The Orlando Magic came in expected to be bad, and though starting the season 2-0 were relying on replacements-of-replacements after expected rotation players (Nelson, Turkoglu, Harrington) have already been sidelined by injury. They made for an opponent that was over-aggressive which made for some really ugly possessions: this one featured a lot of hurried shots, shots being blocked, no-chance inside passes, airballs and jump-balls.
But the Magic were aggressive all the same, and had the Bulls playing at a similar aesthetic level for much of the night. What really kept Orlando in the game all night was 3-point shooting, something the Bulls front office thinks is still a passing fad from the ABA. Orlando shot 8-19 and were not shy about their attempts, rightfully figuring it was their best chance at a win. The alternative was usually a Big Baby Davis bump-and-flail show (he finished 7-22).
But after entering the final period down 70-68 Bulls did wind up pulling away in the 4th quarter. They built a 10 point lead over 10 minutes shooting 11/17, and it featured a previously-unseen closing lineup of Robinson/Butler/Deng/Gibson/Noah. That's not a lineup that has much outside shooting, but they played very well together off of Robinson's penetration and an ability to pop open for extremely wide open mid-range shots. It may be the most inefficient zone to shoot from in the court, but Deng, Gibson, and Noah each knocked enough down to build what was an insurmountable lead.
It's clear that, like seasons past, Thibs is willing to ride a hot lineup down the stretch of a game. Boozer and Hamilton struggled from the field again (and Rip is approaching Boozer-like levels as a defensive liability), and while Hinrich did hit the Bulls only two 3-pointers of the game, Nate Robinson has shown to make for a much more dynamic offensive playmaker. The real surprise was seeing Jimmy Butler vault both Hamilton and Belinelli for a chance to complete the game, and though he did next-to-nothing statistically he deserves credit for his role in a very effective group that won the Bulls the game.
The win did end in a bizarre (depressing?) fashion, as Hinrich came back in as a defensive sub and bricked two free-throws that would've given the Bulls 100 points, something the crowd is extremely invested in. The referenced promotion been discussed as the embarrassment it is plenty of times, but what was different tonight was the Bulls getting sucked into it, with Joakim Noah attempting a wild 3-pointer when holding the ball would've sufficed for a victory.
The Bulls are now 3-1 in the very soft early portion of their schedule. It gets significantly harder next with the OKC Thunder on TNT Thursday. Tonight wasn't exactly encouraging but it's important to bank the wins when they come.