The Chicago Bulls woke up late last night and shrugged off what could have been a nightmare. Scrap the first three quarters and the Bulls dominated this game. The decisive 4th quarter victory didn't come on the backs of their frontcourt stars Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Both were benched for most of the 4th while Taj Gibson and Omer Asik turned up the defensive intensity that has become this team's signature.
Alll year, the Bulls were lauded for their defense and their second team rotation. It seems to me that when the second unit plays at starter level, the starters get jealous and feed off the energy and up their game. That's been a winning formula. But this time, Coach Thibs didn't give his starters a chance to redeem themselves. Noah and Boozer were outplayed by their Atlanta counterparts and really suffered on the defensive end, slipping up on assignments and rotations, giving the Hawks open shot after open shot to keep the game close. But when Asik sealed the interior and frustrated the Hawks big men, Taj Gibson roamed out and secured rebounds to jump start the Bulls main strength - the fast break.
I think that is why the Bulls swept the Heat this year. When a team comes in and shoots a lot of jumpers and doesn't rebound well, the Bulls get out in transition and just execute. Whether it's Rose going to the hoop and scoring, passing to Deng slashing to the hoop or kicking it out Bogans or Korver, the Bulls click.
Big ups to Taj Gibson, Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik. You played ball last night.
It was a big win and puts the Bulls back in the catbird's seat not only to win this series, but to compete against whoever comes out of the Boston/Miami series. In other words, this was a statement game.
Here are some other random observations from last night's Game 5 win:
Steve Kerr needs to review the tape and stop slobbering all over the Hawks. At the end of the 3rd quarter, Kerr proclaimed that the Hawks believed they were going to win the game and that they were playing with more energy. Thanks to Kerr (a former Bull), the Bulls responded and obliterated the Hawks in the 4th quarter. Wasn't even close. So I would say shut your mouth Steve, but keep talking because the Bulls must have been listening.
And Steve, that great Hawks team didn't look so great in the 4th. The chuck and chase Atlanta Hawks?
I was unkind to Pip after Monday's game because of his televised littering, but I have to say that Pippen redeemed himself by sitting court side (next to the young prince Pritzker) and trash talking the Hawks by their bench. When Josh Smith got into the altercation with Boozer, Smith and Pippen had words. When Smith picked up a quick fourth foul, he headed back to his bench and was razzed by Pippen. And not in a Charles Barkley kind of way (doofus), but more in a 'this is my squad and it might as well be 1997, punk. I don't like you.' Doesn't Pip have some sort of official capacity with the Bulls? So why is he sitting next to the Hawks bench, trash-talking? Either way, it was awesome to watch one of our biggest sports heroes showing bravado and talking smack to the team the new Bulls are trying to beat. Awesome. It was at that point in the game that the Bulls started to show some life.
Speaking of Josh Smith, do I have this right? He gets booed by his own crowd every time he takes a jumper? That's pretty weak. He must shoot (and miss) a lot of jumpers.
Did you know that with this win, the Bulls have now gone further than any Bulls team since MJ. The Gordon/Hinrich team won two games against Detroit in the semis a few years back. But no Bulls team has won three playoff games this late, or made it out of this round since Jordan/Pipp/Randy Brown finished off the Jazz in 1998.
I was half-listening, but were Marv and Steve Kerr fighting over the merits of stastitical analysis during the game last night? The bit about the team who wins Game 5 usually wins the series went on waaaaay too long with Kerr and Albert arguing over whether or not that was valid. They just wouldn't let it go. Was it just me or was that super awkward?
ESPN spent a good deal of airtime this week on the storyline that Derrick Rose takes too much shots for the Bulls. I don't know, the Bulls were languishing in mediocrity late into the 3rd quarter when Rose put the team on his back. It was at the 3:13 mark. I noted it because that's when he started driving the hoop. See, he didn't take over the game because of ego, he had to take the game over out of necessity. Because no one else was. And boy did he. Taj Gibson was unreal with 11 points off the bench (almost all in 4th), but it was Rose setting the tempo.
If Taj keeps this up, we can print a new novelty t-shirt: Thibs and Gibs (A cartoon of both of them leaning against each other. They would have regular bodies and huge cartoon heads).
Wow, go figure. The point guard that backs up Kirk Hinrich is much better than Kirk Hinrich. Haven't seen that before.
They pulled out the blimp for this game and we got some great aerial shots of the West Side surrounding the United Center. When they do the shots, it always seems that the stadium is like every other stadium in America, surrounded by parking lots in an industrial area. Poor West Side, no respect. Instead of showing that same Wacker Drive stop-start motion shot over and over, how about showing Madison Street? Not just West Loop, but some of the architecture west of the stadium? Like Kedzie? Seriously, let me go out with the crew before a game. I would help you guys get some seriously awesome Chicago shots. Please?
Now Bulls, go blow them out in ATL. You can and you should. It's your time.