That was a must-win tonight, if you consider the playoff 'push' worth pursuing (and I do, cause...why not?). Philly and Atlanta won, and the Bulls were against an inferior team that they maddeningly let hang around for 3 quarters.
But they did pull out the win, and while nobody played exceptional there were some decent performances. Larry Hughes had 29 points and rescued the ice-cold Ben Gordon (in the 4th quarter especially, isn't it a treat to have another actual willing scorer on the team?). Progressively each game, there's more evidence that Hughes' rep for bad shot selection will eventually catch up with him. Luckily for the Bulls, tonight he was making some ill-advised jumpers (and leaners), and went to the line 10 times. For his part, Gordon complemented him (when not making some awful shot-selection decisions himself) by being quite the playmaker in the 4th, finishing with 6 assists. I thought Nocioni did a good job in a limited role, and Deng looks almost back, just without his pet mid-range jump shot.
Now to Boylan, who is doing an overall average job but is developing some bad habits with his new toybox. One is pulling Tyrus Thomas first in each half, 7 minutes into the first, and 4 minutes into the 2nd. Another is pulling Noah when the other team goes 'small'. Confusing the idea of going small, which isn't to 'go short' but to 'go quick'. Noah is an ideal center against a small-ball lineup, big enough to exploit it on the glass, yet agile enough to chase around his opponents when they space the floor. But perhaps this isn't an indictment of either Thomas or Noah, it's merely Boylan finding excuses to get Drew Gooden into the game. He actually finished with only 25 (compared to Noah's 26) minutes, but played 18 minutes in the 2nd half.
No doubt that he helped down the stretch, but it's a disturbing trend that this team should be avoiding: sticking with the 'trusted' instead of Thomas and Noah, who have been playing so well (and are so important long-term) they should be not only the starting but the closing frontcourt most games. If they look like they're having an off night (or are in foul trouble, and neither was the case tonight), then playing Gooden is more productive than doing the same with Ben Wallace, but it's looking more and more like Gooden's the default option as the game goes on, and I'm not liking it.
Other negatives included Hinrich, who was pulled a couple possessions in the 2nd half by and apparently angered Boylan and never returned. Thabo had his worst game in a while, but I must say that jump shot is looking better. Aaron Gray was useless in his 7 minutes, and had no business being out there against the Pacers space-and-chuck lineup.
But it was the end of a road trip and the win was likely going to be tough. Now there's another very winnable contest Friday (at home against the banged-up Wiz) before the showdown with our old friend Ben Wallace and the Cavaliers. So far I'm really enjoying what Gooden and Hughes bring to the team, I just want Boylan to show me a little less of it.