Bulls in no rush to guard Brandon, win anyway

While the Bulls spent most Wednesday night's game failing to put away the Indiana Pacers, all that matters is the final result: a 120-110 victory.

The Bulls came out in the first quarter looking very much like a team that was angry about giving away a game to Washington on Monday. With Luol Deng leading the charge, the Bulls jumped out to a 35-12 first quarter advantage. At that moment, I thought to myself:

It turns out my fears were completely unwarranted, as the Bulls blew the entire lead by the 2:00 mark of the second quarter.

With the Pacers hitting wide-open 3 after wide-open 3 to propel the comeback, I realized that the Bulls had clearly reacquired Tyrus Thomas, because someone was repeatedly failing to rotate, and we've been told all season that such an unconscionable transgression is unique to Tyrus' game.

After a Brandon Rush 3 -- he finished the first half 4-of-6 from the behind the arc, while Danny Granger was 3-of-5 -- finally tied the game at 52, the Bulls eventually limped into the locker room with a 58-54 halftime lead.


The Bulls came out in the third quarter looking very much like a team that was angry about giving away a big lead in the first half. Only this time, they did not let the Pacers back in the game, or at least not until Vinny Del Negro's head-scratching decision to pull Luol Deng in favor of James Johnson with less than three minutes to play.

A few observations:

1. Taj Gibson bounced back from an uninspired effort against the Wizards with a nice, strong game

Gibson finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. That's a quality performance from someone who's become a very solid player as the year's worn on. But for the love of God, the Rookie of the Year talk has got to stop. Gibson is having a fine and pleasantly-surprising season; but no one that's not a biased Bulls fan/media hanger-on even considers him a legitimate contender for the award. Nor should they.

Entering Wednesday's game, Gibson was tied for 15th among rookies with a below-league-average 13.64 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). Given that PER is calculated on per minute basis, and Gibson has gotten a decent chunk of playing time (25.1 min/game), he fares better in Value Added (59.7), where he ranks 11th.

Here are Gibson's rankings among rookies in the traditional stat categories:

Per game (/min)
Points 13 (27)
Rebounds 1 (5)
Assists 22 (36)
Steals 13 (30)
Blocks T-1 (4)
Fouls 1 (6)
Turnovers 11(8)
FG% 4
FT% 26
Minutes 7

The rebounding and blocks are nice, but there's nothing in his profile that says Rookie of the Year; at this point, it appears to be a two-horse race between Tyreke Evans and the fast-closing Stephen Curry, although Brandon Jennings could thrust himself back into the picture with 10 or 12 more 55-point games. Most analysts -- like's David Thorpe, who does not have Gibson in his current Top-10 -- would also rank at least some of the following ahead of him: Jonny Flynn, Omri Casspi, DeJuan Blair, Ty Lawson, Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton. There's no shame in that though, as Gibson's exceeded expectations and been far more productive than several players drafted ahead of him. He's just not quite RoY caliber.

Still, given where we are located, I didn't mind that he was part of Comcast SportsNet Chicago's Rookie-of-the-Year Question of the Day. But I just cannot accept that he won the poll. With 55% of the vote, no less. Results like that carry on the great tradition of electoral integrity that is the hallmark of the city of Chicago.

2. Game MVP: Luol Deng, 1st half; Derrick Rose, 2nd half

Deng singlehandedly kept the first half from being an unmitigated disaster, scoring 20 points by shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 6-of-7 from the line. He was also very active defensively, finishing with four blocks, which best I can tell from some half-assed research at, ties a career high (accomplished three other times).

Derrick Rose, though, was undoubtedly the star of the second half.

Still, leading 92-76 with 1:19 remaining in the third quarter, Rose committed a terrible foul when he crashed into a shooting Rush four days after he'd released the ball. That sparked a 6-point run and brought the Pacers back within 10, and it appeared that the second half would play out a lot like the first. But Rose would atone.

Goddamn would he atone.

It began with what's become a ho-hum Derrick Rose three-point play -- nasty crossover, three lightning-quick steps to the hoop, and then absorb the contact with a double-clutch left-hander spun high off the glass -- to close the third quarter and give the Bulls a 13-point advantage.

In the fourth Rose added another three-point play with 5:28 remaining, slammed home an alley-oop from Jannero Pargo -- who evidently can pass, but just chooses not to -- and then hit a 19-footer to put the Bulls comfortably ahead 116-99 with 3:41 remaining. He finished with 23 points (on 10-for-19 shooting that was identical to Deng's), nine rebounds, and eight assists in one of his better all-around efforts.

But for me, the highlight of the game began on the Bulls' offensive possession following Rose's long jumper. Dribbling between the circles, Rose went back-and-forth through his legs a few times and had the ball kick off his foot and into the hands of the Pacers' A.J. Price. Price then tried to beat him down the floor but it was like Rose's uniform was sewn to his. Price got to the restricted area with Rose still between him and the basket. After failing to get Rose off his feet with a pair of pump fakes, Price finally went up to shoot and was completely engulfed. While the play was technically a block, I don't think the ball ever left Price's hand; it was like me blocking my 6-year-old niece's shot (which I do all the time, by the way). Not only did Rose not allow him to score off his mistake, he didn't even allow him to get the shot off.

I hate to go there, but it was Jordanesque. Not the play itself, but the mindset. I'm not saying he is anywhere near MJ's class, but Rose was so obviously disgusted with himself for the turnover that he was utterly determined to not just prevent Price from scoring, but to get his ball back. It was the kind of thing Michael used to do, and I don't think we've seen a Bull do anything like that since 1998.

Combined with Rose's block on Rondo in Game 6, it also showed the kind of defensive player he can be when he's completely locked in on that end. And the longer he plays, the more his defensive intensity will increase, and hopefully he'll eventually be able to sustain that kind of effort throughout the course a game.

3. I would've sworn Troy Murphy scored at least 20 points in the first half.

Of course, it also felt like Rush had 50. But Murphy finished the game with just 13 points, although all of them were in the first half. He was especially lethal in the early going, when he was clearly the only Pacer who came out of the locker room knowing a game was about to be played. Watching Murphy perform, it occurred to me that in a lot of ways, he's the Kirk Hinrich of big men: If he weren't so comically overpaid, everyone would think that he was a nice player to have around.

4. Perhaps the pre-deadline Bulls had some chemistry issues

Stat-oriented people like myself have trouble acknowledging the impact of intangibles, but when players start to say things like the following, I'll admit I take notice.

When CSNC's Sarah Kustok asked Deng in a post-game, on-court interview, "How do you feel like the team has jelled together with some of these new acquisitions?" he responded:

The trade is really good for us. We got guys that have been in the league for awhile, so they're coming in, they're doing a good job. And we really needed that. And we're playing a team game, and that's the most important thing.

In the locker room, someone inquired of Rose, "How would you feel that the team is jelling together, and ... the chemistry you guys have built so far?" and he said:

The players that we got, they're veteran players. They've been playing in this league for awhile, and they're playing good basketball right now. The best thing about it, they're just basketball players that came here, they're doing whatever it takes for them to fit in, and that's what we need for this team.

The quotes are remarkably similar, and both seem to me to imply Unlike the guys that we traded away. Now maybe they're just spouting the company line, but I don't think so. With Deng's, I'd say the first part refers to Tyrus, the second Salmons. Since I've heard that Tyrus could be a brooding loner, I'm guessing Rose's doing-whatever-it-takes-to-fit-in bit was about him. Or both.

The point is, as much as I loved Tyrus' per-minute stats and jaw-dropping athletic ability, maybe the players didn't like him all that much. Same with Salmons, who was so allergic to passing he should've played for Woody Hayes. And maybe the rest of the team is happier with them gone, and are now better teammates because of it. And maybe, just maybe, all of it will make the Bulls a better team.


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