Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted 9:44 p.m. Updated 11:19 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
Letting an inferior opponent hang around for an entire game isnt exactly ideal for success as the postseason approaches. But the Bulls (56-20) refused to allow the lowly Raptors (20-55) to overtake them and eventually dispatched their guests, 113-106, Saturday night at the United Center.
A now-familiar dominant performance from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and a balanced effort from his supporting cast particularly reserve forward Taj Gibson allowed Chicago to increase their first-place lead in the Eastern Conference over idle Boston and Miami , as well as tying San Antonio for the best home record in the NBA (they are a game behind the Spurs for the best mark in the league, which would give them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs), with six regular-season games remaining.
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I dont want to take away from a win because you have to win different ways. The bottom line is getting a win, said Thibodeau. It was a tough game. But in the end, I thought we did the things we needed to do.
Carlos Boozer chimed in: It wasnt the defensive game that we wanted to play, but they have a lot of one-on-one guys, we were coming off a back-to-back, they were ready for us. With that being said... we get better and tighten up our game. Im just happy we came out with the win, really, he continued. Most games in the NBA are close games.
Ill take our team in a close game against anybody and I think were ready for that. weve pretty much seen everythingI think were prepared for whatever we have to face.
Surprisingly, the usually revenge-minded Bulls got off to one of their chronic slow starts against the Raptors, who took them down in the teams last meeting in Joakim Noahs return from thumb surgery. Noah sat this one out, missing his third consecutive game while nursing a sprained ankle.
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After Toronto got off to a 13-7 lead in the early going propelled by the outside marksmanship of promising second-year swingman DeMar Derozan (26 points) Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had enough and halted the game for instructional purposes.
Rose (36 points, 10 assists, three blocked shots) appeared primed to go off on one of his trademark individual runs and while his personal efforts were effective in getting his hometown team back in the contest, he got help from the likes of Luol Deng (17 points) and Gibson (15 points, nine rebounds), who came off the bench to spark the Bulls with his strong interior play.
Taj was great, praised Thibodeau. Defending, challenging, great effort on the boards. We were searching. We needed some energy.
A quick four-point spurt at the end of the period Rose slashed his way to the rim for a layup, followed by Ronnie Brewer (six points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals) stealing the ensuing inbounds pass for a point-blank finish of his own gave Chicago a 25-19 lead after the opening quarter.
Dengs hot hand persisted and Brewer continued to contribute early in the second, enabling the Bulls to maintain their lead, as is custom when Thibodeaus rotation gives the Bench Mob its turn.
Defense, solid ball movement and high-energy play were all in effect, as the collective effort of the second unit Gibsons rebounding prowess and Brewer, with his passing and acumen when operating on the baseline, in particular helped the home team hold the Raptors at arms length, despite the scoring of reserve guard Leandro Barbosa (18 points) and complementary inside play of active rookie power forward Ed Davis (17 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks).
Boozer (18 points, 10 rebounds) dominated the next stretch for Chicago, showcasing his full repertoire running the floor, hitting mid-range jumpers, finishing with touch and explosiveness, rebounding with authority and facilitating offense as a passer for the second straight night and carrying the team to a double-digit lead, 53-43, at the break.
My ankles feeling better. You can tell, right? I probably came back when I was 70 percent, 75 percent, but its gotten gradually better every day and I continue to rehab it, explained Boozer, who has pieced together three consecutive strong outings. I feel great and a lot of that has to do with the ankle getting healthy, so it makes me more active.
On the first four trips after halftime, the two squads exchanged two-point jumpers both teams played very perimeter-oriented styles for the early portion of the third quarter which better suited the Raptors, leading to the visitors significantly chipping into the deficit, mostly due to the play of point guard Jerryd Bayless (26 points, eight assists). Bayless personal scoring tear (14 third-quarter points) was enough to allow Toronto to knot up the game.
It became an offensive game and theyre quick. Theyre very good off the dribble. We had a hard time keeping the ball in front of us. We were low energy, said Thibodeau. They played hard, they played smart, they played unselfishly. They put a lot of pressure on us. Theyre an attack team and theyre a team that gets the ball into the paint.
Thibodeau also commented on the individual battle between point guards Rose and Bayless the pair, close friends, have matched up frequently back to their high school All-American days before entering the league in the same season remarking, They were going at him pretty good, too.
Rose didnt deny his coachs claim, but added that he relished the defensive assignment.
I was just trying to get at them defensively. Jerryd hit a lot of good shots. Just trying to contest them and make them all tough, but they were going in and some nights, its going to be like that, said Rose. Teams, towards the end of the game, tend to put me in more pick-and-rolls to try to get me tired, try to get me more fatigued to slow me down on the other end. But I love the challenge. My will, I think, is high and if anything, it makes me a better player, especially tonight.
We definitely werent sharp on the defensive end, he continued. In practice, coach's going to curse us out. but were used to it. Were used to him yelling. We always know we can get better, but weve just got to go out there and put more effort into it.
Rose, not being one to let an inferior opponent come into his building and pull any surprises against the top team in the Eastern Conference, responded with his own rapid point production, then swatted shots on subsequent Raptors possessions first a Bayless jumper from behind before going up, up and away to block the fast-break layup attempt of former Bulls teammate James Johnson as part of a 9-1 Bulls run to end the period. Chicago took an eight-point spread, 83-75, into the final stanza.
He was amazing on both sides. Offensively, he carried us. defensively, he got big plays. Big blocks, steals. I dont think Ive seen him that active. He was active on both sides, so it was amazing to see and he did a great job of leading us tonight, said Boozer. I think he can take over every moment were out there. He has the ability to pick and choose when he wants to take over.
In the third quarter, he ran away with everything and in the fourth quarter, he made the key plays we had to have to win the game. In my opinion, I think he always takes over. Its just a matter of when he wants to let you guys the media know.
Added Thibodeau: Hes played that way all year and I think whatever the game calls for, hes going to provide. He set the tone for us. we were flat most of night, he came up with huge plays throughout the game.
We needed all his points, we needed him to score, we needed him to run the team, we needed him to play defense.
Gibson started the fourth quarter with flair, first converting a Brewer alley-oop and later throwing down another dunk for a traditional three-point play, igniting the United Center crowd. Due to the scoring of Barbosa, Davis and DeRozan, however, the Raptors remained within striking distance and once again threatened Chicago s winning margin midway through the period.
As the games stretch run approached, the Bulls two primary catalysts on the evening Rose and Gibson each stepped up to hit timely buckets, aiding the home team in maintaining its slim cushion.
Sharpshooter Kyle Korver (10 points) was clutch late hitting a three-pointer after a key Boozer offensive rebound, then following a Bayless score with a jumper at the shot-clock buzzer, giving the Bulls a 107-100 lead with approximately a minute to go but Toronto refused to go away.
With the Bulls leading by five, Toronto sent Korver to the line with 16 seconds left and the sharpshooter nailed a pair from the charity stripe, making it a three-possession contest and putting the game out of reach for the Bulls plucky guests.
Finally, it was Rose who put an end to the shenanigans, hitting two foul shots and blocking a Barbosa layup to cement the win.
I just remember them celebrating after they won back in Toronto, said Rose. Just trying to pay them back.
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.