Bulls hold 76ers to 76 and win by 45


Dec 22

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So that’s what it looks like when everything works.

Yes, the Bulls Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers blew a 51-point lead, but ended up winning 121-76.

“We penetrated on offense, played good defense,” said Derrick Rose, who along with Luol Deng led the Bulls with 22 points while adding 12 assists and zero turnovers.  “Our help side defense was really there tonight.  We made sure that everybody jumped their shots and then we got out and ran.” 

And left the 76ers, who had won eight of 11, were pretty much run out of the building.

“Didn’t see this coming,” said Elton Brand, who was covered by new starting center Kurt Thomas as if Brand were the moon in a lunar eclipse. You could barely find Brand beneath the menacing shadow of Thomas.

“It was just an old fashioned butt kicking,” said Brand.

Thomas was the starting lineup addition, and the surprise was he had 12 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, though it seemed several were actually steals called blocks (the guy can’t jump). Joakim Noah, of course, is out until perhaps March after thumb surgery and Taj Gibson was out with a concussion suffered in the Clippers’ game, though he said he plans to play Wednesday in Washington. The Bulls said they are not certain whether they will play Gibson.

Still, Thomas stepped in after the Gibson/Carlos Boozer front court tandem was ineffective in the loss to the Clippers Saturday. Thomas was impeccable, hitting his mid range jumper, using his size to force Brand away from the basket and fitting seamlessly into the Bulls tight defense shell that first made the 76ers jump shooters—Hey, fellas! The Bulls had no shot blockers. What were you doing?—and then just traffic cones as the Bulls buzzed by.

“There was not much not to like,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.  “We came out from the start with great energy.  The shots went down for us early.  Defensively we did a really good job with body position and getting back challenging shots.”

The Bulls shot 64.5 percent. Heck, they shot 81 percent from the free throw line. You’d think they’d picked up Mark Price and Steve Nash. They had 32 assists on 49 baskets. They had a 28-9 edge in fast break points and forced 18 turnovers for a staggering 31 points. They were credited with nine blocks and 11 steals. They shot 54.5 percent on threes. Their uniforms looked form fitted. Brian Scalabrine’s hair even looked combed. This was as perfect as a basketball game gets.

This is a game the coach draws up a plan and everything works.

The Bulls, who have now won eight of nine and are 17-9, scored on 13 of their first 15 possessions and were ahead 27-13 by then. The 76ers never got the deficit under double figures after that and trailed by 40 late in the third quarter. Look, the 76ers aren’t a bad team, though now 11-17. They’ve played teams tough lately, especially on defense. They had two days off in Chicago before playing. This really may be Fun City.

“That very much was an aberration out there tonight,” said 76ers coach Doug Collins.  “I knew that within the first three minutes of the game. They ran the same play six or seven straight times against us (and scored every time).  I can usually gauge our game from our first ten possessions; they scored on eight. For whatever reason we were not there tonight. We would go out of timeouts and just be looking around.  I told the guys that I’ll give you one.  In the NBA you’re going to have a clunker. Whether it’s around the holidays or we were out shopping or whatever.  It just happens.”

It was something of a gift for the Bulls after the tough home loss to the Clippers, though it wasn’t by accident.

Thomas did an effective job on Brand with his size and Omer Asik had a nice stretch with eight points, six rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes. The book on Brand is to play him with size, so Boozer, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds, was on the taller Spencer Hawes. The 76ers plan was to go at Boozer in pick and roll and try to take advantage of Boozer’s defensive weaknesses and lack of shot blocking. But the Bulls help was terrific from the weak side and their interior shell was so tight the 76ers could barely get into the lane. So they began to settle for jumpers, and other than a few by Andre Iguodala, who led them with 17, the 76ers were dry.

The Bulls’ defenders, not always the most gifted athletically, also rallied from the paint protection to get out on shooters, hand up, textbook type stuff.

On offense, they got into the seams of the 76ers defense and attacked the rim as the 76ers seemed worried mostly on trying to deny Rose penetration. They constantly tried to jump Rose on the pick and roll, but the Bulls moved the ball side to side brilliantly, leaving the 76ers scrambling back into the gaps. Deng, especially, took advantage and went at Brand as Hawes kept getting pulled outside by Thomas who was hitting pick and pop shots in a terrific two man game with Rose.

“I just go out and do what I do,” said Thomas, “play solid defense, rebound the ball, make the opposing guy I’m guarding work hard and when the opportunity presents itself shoot the ball with confidence.”

But Thomas also brings two nice elements to the game the Bulls generally don’t even with Noah and Gibson.

I’m not sure I’d call the Bulls soft, which is an NBA opprobrium. But you don’t see the Bulls much taking the hard foul, getting the technical, whining about calls. They really are very nice fellas, though sometimes you need to be a bit nasty and risk Santa’s wrath.

Thomas is known for that.

Not necessarily on the vicious side, one of his veteran tricks—Thibodeau said he’s been doing this stuff “for 100 years,” though I believe he’s much younger.”—is knocking the ball out from his man with a sledge hammering action. He did that several times against Brand, and in the third quarter with the Bulls clinging to a 71-47 lead, Iguodala stole the ball from Deng and was going in for a layup when Thomas battered Iguodala hard, knocking the ball away.

Iguodala went to the free throw line and missed both.

“I was always taught not to give up layups and dunks,” said Thomas, who is a mild mannered sort off the court and quick with a laugh. “You send the guy to the line. That’s just doing your job.

As for stripping the ball, Thomas shrugged: “As my teammates say, I’m not a leaper. So I try to get a hand on the ball and make it difficult to get a shot off.”

Of course, that was Thomas’ first start after playing a total of 29 minutes all season, more than half of that in Saturday’s loss. So we’ll see how he stands up on a back to back Wednesday and then the Christmas Day and Sunday back to back this weekend.

Gibson will return certainly by then, if not Wednesday, though he’ll likely return to his bench role behind Boozer. It’s clear from the start Saturday and Thomas’ effect Tuesday the Bulls need the size Thomas and Asik bring and Gibson and Boozer are too small and not tough enough a front line tandem to start.

All indications are the Bulls do not plan to bring in another big man and would rather use Thomas and develop Asik and have Deng support Gibson and Boozer at power forward. After all, Orlando now is using Hedo Turkoglu at power forward.

Thibodeau had complained about the indolent starts, and this time the Bulls came out flying with Deng slashing to the basket, Rose pulling up for a three, Thomas shaking the ball lose from Brand and Rose running out for a score, Rose rebounding and firing out for his own transition, as Thibodeau wants him to do, Boozer taking Hawes outside and shooting over him, the 76ers middle defense collapsing.

“I thought we just did a great job getting ready to play,” said Boozer.  “We were disappointed how we started last game.  It’s been a point of emphasis the last couple days of practice.  We came out tonight focused.  We did a great job of being ready offensively.  We did a great job of being ready defensively.  We helped each other a lot.  We dominated the boards, shared the ball a lot.  We were very efficient inside.  We just did a great job of being prepared for this game.” 

And then just as quickly the 76ers, shooting 35 percent for the game, were done. They started lobbing passes that were turnovers to the Bulls quicker reactions and as the score mounted the Bulls’ shots became that much easier.

“Coach preached to us to come out and play hard and this team will be knocked back on its heels,” said Rose. “We were aggressive and played with an edge.”

When Rose rebounded an Evan Turner miss (an ouch two of 11 for the rookie) and found Kyle Korver for a three on a quick curl midway through the second for a 52-35 lead, the rout was well on.

Korver was four of four for 10 points. C.J. Watson shot five of  six for 14 points. Ronnie Brewer had two steals, but it seemed like five with nine points and a block and some fancy runouts with Rose in which they shared the ball beautifully on two-on-ones. Scalabrine and John Lucas got in and none of the starters played in the fourth quarter except for Boozer’s 32 seconds.

“We’ve been saying all year when we lose one game it’s important to bounce right back,” said Deng. “It’s something we’ve done well all season, not let a losing streak build. It was a good response. The game plan worked.”

Yes, don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Hey, maybe they still can be an A team.

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