Bulls magical down the stretch in Orlando


Feb 9

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The Bulls Sunday with a strong start defeated the Orlando Magic…No, wait! The Bulls Sunday blew a 16-point lead and lost to the Orlando Magic..No, wait! The Bulls Sunday went on a 7-0 run in the last 32.6 seconds to defeat the Orlando Magic…No, wait. Yes, they actually did!

As difficult as it was to believe as to record, the Bulls got the win, 98-97 on Pau Gasol’s putback of a Derrick Rose drive with 9.4 seconds left. And then holding off (with perhaps their eyes closed) two basically point blank Magic attempts in the last two seconds, the final one an open layup overshot by Tobias Harris.

“Luckily they made two mistakes, one the clear path foul (on Jimmy Butler after his steal with 32.9 seconds left and trailing 97-91) and the other the backcourt violation (with 15.5 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by one),” noted Gasol, who had 25 points and 15 rebounds. “It was a good trap on our part and we did well there, but it was something that could have been avoided on their part. We’ll take it. We fought, we kept at it, our spirit was good at the end. Let’s face it. We got away with one here.”

This one was as difficult to explain as it was easy to accept.

The Bulls moved to 32-20 and finished their two week road trip in a bonus 3-3 and winning two straight after losing 10 of 15 amidst rumors of everything from massive personnel and lineup changes to the franchise being donated to the planned Star Wars museum.

“A win is a win, especially with the way we have been playing,” said Rose, who had 10 points, a big late three as his only one of the game and a season best 11 assists. “We will take anything. We had the game in the beginning and then we let it slip. Thank god we had a window to win it tonight.”

That window was as cracked and musty as it could be after the Magic, pretty much disinterested until the Bulls did their stop playing routine and let them come back from a 32-16 first quarter deficit. Then rookie Elfrid Payton, who can’t shoot, beat the Bulls sagging defense and fortunes for back to back fourth quarter driving layups and then made a steal that led to Victor Oladipo driving about 35 feet virtually uncontested in a half court set for a layup. That gave the Magic a 97-91 lead with 2:15 remaining, and Oladipo was doing a little dance of elation over what seemed like a sure win for the beleaguered group who saw their coach fired last week.

The Bulls had three more empty possessions to come with a Tony Snell three short, a Butler turnover on a drive, and then another Snell miss and turnover as he was starting for the injured Kirk Hinrich, who had been starting for the injured Mike Dunleavy, who missed his 19th straight game.

But the Bulls were not giving up even if most Chicago viewers were.

This Bulls group, not as accomplished as predicted or hoped, may not prove successful enough. But what they always demonstrate is despite the flaws, they will compete. They won’t give up or give in. So the defense, often maligned this season, again like Saturday in New Orleans proved resourceful and prideful when it mattered. Butler, who was terrific with a team high 27 points and six steals, then made the play of the game, a steal on an Oladipo pass as the Magic was basically trying to run out the clock.

“A few ups and downs, but we’re getting better on the defensive end,” said Butler. “Help side has always been the key for us getting back to what we do defensively.”

Tobias Harris made it worse committing a clear path foul to stop Butler’s breakaway.

“I was actually (about the foul),” admitted Butler. “I am not going to lie, but it happened. I hate shooting free throws when nobody is around me.”

That gave the Bulls two free throws, both of which Butler made, and then a chance for a five-point play, which the Bulls. Rose inbounded, took a handoff from Joakim Noah and then almost lost the ball, which was kicked in a scramble by the Magic. The Bulls inbounded again and Rose threw to Butler and backed off. But the Magic this time double teamed Butler, who threw back on top to Rose, who made his first three of the game on his fourth try to bring the Bulls within 97-96 with 19.6 seconds left.

How did they even get that close so quickly?

“I was just trying to make the right play at the end so we’d at least have a chance,” said Rose. “I’m taking (that shot). That’s a shot I work on a lot. There are going to be games I can’t hit shots. When the game is on the line I feel very comfortable taking those shots.”

It’s an obvious foul situation with no shot clock. But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t like to give up the free throws without a fight. His philosophy is to defend, and the Bulls have been good at it. They won a game in Boston like that stripping the ball from Paul Pierce on a trap. So Noah, who also had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Rose trapped Evan Fournier when he caught the inbounds pass near midcourt. Fournier stepped back trying to pass and stepped on the midcourt line for a backcourt violation and turnover.

Bulls ball! With 15.5 seconds remaining and trailing by one.

Butler inbounded to Snell, who threw to Rose at the left wing. Rose wheeled around the defense with his quickness, coming free on the baseline and into Nikola Vucevic, who came off Gasol to help. Rose floated the ball over Vucevic and it went long. But right to an uncontested Gasol, who feathered the ball back in for the 98-97 Bulls lead with 9.4 seconds left.

Now, too much time left.

“You have to put yourself in position to make a play and that’s what I tried to do on Derrick’s penetration,” said Gasol. “My man kind of left to help the drive and I got myself in position to put that ball back in the basket.”

It’s a play, really, only Gasol can make for the Bulls.

Yes, the Magic probably got some penetration because Gasol plays deep in the lane on pick and roll and ball screens. But Gasol is an unusually gifted and talented big man whose shooting time and again saved the Bulls from scoring droughts during the game and whose size and long arms enable him to gracefully finish at the basket like perhaps no big man in franchise history.

Gasol’s 12th consecutive double/double leaves him three behind Michael Jordan’s franchise record and his league best 33 is just 10 from his career most. Gasol is averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds and headed to the All-Star game this week as deservingly the best center in the Eastern Conference and a starter.

“It means I am playing well and healthy and doing my job,” Gasol said about his double/double run. “Streaks start and end always; just a matter of when. I just want to continue to do my job, contribute and help my team win and be the best we can be.”

But there was still time for the Bulls to endure yet another loss to yet another losing team after losing in the last month to the Lakers, Heat, Magic, Jazz and Nets.

“When you are capable of beating the best teams in the league (a league most road wins and 19-9 overall on the road) and then put yourself in position to lose to the worst teams in the league how can that not be frustrating?” agreed Gasol to a question. “It’s common sense. If we want to maximize the opportunity that we have here we just have to tighten up and understand what is going on and what we can do to improve it.”

One more stop. Or two.

Payton inbounded form the left sideline to Vucevic posting Gasol. Vucevic, who had 33 points in the Magic win in Chicago last month, drove right to about eight feet in the lane and missed a short turnaround. Harris, who’d made the foul blunder, basically threw Snell aside and was stationed for the layup. No foul because you have to hold position there. The Bulls need box out work as Orlando tossed them around on the boards for a 45-35 rebounding edge and 13-7 on the offensive boards. It was 19-6 Orlando on second chance points and looked like about to be 21.

Harris got the rebound and put it over the rim as the buzzer sounded, Harris grabbing his head in despair and the Bulls heading off the court more in disbelief than exultation.

“Any way you can get a win on the road is good,” said Thibodeau. “It’s been a long couple of weeks for us and I didn’t think we played particularly well in the second and third, but I loved the toughness down the stretch to find a way to win. There were a lot of big plays, Jimmy, of course, with the steal and making the free throws and Derrick making the three, Derrick getting the penetration and Pau cleaning it up. So it wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was a good win to finish up the trip. You want to be a good team, you are going to have to find different ways to win and that is what I did like about tonight, down six with 30 seconds you have to find a way to win and that is what we did. We had some good fortune, but we made it go our way.”

It seemed like it would from the start as Rose came out passing and finding teammates with five first quarter assists, Butler with a dozen points in the first quarter and the Magic playing like they were done with this one as the Bulls took a 32-16 lead after one quarter.

“Derrick passed the ball really well,” said Thibodeau. “I liked the way we moved the ball. When he does that it makes our team make the extra pass and then he was hanging tough throughout the game. I thought his floor game was very strong, penetrating and attacking. I thought he had a good balance tonight of attacking the rim. He got to his mid range game and I thought he got good looks off the mid range and didn’t settle for the three all the time, and that’s a big plus for us.”

But this isn’t your “killer instinct” Bulls group, especially with the reserves of late. It was another tough game for Taj Gibson, who twisted his ankle Saturday in New Orleans. The Bulls bench was outscored 28-10. Thibodeau has taken to using a few more starters with the reserves to start the second quarter. But it was a sloppy start again with four turnovers in the first six Bulls second quarter possessions. And while Gasol had a beauty of a behind the back pass to Butler for a layup, the Bulls gave the Magic 25 points on turnovers in the game and 14 fast break points and suddenly were ahead just 50-45 at halftime. But more than that a team now playing out the season was back in the game and interested. Stretch fours like Channing Frye are tough matchups for the Bulls big man game, and Frye got going in the third quarter as Orlando tied the game at 74 after three.

It looked like big trouble when Butler had to leave the game at the end of the second quarter with what seemed like a shoulder injury. But he was back out to start the second half, though initially was only shooting left handed in warmups.

“Went back there, put some heat on it, did some tricky stuff, some witchcraft and (trainers) got me back to the floor,” Butler joked.

Good thing as the Magic looked like they were about to make the Bulls disappear. Snell and E’Twaun Moore made threes, but the Magic kept coming and coming. Until the Bulls sent them reeling.

“We’re capable of good things, we’ve shown that,” noted Gasol. ”But we’re also capable of bad performances. That’s something we need to address and reflect on and do better. Yesterday, we did a really good job and it was a step forward. Today we started off like a step forward, but it almost was a step back. Again it’s a pattern; it’s something that keeps happening and we have to be aware. Now we have two home games (before All-Star) and we have to win them. We have to do better at home; we have to come out with fire. It is hard to understand for younger guys who haven’t been around as much (the urgency needed). The windows are small (for titles) and when you have a (chance) you have to go for it with everything you’ve got or somebody else will. Plain and simple. If it’s not you it’s going to be somebody else. It just comes down to how bad you want it.”

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