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Bulls show Washington how it's done; Obama's turn next?
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 9
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
The Bulls Friday got a bit of a late scare from the second best basketball team from Washington, D.C, the Washington Wizards.
The best? After watching the Bulls cruise to a 20-point second quarter lead and barely extend themselves much more for a 98-86 win, I’d say the Wizards might have problems with Barack Obama’s regular group that includes incoming education secretary Arne Duncan, advisor David Axelrod, traveling guy Reggie Love and perhaps incoming attorney general Eric Holder, who played high school ball in New York City at Stuyvesant High School, where Axelrod also attended.
I know Axelrod could get off as many open threes as Ben Gordon did in leading the Bulls with 22 points because I played with Axelrod on the old Chicago Tribune basketball team and his range—in his mind, anyway—was unlimited. Axelrod actually plays a bit like Larry Hughes, who had 17 points thanks to 12 in the fourth quarter but got off 12 shots in 20 minutes and was the only Bulls with a minus for the game in the plus/minus category of the box score. I’d say this was an impressive name dropping for me, though the last time I saw Axelrod he called me “Stan.”
In any case, it mostly was an impressive game for the Bulls even if the Wizards are decimated by injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson also was out. Though that may have helped as Nick Young came off the bench to score 28 points, 18 in the fourth quarter. That was when the Wizards somehow lulled the Bulls into a game and pulled within 89-82 with just under three minutes left.
And if you get frustrated watching the Bulls at times overdribble and make selfish plays or take bad shots, you’d never be able to stomach this Wizards team.
With Young making just about everything, the Wizards pretty much didn’t let him touch the ball the next three possessions as the Bulls got a floater from Gordon, a followup dunk by Drew Gooden and a three from Hughes to take a 13-point lead with 48 seconds left before Young got another shot, and, of course, hit a three. Who knows who was directing things for Washington by then as interim Ed Tapscott took the easy way out and got himself ejected early in the fourth quarter with his team down 20. So much for the captain and that sinking ship thing.
But despite the opposition and the closing malaise, this was a very good win for the Bulls:
They took advantage of a team they were supposed to beat and pretty much took them out early. They got another strong, active performance from Tyrus Thomas with 16 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, and right away as Thomas ran out and was fouled and got a pair of free throws a minute in, followed a Derrick Rose miss and slammed for a 12-6 lead and closed the Bulls first quarter 30-16 lead with a drive by a stationary Antawn Jamison for a three point play.
Thomas, with at least 30 minutes played the last three games, is averaging 15 points and eight rebounds in those games in his first real sustained time on the floor. “He has been working,” said coach Vinny Del Negro. “When he is working and active at both ends, he has been very good for us. We put him on Jamison and he was very good there. He was active defensively. When he runs the court and uses his athleticism, that really helps us. That flattens the defense for us with our penetration ability. Another good solid effort for Tyrus.”
Thabo Sefolosha also took out leading scorer Caron Butler early with aggressive man to man defense and Butler hung his head on a one for eight game for two points.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” said Butler. “I don’t know what it is. I couldn’t get into a groove tonight. I was trying to do other things like rebound and defense to make up for it. This was one of my worst games ever.”
Thomas was equally effective in frustrating a four of 12 Jamison, and without those two to go to—and the Wizards kept trying without success—the Wizards were reduced to firing away bad jumpers and didn’t even get to the free throw line once in the first half. In leading 52-34 at halftime, the Bulls also had a 9-0 edge in second chance points (13-2 overall) and 15-6 in assists to that point as the Bulls overall had 29 assists on 38 baskets. Overall, the Bulls went to 16-20 with Oklahoma City Saturday and three of four home games next week, though against Portland, Cleveland and San Antonio.
Rose had only eight points as he was thwarted at the basket several times, but he had nine assists and Gooden starting at center had 16 points and 11 rebounds despite his height disadvantage. Luol Deng sat out again with a sprained ankle, but said he could return Monday against Portland.
“I wasn’t really hitting my shots today, but my teammates were knocking down their shots and it was good getting them involved,” said Rose “We actually did let up a bit in the second half and let them back in the game more than we should have. Hopefully we’re learning that you have to play hard no matter what the score is.”
The highlights came early, particularly among Thomas, Rose and Sefolosha, the latter playing just under 22 minutes despite a strong overall effort early. The Bulls seem better when Sefolosha is out there defending and cutting on offense, and that 30-16 first quarter effort suggested that.
Sefolosha’s no look pass to Rose on a drive as Rose took it up for an explosive two hand jam was the highlight play of the game, though I also liked a bit later in the first quarter when with under 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Rose split a trap out high, penetrated and pitched out to Sefolsoha for a three and 22-10 Bulls lead.
On the next Bulls possession, Rose found Sefolosha diving to the basket for a layup against the stunned and now retreating Wizards. The Bulls bogged down a bit in the second quarter during a brutal sequence from Hughes when he took shots in seven of eight straight possessions without passing the ball, though Hughes would redeem himself some in the fourth with that late three and five straight points to open the quarter as the Bulls took that 20-point lead. Well, at least Hughes isn’t hiding anything. He’s coming in to shoot the ball.
Despite Hughes missing four of six shots in that second quarter sequence, the Wizards were hopelessly inept with, sadly, Jamison and Butler, recent All Stars, looking like they’d fallen into a depression.
The Bulls led 52-34 at halftime, and got a good defensive boost again from Sefolosha and Gooden, blocking shots on one Wizards failed possession. Thomas then took a nice bounce pass from Gordon as Thomas rolled to the basket on the trap instead of fading away and got a dunk.
Yes, that’s it! Thomas even found Joakim Noah for a slam on a clever pass as the Wizards collapsed toward the Bulls new offensive threat. And Noah, who was finishing stronger, later in the third took a pass from Lindsey Hunter and dunked. So when Tapscott left and the Bulls were ahead by 20, it seemed time to leave.
But not experiencing the so called garbage time, other than on the losing end, the Bulls relaxed enough on defense, especially with Sefolosha out, and Young took advantage of Hughes and Gordon for a rush of jumpers and someone on Washington finally attacking the basket.
“We were a little better defensively tonight and some of that was from having a couple days of practice,” said Del Negro. “We still made too many mistakes at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. We gave them too many easy baskets. Nick Young came in and hit some tough shots to put some pressure on us. We had too many turnovers which hurt us and we did not push the tempo as well as we can.”
But it was too late to make a difference for the Wizards as it turned out, and I doubt not quite effective enough to scare the Obama Five yet.