Bulls Show the Spirit in Beating 76ers


Apr 10

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The Bulls likely accomplished a few nice things in Thursday’s going away 113-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

That playoff spot seems almost certain now, just one win or Charlotte loss away and even a chance to get as high as sixth with the slumping 76ers still with three of their last four against the Cavs and Celtics.

Derrick Rose, with 16 points and eight assists in an at times breathtaking display of speed and athleticism, likely locked up rookie of the year honors with the game on national TNT cable.

“They are getting into a rhythm at the right time,” complimented the 76ers Andre Miller, who led Philadelphia with 20 points. “They are moving the ball and sharing. They are playing well off each other. They are taking advantage of their shooters and the fast break. Their point guard is playing some good basketball.”Oh, that guy.

And Tyrus Thomas, who scored a season high with 24 points as he was 14 of 14 on free throws, may also have not only officially introduced himself to the basketball world. But he also may have provided the first Bulls bulletin board material for opponents in years.

“We’re the most dangerous team going into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference right now,” Thomas said after the Bulls won their sixth straight at home and 13th of the last 14 at the United Center. “I wouldn’t say anyone is counting us out, but we’re the underdog right now. I think we’re going to come out and shock a lot of people.”Perhaps, we were most shocked that Thomas, usually oblique and politically correct in comments this season, offered such a bold statement.

But it might just be a very good sign.

Because now Thomas also knows he has to back it up. He did so Thursday. And, certainly among all the so called first round underdogs, the Bulls have been playing easily the best basketball and are taking on the look of a team that can scare someone, not unlike the offensive minded Golden State Warriors of a few seasons back who came in and shocked the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks.

Advantage, Bulls?

Hardly. The Bulls still can’t find the key. So forget locking down. The 76ers still shot 52 percent. And you supposedly win in the playoffs with defense, stops. But as that Warriors team showed, not always. Confidence, speed, athleticism and an underdog mentality has scared its share of favorites.

And this Bulls team is starting to feel good about itself even as it’s only 39-40.

“We know we can win games,” said Rose. “We just have to come out and be aggressive from the beginning. We have a lot of confidence.”

Coming down the stretch hot is a major element as well of playoff basketball, and the Bulls have that in this topsy turvey season that had coach Vinny Del Negro under fire in January and general manager John Paxson booed at home in February.

But then came the trades that helped transform the team with Brad Miller and John Salmons coming from Sacramento, and the disruptive Larry Hughes going to New York for Tim Thomas, the latter expected to return from family issues Saturday.

“I thought we were making improvements before the trade,” said Del Negro. “We were 7-3 in our last 10 before the trade, but there is no question that Brad and John and Tim have made a difference with their experience. We have more weapons, more players we can go to.”

Salmons had a solid effort with 14 points and kept Andre Iguodala from getting out of control, and Miller again was understated and terrific with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists, his passing from the post and for a big man as good as we’ve ever seen in Chicago.

I’ve always got a favorite Miller moment in a game.

The fan favorite probably was Miller’s three point play with about seven minutes left that extended the Bulls lead to 99-82 and effectively put the 76ers away. Miller set a screen and dropped off and took a pass from Salmons, drove down the left side and put up a reverse layup with spin off the backboard as he was being hit.

Even Miller was shocked, and you could see him saying, “Ooooooo.”

Though I liked better the previous defensive sequence when Salmons had Willie Green along the sideline and Miller came up quickly, blocking Green’s escape and causing a jump ball, which the Bulls won and led to the three point play.

The Bulls took control of the game, actually, in the second quarter after they had fallen behind 38-24.

Rose was absolutely brilliant in speed not seen by Philadelphia since the Franklin relays.

The key sequence was with the Bulls trailing 44-36.

Rose blew out after a Lou Williams miss for a layup, the first of several rushes where Rose ran by the retreating 76ers’ defenders like Jerry Rice beating the safeties.

Then with the Bulls trailing 46-40, Ben Gordon, with 24 to equal Thomas, hit a three off a nice Joakim Noah screen. Williams tried to run out as Rose did. But Rose caught him from behind with a spectacular, highlight show block, and then ran back and found Gordon for another three and the Bulls had erased all that 14-point deficit in six minutes.

Then Miller stepped in an on Andre Miller pass and gave it a Wes Unseld outlet pass about 80 feet to Rose for a layup. Then Miller would step in for a shot, drawing the defense, and passing to Thomas for a slam dunk to tie the game at 50 at halftime.

Then it was Thomas’ time.

The often inconsistent and oft-maligned forward was terrific, and he practically called it.

For the TNT game, Thomas did a pregame interview that was played in the first half. Thomas said, “I know I have a lot of talent and ability. I want to be one of those guys mentioned with Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul.”

Strong stuff, and you had to wonder as Tyrus was playing a sleepy first half, and early in the third quarter stood and watched Samuel Dalemert beat him to a loose ball and throw back to Iguodala for a bold slam dunk and 54-52 76ers lead.

It wouldn’t last for long.

First Rose would split Andre Miller and Reggie Evans on a double and go by Dalembert, getting a bit too far under and rifling a perfect pass back to Gordon all alone for a three and a 61-61 tie with seven minutes left in the third quarter.

Rose simply baffled the 76ers, who fell to 40-38.

Like most teams, they opened the game laying off him, going under screens to prevent penetration, and Rose hit four 20 footers after the 76ers got off to a 9-2 start, though the Bulls trailed 29-22 after one.

After that, the 76ers began to trap Rose off the screen/roll. But Rose was so fast he was beating it and splitting the two defenders, and then passing out for open shots. So then beginning to eye Rose more carefully, Thomas was able to get much deeper position in the lane. Rose found him and Thomas was fouled and then dunked, and the Bulls began to pull away, leading 82-72 after three quarters. Thomas would do a lot of the heavy lifting with 10 in the third in the Bulls 20-6 run.

Thomas, who has been criticized for not attacking the basket enough while settling for jumpers, then continued to dive at the basket, taking a lob from Rose for a dunk and then being fouled and going six for six on free throws in the fourth quarter as the Bulls pulled away easily.

“I thought Tyrus was fantastic in the second half, really getting to the free-throw line, being aggressive, making them pay on the rotations,” said Del Negro. Tyrus is so athletic and he can do so many things defensively and offensively with his versatility around the glass. You have to scheme for him, because if you don’t put a body on him and let him roam around, he’s going to hurt you. Tyrus was ducking in and getting layups, a couple dunks, and then he got to the free throw line. He was aggressive when they tried to guard him. Tyrus, like I’ve always said, can change the complexion of the game with his athleticism. As he becomes a little more comfortable, older and experienced, he’ll find his niche a little more consistently, and that will be a big factor for us.”

The 76ers moaned some about missing injured Thaddeus Young, but Paxson told reporters before the game the Bulls were shutting down injured Luol Deng at least through the beginning of the playoffs. It’s likely for as far as the Bulls might go in the playoffs.

Farther, suggests Thomas, than many might think.

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