After Jrue Holiday hit a jumper to put the Sixers up 60-53 midway through the third quarter, the Bulls had every reason to lay down and die. Second night of a back-to-back, short-handed and Luol Deng looked like he had nothing in the tank.
But the Bulls hung tough, with contributions aplenty to end the quarter with the lead. And perhaps the best part about it was the fact that Tom Thibodeau recognized that Deng was struggling and pulled him with just over three minutes left to go in the third quarter in favor of Jimmy Butler. That move would prove beneficial during the stretch run.
The Bulls started the fourth quarter slow, scoring no points in the first three minutes or so. And that's when Thibodeau made the correct moves again, bringing in Marquis Teague for Nate Robinson and inserting Deng back into the game. While Nate had hit a few big shots in the game, he was in the process of firing the Bulls out of this one, so Thibs recognized that and made the switch. The decision was made all the easier by the fact that Nate was getting pulverized by Holiday on defense and Teague played relatively well in his first half stint.
The refreshed Deng immediately made it a point to put the team on his shoulders, scoring six points in the span of two minutes. Teague and Butler both actually hit jumpers, and it was Butler's three-pointer with 4:31 left that put the Bulls ahead for good.
Meanwhile, this unit of Teague/Butler/Deng/Gibson/Noah absolutely stifled the Sixers' offense, which mostly devolved into Holiday pounding the ball into the ground for seconds on end before trying to make something out of nothing. As Matt noted in his recap, Teague did a nice job of slowing Holiday, which Thibs made sure to point out afterward (via Bulls.com):
"The way the game was going (was why I kept them in down the stretch)," Thibodeau said. "I felt that unit was playing well on the floor. I thought (Teague's) quickness matched up to the speed of (Jrue) Holiday. You've got to make guys work for their points. Marquis got over screens and got in front of the ball. He was hustling and I thought that was important."
The team defense was excellent on the whole as well, and the Sixers certainly helped matters by not seeming too interested in varying their sets in the slightest.Taking a look at the Sixers' possessions during the Bulls' 11-3 run that decided the game we get this:
Jrue Holiday bad pass
Jrue Holiday misses jumper
makes three-point jumper
Jason Richardson misses three-pointer jumper
blocks 4-foot jumper
Jrue Holiday bad pass
Jrue Holiday misses two free throws
Holiday is a damn good player, but while he may be able close games against some teams, relying on him to pretty much single-handedly beat a tough, disciplined defense like the Bulls is pretty much just signing your death warrant. No wonder Michael Levin over at Liberty Ballers wants "a starfish in his cornea." (one other hilarious bit from Levin's recap is the fact that Doug Collins blamed "fatigue" for the loss. LOLOLOL)
Anyway, that Bulls unit was pretty dominant and finished a +16 on the night together. And for a better reference on just how well the bench guys played, and how much Nate and Carlos Boozer kinda sucked, here's the Plus/Minus chart from Basketball-Reference.com:
So what does this mean going forward?
We've pretty much all been clamoring for Butler to get more minutes, and after a bizarre string of rather low minute outings despite Richard Hamilton's injury, Jimmy got nearly 30 last night. I really have no idea what his ceiling is, but the dude plays with shit tons of energy and his shooting stroke does look quite good. Here's to hoping that big three-pointer gives him a ton of confidence and that Thibs actually plays him more often.
Perhaps the more intriguing case is Teague. Before the regular season, the guy looked like a train wreck. But in the few times he has seen extended minutes this season, he has held his own against some damn good point guards (Holiday, Rajon Rondo). And while Teague's personal offensive numbers have been pretty woeful, the team has performed really well overall with him on the court (via NBA.com):
There was naturally some pretty high praise of the rookie after last night, with Bulls Confidential's Doug Thonus and CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam both highlighting his strong effort. I was certainly impressed as well, and I really liked that little hesitation dribble/reverse layup combo Teague broke out in the fourth quarter to put the Bulls up six.
Now, there's a pretty good chance that Teague immediately becomes a fixture on the end of the bench again whenever Kirk Hinrich returns from whatever the hell body part is ailing him now (it's his knee). After the game, Thibs was typically non-committal to giving Teague more playing time when Hinrich does return (via CSN Chicago):
"We'll see," Thibodeau said. "Obviously when Kirk comes back, everyone comes back, but everyone has to stay ready. You never know what happens."
Whatever the case, at least we know that Teague can function as an NBA player, and isn't a complete turd like many of us thought. No, he shouldn't be starting games because he still has a long ways to go offensively, and he still may not have been the best guy to draft. But at least he looks competent, and whenever Hinrich inevitably goes down with another injury, I can now at least not expect a disaster with Teague in there.