More like Car-'Los Bulls', am I right?!? (Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE)
With Monday night's victory, Tom Thibodeau became the fastest coach in NBA history to 100 wins, and is making a case for a back-to-back coach of the year award. And this game in particular was a testament to how he's done so much, so soon: a culture of suffocating non-stop defense, intense and thorough preparation, unselfish ball-movement on offense, and treating everyone on the roster as valued contributors. And those players have responded to their coach in kind, with some maligned members really stepping up in yet another tough matchup without Derrick Rose.
Carlos Boozer may have had his best game of the season. Scoring 24 points on 18 shots isn't spectacular, but it was more importantly how he got it done: seeing himself matched up against the much lighter Ryan Anderson, Boozer looked to establish post position early whenever he could. And when he got the ball he was aggressive and decisive, forcing the Magic defense to react to either his post moves or passing ability. As much as his game has been productive yet aggravating all season, Boozer has always shown great passing ability, and though he was only credited with 2 assists, there was only 1 turnover in his 34 minutes and he was part of units that were at times putting on an offensive clinic. Boozer did fill up the boxscore in other ways: 13 (all defensive) rebounds, and 4 steals (!), and then even outside of the stat sheet with his work in helping on defending Dwight Howard. Even when Orlando tried to even the scale by using Howard to contain Boozer (too late of an adjustment at that point, it seemed), Boozer was feeling it by then and hit a jumper, then drove for a dunk. Well, actually, it wasn't quite a dunk, but it was still pretty great to see Boozer scoring at the rim even though he can no longer reach over it.
Even if Ryan Anderson hit some of his more open looks, it still would've been a dominating night for Booz. But Anderson's misses were indeed part of a game-wide drought for the Magic that ultimately kept them from making a serious run. Anderson made the Magic's first attempt, but then Orlando missed 6 more and it never got better, finishing a staggeringly poor 4-20 on the night. There were times when both teams were faltering on offense and the opportunities were there for the Magic, but missing those home run attempts really killed those chances. Some of it was just a bad shooting night, but the Bulls also did a very good job trusting their big men on Howard and sticking more to the shooters. Dwight was efficient but not dominating, and on D forced Noah way out of his comfort zone, but that's an edge the Bulls will concede every time.
And as much as the Magic had a few of their usual looks not drop, the Bulls benefited from the continued hot streak of John Lucas. Lucas came in confident and was blisteringly hot at the end of the first quarter, hitting his first three 3-pt attempts and another jumper to start the 2nd. It was especially sweet seeing him tear up former Bull (and enemy of BaB) Chris Duhon, who's making 3.5x the money. Lucas had another fantastic stint in the 2nd half to help put the Magic away for good, and finished with another improbably-efficient 20-pt game in only 21 minutes. I may actually have to start dropping those qualifiers to his great performances if he keeps it up. But not yet.
Whether it continues or not, Lucas's effort was especially needed and appreciated in this game with how poorly CJ Watson played, 0-8 from the field and only a single point. Luol Deng offered a bit more production but looks even more beat-up than Watson, and, again: though there's great fun and admiration in seeing this Bulls team persevere, there's still that cloud of injury that hangs over it all. But as Thibodeau preaches and his players believe, it's about winning that next game. And the Bulls keep doing it.