees, just 20 minutes after a 128-125 triple overtime win over the Magic at Amway Center on Wednesday. Butler had played a franchise high 60 minutes in a basketball game, scoring 21 points, dishing out six assists and grabbing seven rebounds.
The man deserved some rest and respite. Maybe he deserved a cake, as Joakim Noah quipped. He might just take the win.
“I feel like we should definitely bake him a cake for playing 60 minutes,” Noah said. “There’s no better feeling than winning a basketball game.”
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The win is truly all that matters for a Bulls team trying to regain their footing in the Eastern Conference and recover from injuries and trades and the general ups and downs that make up an NBA season.
This game had plenty of those too.
D.J. Augustin drained a 3-pointer with 1:07 left in regulation to give the Bulls a four-point lead. A Tobias Harris tip in off a missed Victor Oladipo 3-pointer cut the lead in half. A Joakim Noah missed layup allowed Jameer Nelson to drain a 20-foot fade-away jumper of Noah to know the game with 11 seconds left and force the first overtime.
The Bulls needed some dramatics to force a second overtime with Mike Dunleavy coming across a curl screen at the top of the key and draining an uncontested 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds left. Dunleavy missed a potential game-winning three in the corner at the end of the second overtime.
It was an unlikely hero for the Magic who extended the game. Glen Davis hit his ninth career 3-pointer to send the game to the third overtime. It was his ill-advised 3-pointer late in the third overtime that eventually enabled the Bulls to seal up the win and take a huge sigh of relief.
“It didn’t look very good for a while there,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We got down big. [We] just kept battling, and in the end, found a way to win. We had to win it a couple times. It was a hard fought game. They played a great game. We were back on our heels. But we had a lot of guys step up.”
It took a whole lot of fight just to make a game of it against the offensively challenged Magic.
Victor Oladipo drove into the paint at will on his way to a career-high 35 points for the Magic. Jameer Nelson did much of the same scoring 31 points to go with 10 assists. The Bulls defense uncharacteristically gave up 51.0 percent shooting.
They simply were able to stop the two when the game mattered most and got tightest. Chicago simply found a way.
“We’re grimy, and we play as a team,” Butler said. “There is no guy that doesn’t give all the effort on every single play. Whenever you play like that, good things happen. The basketball gods will reward you.”
Certainly they did. Joakim Noah came alive late in the game, stepping up his interior defense to help the Bulls make a second-half turnaround from 14 points. He finished the game with 26 points and 19 rebounds to lead the Bulls in scoring.
D.J. Augustin added 19 points and nine assists off the bench and Tony Snell stepped up in the overtime periods with 15 points to go with seven rebounds.
Carlos Boozer scored 23 points, including 11 in the third quarter to keep the Bulls within striking distance. A bothersome knee injury nearly scratched him from the game and may have kept him out of the game late in the fourth quarter and in the overtime periods. Like everyone else he gave what he could.
It was enough for a win. And maybe a little bit of rest.