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Streaking Bulls. Yes! Streaking Bulls.
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 1
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.
At the site of The Three Peat, which happened thanks to the Three Point Shot, this Bulls team did something perhaps as rare in its 122-111 win Saturday over the Phoenix Suns.
The win was the Bulls’ third straight, the first time since the end of the 2006-07 season—when this Bulls group was the envy of many around the NBA—that the Bulls have won three consecutive games.
“It definitely was a big win for us,” said Ben Gordon, who had 26 points along with Derrick Rose to lead the Bulls. “It feels really different. It’s been so long since we’ve won three in a row. It feels like it was a few years, back when we were a playoff team.”
Uh, Ben, it was when you were last in the playoffs.
“Oh, yeah,” Gordon said with a smile.
There were plenty of smiles to go around, finally, for this Bulls team that had been plummeting earlier this month with five straight losses to fall nine games below .500 with shabby home efforts in losses to Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Toronto.
Then came a condemnation from team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf about the season as “embarrassing” and a “disaster.” Though Reinsdorf could be the great motivator with this streak, which includes blowouts of the Clippers and Kings. Reinsdorf Saturday at SoxFest also clarified his remarks and said he wasn’t singling out coach Vinny Del Negro for criticism and was merely referring to the overall staff coming together and was meeting with Del Negro when Reinsdorf returns from Chicago with the Bulls here through Monday.
No matter. Hey, if spring training had started or the Bears were in the Super Bowl, it may not have mattered. But this is the slowest sports time of the year in Chicago, so it was something to chew over.
But all seemed forgotten and merely an asterisk in a fiery and effective sideline job by Del Negro, some terrific clutch shooting by Gordon and a brilliant effort by Rose that even had two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash gushing praise.
Rose, after those 26 points with six rebounds, four assists, zero turnovers and several highlight slam dunks and floaters over Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire, had to sit the last 6:42 when he took himself out of the game with a sore foot, the first time in his life Rose said he ever asked out of a basketball game.
“I never pulled myself out of a game before,” Rose said. “Never. So for me, it had to hurt.”
Scary for the Bulls and Rose, though Rose pronounced himself fit after the game, saying he didn’t need an X-ray or an MRI and would play Tuesday in Houston.
“I should be fine,” Rose said. “A little extra treatment should help me. It was on the dunks.”
The last one a two handed tomahawk on a fast break after a Thabo Sefolosha steal that gave the Bulls a 101-91 lead with just over seven minutes remaining.
“It’s been happening awhile now,” Rose noted of his foot woes and slowing at times.
And we’ve noted it as well and have been writing it off to that so called rookie wall. Though it seemed the length of the season and minutes Rose has been playing—and playing through the injury, as you would expect of him, without saying anything—is what has curtailed the explosive play we’d seen earlier in the season.
“I hadn’t dunked in a game in so long,” noted Rose. “It’s why it happened tonight. I was trying to be explosive. I’m not explosive no more like I used to be.”
But you could have fooled the Suns and just about everyone else with several of those Rose plays that just make you gasp in awe.
The first was on a Kirk Hinrich jumper in which Rose came darting in from the left side, caught the rebound with one hand and slammed the ball back through for a 46-37 second quarter lead in a game the Bulls never trailed.
“He’s a special athlete,” said Nash. “The experience he is getting with his understanding of the game coupled with his athleticism could make him a force. It seems like he may be a special kid, who’s humble, works hard and listens to the coaches and does all those things that will allow him to go from good to great and from great to one of the superstars of the game.”
But it wasn’t just Rose, who just after his highlight slam dunk in the second quarter one handed a Hinrich miss between O’Neal and Nash, got the ball back to Hinrich for another miss, though Luol Deng, with 17 points and 10 rebounds, beat the Suns inside to the ball for a follow layup and 50-39 lead.
It was typical of the Bulls efforts of late as they led the Suns in second chance points 18-4 and 12-4 in offensive rebounds and outrebounded Phoenix 42-35. Though the Suns shot 52.9 percent led by Leandro Barbosa’s season high 32 points off the bench, the Bulls were the aggressors with Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas fighting off Shaq with 18 points and eight rebounds and Amar’e Stoudemire, the latter with a meager 12 points and six rebounds and just seven shots.
I’d long thought there was no way the Suns would trade Stoudemire until they had a full season run and playoffs with he and Shaq. But Stoudemire looked lost and disengaged, and it seemed crisis time for the Suns as coach Terry Porter was long delayed for his post game session with reporters while meeting with owner Robert Sarver, and later Sarver called Nash and Grant Hill into Porter’s office for a meeting lasting late into the night.
The Suns are 25-20 and sliding, and speculation went everywhere from Porter being fired to Stoudemire being dumped to save money and fix the team’s broken chemistry.
“We don’t have a great spirit,” said Nash. “The sum is not as good as the parts. We have to find a way to fit together better. Instead of fighting, it seems we don’t really believe what we are doing. We don’t have the answers when we are out there.”
Said O’Neal: “Man (expletive, expletive) up. Excuse time is over. There’s nothing else to talk about.”
There’s plenty to talk about now for the suddenly surging Bulls, and, perhaps even a trade for Stoudemire. But, hey, Thomas got about the same production in almost half the playing time Saturday and one block on a Stoudemire attempt was like it a volleyball spike.
“The bigs did a decent job against Shaq,” said Joakim Noah, who had just four points but eight rebounds. “It’s my first three game winning streak (as a pro). Lindsey Hunter told me to act like I’d done it before. But I tried to tell him I never had.”
With that Hunter yelled across the locker room to Noah to thanks for the mention.
“It will be a good thing for your future,” Noah laughed.
It was as giddy as these Bulls players have been all season, the sweep of the Suns the first since the 1996-97 season with a season high 122 points.
And suddenly Andres Nocioni was talking about .500 and the playoffs. Not in a robotic way as the players had been doing before without much belief, but more shaking his head saying to Hunter sitting next to him, “Look at the games we lost. We should easily be .500.”
It’s not like there’ll be an award ceremony for that. But the sense seemed to be even now at 21-27 there were possibilities ahead. The Clippers and Kings rank among the league’s poorest teams, but the Bulls beat each by at least 20 points, convincing blowouts of bad teams. And whatever the Suns issues, they have far more talent than the Bulls, but clearly not near the harmony and effort displayed by the Bulls Saturday.
“We’re building something and that’s what I want,” said Del Negro.
Even a bench rotation of Hinrich, Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha, the latter with 11 points and eight rebounds in still another hustling all around effort, all scored in double figures to support the Big Offensive Three of Gordon, Rose and Deng.
“It seems like we’re playing a lot more comfortably, making better decisions, getting stops when we need them,” said Gordon. “That’s the way we need to play.”
And that was the way the Bulls played throughout here, jumping on the Suns from the start to go up 10-4 on the first of five Gordon threes.
“I’ve been shooting the ball a little bit better,” said Gordon, who also had six assists and zero turnovers, the Bulls with just eight. “It was only a matter of time before my shot came back since I work on it so much. It’s just a matter of being more consistent.”
Later in the first quarter Noah ran out and dunked after a miss and Rose followed that with a dunk off a nice bounce pass from Aaron Gray, who does that particularly well. Though the Bulls only led 29-25 after one, it was becoming clear they were outworking the bigger name Suns.
The Bulls surged ahead to open the second quarter with something new from the Rose arsenal, a floater reminiscent of the effective shot we see most often from Spurs All-Star Tony Parker.
Rose flipped one up over Shaq to make it 37-28 early in the second in a quarter of highlights that also included a Grant Hill 1990’s moment with a stunning drive past Deng and slam dunk over Noah, though Rose would continue to hit that tear drop from most angles.
“Shaq and Amare being down there makes you take it,” said Rose. “I used to do it at Memphis and I’m starting to learn it here. I used it a lot in college, but I tended to go away from it. I had a flashback tonight.”
It also showed something else special about Rose, about how he’s already working to add to his game even as the season wears on. It’s a rare trait among young players and generally distinguishes the great ones.
Still, though, the Bulls led only 62-59 at halftime as their defense remains suspect and Barbosa was absolutely flashing by defenders at will.
Rose went out first early in the third quarter after a spectacular driving score. But the Bulls could not hold a 13-point lead and went into the fourth leading 88-83 after Thomas caught the Suns sleeping on a Gordon shot and slammed in the miss to end the quarter.
It was a lot of points, and though it is difficult to stop the Suns, still fourth in the league in scoring, I thought the Bulls were effective in constantly putting Shaq in pick and roll. Shaq doesn’t come out much, and when he does is slow to recover, likewise with Stoudemire, and the Bulls kept attacking and pulling up for open jumpers or beating them inside.
“Our execution was better,” said Del Negro. “They tried to overplay and we moved the ball side to side and we tried to get Shaq and Amar’e away from the basket.”
Rose helped the Bulls pull out to a 101-91 lead with a terrific series that included a pass to Gordon while triple teamed for a three, another floater, a jumper and that two handed slam. But it didn’t look good as Hinrich replaced Rose and had a bumpy start with a poor shot and miss and then another, which led to a Barbosa runout for a score.
And suddenly it was 105-101 with 4:48 left, and this would be a heck of a game for the Bulls to lose after leading throughout.
Del Negro, coaching back in Phoenix for the first time, was especially emotional on the sideline, constantly yelling instructions, reacting with pain when Sefolosha doubled and left Barbosa open for a three and gleefully pumping his fists when Hinrich late in the game penetrated and found Deng slashing for a three point play.
“I’m Italian,” Del Negro explained with a hoarse voice afterward, which he attributed to not chewing his normal 20 lozenges during the game.
The Suns had a chance to draw closer, but Shaq missed a reverse and Gordon with Barbosa all over him and the 24-second clock about to expire calmly sank a three.
“Ben Gordon has been doing that for years for the Bulls,” said Noah. “Ben has been getting us out of deficits and helping us stay in leads since I’ve been here. We count a lot on Ben and he came through and it was a great team effort.”
Hinrich then made that terrific pass for the Deng three-point play, Thomas hit a jumper and Sefolosha effectively wrapped it up at 116-105 with 1:32 left with an open three pointer from the top of the circle.
Yes, a three for three once again.
It was more exciting when John Paxson did it here in 1993. But the Bulls will take it now and walk away smiling as well.