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Bulls with another heck of a game to defeat Orlando
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 15
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There’s a famous story from Illinois in the 1948 presidential campaign. Incumbent and underdog Harry Truman was giving a speech in Downstate Harrisburg in which he was coming hard and relentlessly at his Republican opponent. Suddenly, someone from the crowd yelled out, “Give ‘em hell, Harry.”
The feisty Truman, who was the most surprising of presidents, looked out and happily replied, “I don’t give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”
And that sounded like Joakim Noah, himself an unlikely star and No. 1 man, after the Bulls Monday closed out the regular season at home with a 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic.
“Whoever we play, we’re going to be a tough out,” Noah was saying after threatening yet another triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. “We’re hungry; we want this. We believe in one another. We believe in our system. It feels great to be in this position right now, but we’re definitely not satisfied. We want more; we feel like we can do more. It’s a group that’s gone through so much adversity. To be in this position is definitely a blessing. But we’re not satisfied. Expectations don’t help you win games. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our abilities. We believe we’re going to be a tough out. We’re going to go out there and give’ em hell.”
Yeah, give ‘em hell, Jo.
That’s what the Bulls are preparing to do.
They don’t quite know when or where as the playoffs begin Saturday and the Bulls still don’t know their first round opponent. It may not be until after Wednesday’s season finale in Charlotte. Currently, the Bulls remain fourth, tied with Toronto for third but without the tiebreaker. The Raptors play in New York Wednesday.
The Nets are fifth, which would be a matchup with the Bulls with Chicago opening at home this season after opening in Brooklyn last year. But the Wizards still could get to fifth. And the Bobcats in seventh still could get to sixth, which would avoid Miami. The Heat in losing Monday rested LeBron James and fell into the second spot with Indiana finally claiming the No. 1 seed. So the Pacers will open against Atlanta and play the four/five winner in the second round.
It’s a bunch of what ifs and could bes and maybes.
So the Bulls, as they have been so good at all season, continue to concentrate, as their coach demands, on putting one foot ahead of another, one step at a time.
Hey, we’re walkin’! And enough of those steps and who knows where it can lead.
“We talked before the game,” said Mike Dunleavy, who led the Bulls with 22 points and made the big three-pointers in the third quarter when Orlando closed within three after trailing by 13 at halftime. “We did not want to lose two in row. We’ve gone a long time without doing that (Feb. 1-3). We didn’t play our best last night (in a loss to the Knicks). So we wanted to come back and get a win. We’ve battled all year, keeping our heads down, not looking ahead, not looking back. Just trying to get wins. Here we are with almost 50. It’s been a rewarding season and more is yet to come.”
The Bulls certainly hope so, and who’s to doubt them all that much after all they’ve gone through and as far as they’ve come.
It was next man up once again against Orlando, and this time it was the popular Jimmer Fredette with D.J. Augustin missing the game for the birth of his child.
Fredette scored 17 points off the bench and rookie Tony Snell added 13 as the Bulls got some unexpected production.
“He and Tony Snell did a great job filling in,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought that was a big plus for us. That tells you that they are staying ready and they are prepared. The first part of that is knowing what your job is, and the second part is that when you are called upon to go in there and do it. We are counting on everybody. I thought Jimmer was very good and Tony was as well. That is a good plus for us.”
But as expected they’ll remain in the emergency situations.
“We have a lot of confidence in both Tony and Jimmer,” said Thibodeau. “If there’s an injury, we’re not hesitant to go there. (But) we feel good about our (regular) rotation. I think we’re playing very good basketball now. We are not changing our approach.”
That’s built around the starting five with Mike Dunleavy at forward, Carlos Boozer starting, and Augustin and Taj Gibson coming off the bench in a tight seven-player rotation with Nazr Mohammed playing the first part of the second quarter. It changed a bit Monday with Gibson getting into foul trouble and Boozer playing 32 minutes and getting 13 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
That stability has been as big a reason as any for the Bulls success, especially on offense as they’ve exceeded 100 points in six of the last nine games and are averaging triple digits in that stretch. It’s perhaps most unknown about the Bulls since the season statistics still have the Bulls last in the league in scoring. But this is not the same Bulls team. It’s been good health, rare in the Thibodeau era. That’s enabled the players to react comfortably to one another with regular rotations and substitutions so they are working in concert like the Chicago Symphony.
That starting group has now played 25 consecutive games together and overall for the season is 26-10 when starting together. They are 18-7 in this current formation and the team 48-33 for the season in winning 10 of their last 12.
So Thibodeau’s not about to make any major changes. Nor should he.
The Bulls got off to a 26-21 first quarter lead with Fredette getting Augustin’s time and the first quarter substitution for Kirk Hinrich. And no offense to Jimmer, but the Magic, who were led by Kyle O’Quinn with 20 and Andrew Nicholson with 19, were grateful.
“They were really aggressive on us,” said Magic forward Tobias Harris. “It starts with Kirk Hinrich, what he does with ball pressure. It was tough for us to get what we wanted to get.”
Welcome to playoff basketball.
And Fredette, who pursed a buyout from the Sacramento Kings to at least watch it more closely, was pleased to be involved and help even if he was just one of five on threes.
“Tonight my three wasn’t going down, so I was able to go to the midrange and to the basket,” said Fredette, who’d previously only played about 25 minutes total since coming to the team. “I feel I can score the basketball and definitely shoot it. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. So you have to be prepared. You always want to play, but you always have to be a good teammate, support your team. Whatever my role is on the team, that is what I embrace. These guys have been great supporting me. It’s been awesome to be on this team and see the camaraderie and how they play the game. It’s been awesome to be part of. To get some minutes and help out with a win felt really good.”
And when Fredette hit a jump shot late to get the free Big Mac prize for the fans and 100 points, Fredette was greeted enthusiastically by teammates and Noah, who pounded him with a half dozen hand slaps. Once you’re in, it’s a brotherhood.
“Jimmer’s a good dude,” said Noah. “He came through. He hasn’t played in a long time. But he comes in and delivers one when we needed him. That says a lot about his professionalism. It shows a lot about his character. Not being able to play for such a long period. Coming in when his number is called and performing the way he did. It shows how hard he works. Jimmer is a hell of a player.”
Yes, Thibs is the point guard whisperer.
The Bulls looked like they were going to run away in the second quarter with an unusually aggressive quarter from Snell, who’s tended to play hesitantly of late. Perhaps it was seeing Jimmer getting the time and producing. But Snell went hard to the basket to dunk. Even though he was blocked, at least he tried. And he did take his perimeter shots as he has a wonderful stroke that too often goes availing.
But the Magic fired back with Aaron Afflalo quietly making jumpers to trail just 67-64 on a Victor Oladipo three with 3:34 left in the third quarter. Were the Bulls just accepting the No. 4 seed?
Not Dunleavy, as he came out of the timeout with one of Thibodeau’s many options for him. They’re similar to the plays the Bulls ran for Kyle Korver with Dunleavy either coming up over screens if the ball comes in under the Bulls basket or circling along the baseline and then coming out. Dunleavy got a screen from Snell along the baseline, though Noah generally sets the main one as Dunleavy comes up above the three point line. Dunleavy made the three from that right wing as Boozer made the pass. They ran the exact same play the next possession and Dunleavy made another from virtually the same spot. And then Boozer made a wonderful lob pass to Jimmy Butler for a three-point play.
That run enabled the Bulls to space out to an 81-70 lead after three. And they piled on to open the fourth quarter with a Dunleavy slam dunk on a Noah pass and Jimmer with his three as the crowd goes wild.
The Bulls, even with home court advantage to open the playoffs in the first round, are hardly favorites. Though Miami has been a sub-.500 team the last six weeks and the Pacers have lost nine of 14, they remain popular picks to get to the conference finals. Harry Truman was a big underdog as well. The Chicago Tribune famously on election night declared Thomas Dewey the presidential winner. They underestimated the ability to give ‘em hell.
Give ‘em hell, Jo.