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The Bulls weren't looking too good coming into this game, after some unimpressive play their last few games (culminating in a home loss to Charlotte) and Joakim Noah out with an illness. But both Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson picked an opportune night to produce, and the while the Bulls were given a scare late they held on to win 96-94.
Boozer started out the game quickly, with 13 first-quarter points on 6/8 shooting, and wound up with a season high 31 points. He also likely had a season-high in audible annoying yells throughout the game, a byproduct of his involved play as well as a seemingly-quiet crowd in Orlando. Gibson also had his own season high with 21 points, showing a more effective post game than at any other point this season while bringing his usual defense and hustle plays. Both Bulls bigs helped turn the tide of recent games where the Bulls have been out-rebounded, as they (albeit narrowly) beat the Magic in that category tonight.
Orlando never led outside of their hot start to the game, though they came within two points late in the 4th quarter after the Bulls went cold down the stretch. Chicago didn't have a field goal in the final 3 and a half minutes, as their isolation attempts from all comers failed to end positively. What got the Bulls to (at one point) an 18-point lead previously was superb ball movement, and especially the interior passing from Boozer and Gibson. Throughout the game it forced several adjustments from Orlando, whether it was trying to go big, small, or eventually switching on every screen. When the Bulls failed to run plays late it wasn't able to exploit the Magic's oft-confused defense but luckily it didn't turn out to be necessary. Orlando had a chance to tie with under a minute to go, but a Jameer Nelson attempt was swatted out of bounds by Taj, who had 4 blocks overall this evening.
To that point, Nelson had been what was keeping the Magic close and nearly pulling off the comeback. Finishing with 32 points including 6-9 from three, Nelson's quickness gave the returning (again) Kirk Hinrich trouble all night (I swear he wound up on the ground 5 times) and really took it to Nate Robinson in the brief time those two were matched up. Nelson didn't receive that much help from teammates, as though Aaron Afflalo and Nik Vucevic chipped in 20 and 19 apiece, J.J. Reddick's was the next-highest Magic point total with 7 points, and having it come as a 1-8 mark from three (and 3-12 overall) really hurt.
The Bulls had a similar scoring distribution, as no individual contributed much outside of the Bulls starting frontcourt of Boozer, Gibson, and Deng (23 points on 8-16 shooting). But outside of the cold start and finish to the game, the Bulls looked very comfortable in their offense and was able to force the issue against Orlando. They dominated the free-throw margin and were making a majority of their points on the inside. Even without Joakim Noah, there was enough skilled big men for the Bulls to get the job done.