this dude, right here ^ - Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
I couldn't believe the entire time watching that the Bulls not only stayed close the entire night, but held on for a 96-89 win. Not only did they have a major schedule disadvantage going into this road game, but during pregame it was announced that Kirk Hinrich would be sidelined with a knee injury.
And as much as I hate watching the dude and how the Org. ruined the offseason (and my life?) to get him, the Bulls could've used Hinrich. With Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague instead, the Sixers were at an immediate advantage in every offensive possession with Jrue Holiday (mostly against Nate) able to see the entire court and easily able to shake his defender with or without a screener.
But even with that, Holiday and the Sixers just couldn't put away Chicago. They were able to beat the Bulls at times in transition, and showed an athleticism gap in some Thad Young dunks, but overall their offense was pretty poor. They were 2-14 from three, an abysmal 5-11 at the free throw line, while they'd often be able to drive the result would just as easily be a missed layup (Evan Turner, yikes) or traveling violation as it would be anything positive. Even Holiday himself wound up trying to force the ball too much late and had two crucial turnovers, and ultimately wound up needing 28 shots for his 26 points.
Though they had reason to be fatigued and just as bad as they were the night before, instead Noah and Deng had very nice nice bounce-back games. Noah seemed inspired by the last time he was in Philly, and at times (especially against Spencer Hawes) was the go-to offensive player on this team. Noah actually did look a bit fatigued in his rebounding, but had an otherwise fantastic night: 7-10 from the field for 21 points, 7-7 from the line (again: Sixers were 5-11 as a team), with 5 assists that were lovely because all of his assists are of that variety. He played 44 minutes and by the end was still completely taking over the Hawes-Young frontcourt. Hey, that still counts.
Deng wasn't as spectacular but took the initiative on offense as well and finished with 19 points, and a huge 12 rebounds. He only played 37 minutes! Also had his twice-weekly moment where you think he injured himself but he shakes it off after a couple possessions because he's a hero to humankind. (update: Deng said he did tweak his knee on that play)
And it was an actually solid overall offensive night from the Bulls when you consider how much the Bulls dominated at the free-throw line. Contributions came from everywhere. Marco Belinelli had a 9-point 3rd quarter looking Korver-esque (though a few feet in) coming off of screens. I mentioned the difficulty that Nate had defensively, but he did wind up with 14 points and his threes were big in keeping them close. Marquis Teague looked competent, which saved the day when it was clear Nate was going cold down the stretch. Teague led the closing unit and finished with 4 assists to 1 turnover in his 20 minutes. Jimmy Butler shot 4-8 which included a three (!) and an alley-oop (!!!...but ruined by Stacey King's "Jimmy Buckets" call).
The Teague/Butler/Deng/Gibson/Noah lineup had a 15-2 run in the fourth quarter that took over the game for good. It featured some clutch shots from Teague and Deng, and the all-around mastery of Noah. But what has been key with the Butler/Gibson combination in that stretch, another similar run in the 2nd quarter, and the whole season really has been that combination with Deng+Noah completely locking down teams. Teague's relatively solid work on Holiday (compared to Nate) only further helped that cause. The question has then been whether they could get enough offense, and tonight there was a lot of players stepping up for shots to win a game they should feel damned good about. I'm more surprised than anything, but I'm guessing they aren't.