Sunday, April 10, 2011Posted: 2:40 PM
By Aggrey Sam
ORLANDOIt was a much closer call than expected, but the Bulls held off a short-handed Magic team, 102-99, Sunday afternoon at the Amway Center.
Yet another stellar performance by MVP frontrunner Derrick Rose led the way for Chicago (60-20), who remains in the hunt for the NBAs top record and home-court advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs.
Our defense wasnt very good, our rebounding was below average and we didnt take care of the ball. We were fortunate to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team shot 60 percent from the field, but committed 21 turnovers and allowed the Magic to compete on the glass without All-Star center Dwight Howard. Youre starting earlier and theyre down Dwight. You know theyre going to play hardOrlando always plays hardyou know theyre going to play unselfishly and if youre not guarding the three-point line, youre going to be in trouble.
After getting off to a 9-2 start, it appeared as if the Bulls would run the short-handed Magic out of their own building. Orlando (50-30), however, had its own ideas and behind a combination of long-range bombing and varied scoring from center Ryan Anderson (28 points, 10 assists, 4-for-8 three-point shooting)starting in place of the suspended Howardthe Magic kept the game tight in the early going.
A win is a win, observed Rose. In this league, its hard to win, even when the best players on the other teams dont play, some of the other players that come off the bench are playing for their opportunity.
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Although Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson complemented Andersons offense with efficient scoring of his own, Rose (39 points on 12-for-16 field-goal shooting and 10-for-10 free-throw shooting), got to the rim at will, keeping the Bulls ahead of their hosts.
With Rose keeping his foot on gas throughout the first quarter and Carlos Boozer (12 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals) also contributing with his polished low-post game, the Bulls extended their lead to 32-24 at the conclusion of the opening period, propelled by 70 percent shooting from the floor.
The two squads exchanged 6-0 runs to start the second quarter, but the Bulls Bench Mob seized the games momentum with their typically hard-nosed defense and up-tempo offensive style, led by Taj Gibsons (nine points, 11 rebounds) relentless inside play.
Taj has been playing terrific, whatever role you put him in. You play him at the four, you play him at the five, praised Thibodeau. He plays defense, he challenges shots, he blocks shots, he sets great screens, hes playing with a lot of energy.
Orlando again rallied, however, and even after Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest, the Magic drew closer.
The inspired interior play of undersized big man Brandon Bass, along with timely scoring from Richardson and fellow wing Hedo Turkoglu, brought the home team all the way back, tying the contest at 46 apiece with 1:31 remaining in the first half.
The Bulls closed the period strong, scoring a pair of baskets to give themselves some breathing room, which was taken away by a Jameer Nelson prayer from just inside halfcourt at the halftime buzzer, giving the visitors a slim 50-49 advantage at the intermission.
Orlando capitalized off Chicago turnovers in the second half, hustled for offensive boards and kept up its torrid three-point shooting, but the Bulls' collective lack of timing, general offensive futilityoutside of Rose and Luol Deng (15 points, five rebounds, five assists)and up-and-down level of energy allowed the Magic to stay in the game even without their superstar big man.
Chicago tried to pull away from its hosts down the stretch of the third quarter, but with tight officiating and Magic marksmanship acting as deterrents, the tight-knit nature of the affair persisted. Through three periods of play, the Bulls clung to an 80-77 lead.
Explained Thibodeau: If you dont go into this game with a multiple-effort mentality because of their ability to execute the pick-and-roll and then spread you out with four shootersyoure not closing out hard and youre not blocking out, and youre not fighting for the balltheyre going to hurt you, either with the three or the second shot. In this case, they hurt us with both.
The final stanza didnt get off to the start the Bulls desired, as the second unit was unable to string together productive possessions on offense, forcing Thibodeau to reinsert Rose earlier than usual to counter the strong showing from Orlando counterpart Nelson. The Chicago native responded immediately, but the Magic kept coming, aided by surprising contributions from the likes of former Bulls guard Chris Duhon.
Critical calls by the game officials factored into the tight game as the contests stretch run approached, but where the Bulls became disjointed, the Magic seized the moment, making clutch plays to give the home team the lead in crunch time, further inciting an already raucous Amway Center crowd.
Rose continued to be the Bulls primary optioneven more than usualand after both teams rapidly exchanged steals, the floor generals transition dunk gave the visitors a 95-94 lead with approximately two minutes to play.
After Anderson and Boozer knocked down a pair of free throws each on the subsequent two trips, both teams made defensive stops in which two official video reviews were needed to determine possession.
On the ensuing possession, Rose blew by Nelson and dished off to Gibson, who was fouled while attempting a dunk with 14.2 seconds remaining. Gibson hit the first attempt and although he missed the second, Deng corralled the offensive rebound and the ball eventually got to Rose, who knocked down two foul shots to give the Bulls a 100-96 lead with 9.9 seconds to go.
Derrick was Derrick. You cant ask anything more of him, said Thibodeau. Hes being trapped, he still was able to make a lot of good plays, make shots. He carried us.
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Orlando didnt give up, however, and with 2.7 seconds left, Richardson knocked down a three-pointer to make it a one-point game. On the ensuing inbounds, Boozer was fouled with two seconds on the clock. After he hit both of his attempts from the line, Orlando called a timeout and Nelson threw up another miracle three-point attempt, but the potential game-tying basket was ruled after the buzzer.
We dodged a bullet in the end, said Thibodeau. We got lucky.
Added Rose: We had them. We should have easily put them away, but we continue to let teams come back. Its going to hurt us if we continue to do this, but were definitely happy with the win.
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.