Bulls use some Robinson magic to defeat Orlando


Apr 6

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 Bulls very much enjoyed their trip to Brooklyn the other night with a last minute win over the Brooklyn Nets. And with Friday’s 87-86 victory against the Orlando Magic, it looks like the Bulls could be going back very soon to America’s favorite community where the answer to “Do you have the time?” is, “So what are you lookin’ at?”

With the latest unlikely win that had five players still out injured, coach Tom Thibodeau calling on Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic for a late defensive stand to hold off the Magic and Nate Robinson providing the offense again with a dozen fourth quarter points, the Bulls moved solidly into fifth in the Eastern Conference at 42-33.

The Nets remain a game ahead in fourth at 43-32. But sixth place Atlanta and seventh place Boston lost Saturday, both at home and to losing teams. That left Boston pretty much stuck in the seventh spot and Atlanta with two more losses than the Bulls and the Bulls holding the tiebreaker because of a 2-1 regular season edge.

Nate Robinson

The Bulls, like the Nets, finish the season with five of their final seven games against teams with losing records. Which hardly means anything the way the Bulls, though they were playing their fifth game in seven nights with a depleted roster, had to rally from a late third quarter eight-point deficit to defeat the also injury depleted and 19-58 Magic.

“I thought we had a lot of fight,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “It was a sluggish game (the Bulls were outshot and outrebounded and with fewer free throws). We found a way to win and held on at the end.”

With Joakim Noah, perhaps back Sunday in Detroit, Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose still out, the Bulls got 19 points each from the electric, erratic and eclectic Robinson and Luol Deng, and vital defense again from Jimmy Butler. And the Bulls then withstood Robinson after almost singlehandedly getting the Bulls an 87-78 lead with 3:51 left just about giving it all back with a series of rushed shots, dribbling turnovers and bonehead maneuvers.

So in this most unpredictable of all seasons, Thibodeau set his defense leading by one with 23.8 seconds left for the last play with Radmanovic, who’s played so little this season we weren’t sure the coach knew his name, and Mohammed, the veteran of eight teams and a lot of rest until the last week or so. There was also Butler, the new defensive stopper on the hot Beno Udrih, which I haven’t thought to say much. He blitzed the Bulls for 27 points, including 18 in the third quarter when the Magic began to pull away.

Udrih had been beating the Bulls with clever pick and roll moves. On that last play, he took a handoff from Nikola Vucevic. But he faked to the screen and went back to his right, getting Butler on his hip. Radmanovic, who’d played in just three games in the last five weeks, stepped in from the right baseline, pushing Udrih farther to his left. Mohammed stepped up and with Butler closing from Udrih’s left as well, Udrih tried to spin. He lost the ball, which was recovered by Butler with 10.8 seconds left.

“We had a play set up,” said Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn. “But they did a good job denying it. Our pick and roll was good tonight and we had it set up with 16 seconds to go. They just did a better job on defense. We wanted to penetrate and get a good shot. The Bulls made a great strategic move with putting Butler on Beno.”

The Magic then, curiously, forgot to foul Butler as he stood a few seconds with the ball. He then threw ahead to Kirk Hinrich, who passed across to Deng, who threw to Radmanovic. And by the time the ball got back to Deng and Orlando could foul as they had one to give, there was just two tenths of a second left and the game was over when the Bulls inbounded.

“We’re tough,” said Robinson. “We’re going to hang around the best way we know how, stay together, play hard.”

Luol Deng

Whatever it takes has been the cliché from Thibodeau all season, and the way these last few games have gone with half the rotation out injured it’s beginning to sound like a plan.

And though in this improbable season that now has the Bulls on pace for 46 wins change seems the only constant, it sure looks like the fourth or fifth seed for the Bulls and an opening series with the Nets. The Nets would seem like an easier first round opponent for the Bulls than the Knicks and Pacers, whom the sixth and seventh place teams will face.

If the Bulls won just three of their last seven games they’d clinch ahead of Boston and the Hawks would have to win four of their last five, which includes games in New York, San Antonio and Philadelphia as the Hawks finish with three winning teams in their last five. The Bulls have two winning teams in their last seven as do the Nets. So the odds for now lean toward Brooklyn and the Bulls four/five with home court uncertain, Atlanta sixth playing the Pacers and the Celtics seventh playing the Knicks.

That would leave the Bulls in the so-called dreaded spot with a potential second round series against Miami, which figures to open the playoffs against the stumbling Bucks. Of course, with so many injuries and the way the season has gone a first round series win would be viewed as something of an upset. Of course, if the Bulls would happen to get healthy even if Rose doesn’t return, they have had success against all the top teams in the East.

They’ve also lost to most of the bottom teams as well, and were about to blow another in a tedious exercise in which the Bulls trailed 19-14 after one quarter shooting 21.7 percent, and 43-40 at halftime with the two teams a combined three of 16 on threes.

The Bulls came home late from Brooklyn early Friday morning and we can only imagine what the young Orlando players were up to with a night off in a city in which fantasyland means a whole different thing.

“We are continuing to grow as a group,” said the tranquil Vaughn, who is the anti-Thibs the few times he even stands up during games. “We played San Antonio on this trip with a great first half and did nothing in the second. Here we play them and are up at half time. We came out in the third and went up on them.”

That was with an impressive shooting exhibition by Udrih, who kept darting over screens and into jump shots. In one late third quarter stretch, Udrih scored in five of six Magic possessions to give Orlando a 67-59 lead.

The Bulls did seem to be sleepwalking some, anyway, as they couldn’t capitalize on a form of zone the Magic play. The Magic switch every attempt at a pick and roll, which should give the Bulls matchup advantages. But they settled for outside shots in a relatively tired performance in a game they played like they were supposed to win. Though the Magic seemed not to be getting the message.

Bulls defense

Orlando was playing without Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis and a few veterans they don’t use like Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington. Their switch everything defense is a concept used for years, sometimes considered somewhat unethical, by George Karl when zones were illegal. It was called junking up the game back then. Later some teams, like the Hawks, began trying to build by the concept of a dream team of all versatile 6-8 players who could switch everything and not be overmatched, which led to the drafting high of Marvin Williams and the end of that experiment.

But the Magic were having success against the Bulls until late in the third quarter. With the quarter about to end and Robinson dancing around much to Thibodeau’s dismay, Robinson made a fading three to bring the Bulls within 70-66.

Robinson had been two of seven and zero for two on threes before that shot, but he then opened the fourth with a three and 10 of the Bulls first 13 points of the quarter on a drive, a full court dash and a pull up three to give the Bulls a 79-76 lead with 7:07 left in the game.

“Sometimes it just takes one shot to get things going for him,” said Vaughn. “We played great defense on him and then he hits a big shot with like nine tenths of a second left. I think that got him going.”

Deng then added a three and Radmanovic, who had been regularly turning down seemingly open shots all game, finally took one from the left corner on a Carlos Boozer pass and made the three for an 85-78 lead. After a Udrih miss with Butler now chasing him after his big third quarter, Robinson dribbled up, put the ball between his legs about six times and then hit a falling back 19 footer for an 87-78 Bulls lead with 3:51 left.

Robinson fell onto his back and began flapping around like a fish out of water, went into a few supine dance moves, got up and began to wave on the crowd though he didn’t distribute candy.

“I’m not afraid to fail,” said Robinson mimicking an old Michael Jordan refrain “You’re going to have to fail a lot to succeed in this game. You can’t be afraid to take that shot. And you can’t be afraid to miss it or make it.”

Laughing about the last time he didn’t want a shot, Robinson said: “Probably the last time I’ve been to the doctor. Probably never. I’m never afraid. That’s something that my father installed in me young: Never be afraid to fail or succeed.”

Though sometimes Thibodeau is afraid to look.

Because just as quickly as the game seemed over and the Magic should have been vanquished, Vucevic with 16 points and 15 rebounds hit a post up over Boozer. Robinson missed coming out of a timeout in what seemed obviously not the play which Robinson pretty much ignored. Tobias Harris then scored quickly on a drive and then Thibodeau had Hinrich bring up the ball. But nothing developed as the players stood around and Deng missed at the end of the shot clock. Orlando rebounded and Robinson lost his guy inside and Doron Lamb got a point blank easy score inside and Orlando was within 87-84 with 1:54 left.

Carlos Boozer

Robinson went back for the ball, walked it up, dribbled around for 16 seconds and then into a triple team and lost the ball. The Magic broke out and DeQuan Jones got a flying dunk with 1:33 left to get Orlando within 87-86 with 1:33 left, and what a waste this was about to be.

The Bulls ran a pick and roll for Hinrich and Boozer, but Boozer’s pass inside for Butler was knocked out back to the Bulls. Deng drove and his runner rolled off the rim, giving Orlando a chance to take the lead with a minute left. Boozer, who had an uncertain game with 12 points, nine rebounds and six turnovers, then made the defensive play of the game, stripping Vucevic as he was making his post move to score. Butler recovered and threw the ball to Robinson—no, not a good time. Robinson stood around dribbling out the clock and then launched a 17 footer short with just over 24 seconds left, giving Orlando one more chance to win the game.

But Thibodeau finally got Robinson out and of all guys relied on Mohammed and Radmanovic, and they along with Butler denied Udrih and the Bulls survived.

“Nate hit some big shots and we made some stops. But, I think his shots put us over the top,” said Mohammed with another 30 minutes plus game with 11 rebounds and three blocks. “We had some fatigue, but you have to push yourself and be ready to perform. This is the NBA and sometimes the schedule just happens like this.”

Butler went almost 43 minutes again, his fifth game of at least 42 minutes in the last six. He had a dozen points and the Bulls hung on with seven players again.

“I am physically tired, but I feel like our players played very hard,” said Butler. “They (Robinson and Radmanovic) were the spark we needed. They hit some shots and more importantly played solid defense. We definitely fed off their energy.”

So seven more games in 11 days starting Sunday in Detroit, and then perhaps on to Brooklyn where when they talk in school about the Revolutionary War starting in Lexington the kids nod knowingly as they’ve all been on the Lexington Avenue subway. So what are you looking at!

What do you think? Leave a comment below: