The Bulls have lost two games this year thanks to dreadful fourth quarter play, and they were bailed out against the Knicks by Derrick Rose's floater. Another collapse almost seemed imminent on Monday night in what was, to that point, a sloppy game when the Cavs drew to within one early in the fourth, but a funny thing happened: the Bulls actually executed on both ends of the floor and finished off a game like they were supposed to.
The Bulls scored 32 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and going 11-of-12 from the free throw line. They racked up nine assists and outrebounded the Cavs by eight after struggling on the boards in the early going. In that final frame, only one three pointer out of five attempts was hit, but that three was a big one by Mike Dunleavy. Defensively, the Bulls held the Cavs to just 21 points on 31.6 percent shooting.
An excellent way to close out a game, but what made it all the more interesting was the personnel on the court. Tom Thibodeau has been known to ride hot hands at the end of games (think: Asik/Gibson duo a few years ago), and that's what he did for the most part on in this game.
The most noticeable example of this was Thibs riding both Dunleavy and Taj Gibson the entire quarter. Dunleavy had his best game as a Bull, scoring 15 points on just six shots. 10 of those points came in the fourth, and his DEEP three off a pass from Rose helped give the Bulls some cushion. The veteran also made a savvy move to draw three free throw attempts earlier in the quarter.
Dunleavy played the 2-guard as Thibs left the struggling Jimmy Butler on the bench in an attempt to space the floor better. Butler has really been fighting it on the offensive end this year, as he's currently shooting under 40 percent overall and only 25 percent from three. Perhaps more disturbing is some of his decision making. On several occasions Wednesday, Butler pump-faked out of an open or relatively-open three, took one dribble and then fired up a contested long two. That shouldn't be happening. I do have faith in Butler to get it together, but some of the super high expectations for him may have to be altered.
As for Gibson, Thibs elected to pair him and Boozer together for the final 9:22 after Joakim Noah picked up a silly fifth foul. While Noah did play a bit better in the game overall, the Boozer/Gibson duo enjoyed a lot of success, so Thibs just let 'em ride it out.
Gibson was a tad sloppy on offense, and that one possession when he tried to iso was a disaster. But he was a monster defensively and on the boards, grabbing six rebounds (two offensive), blocking two shots and just generally being super active. After Tristan Thompson had his way with Boozer a bit in the third quarter, Thompson didn't make a single basket in the fourth (he did hit two free throws), with Gibson drawing the primary assignment.
[But I do have to give credit to Boozer as well, as he had seven points and three rebounds in the fourth to go along with some actual respectable defense. Boozer and Gibson did a nice job keeping Kyrie Irving out of the paint, making things really difficult for the star point guard.]
As I noted in my Gibson post from the other day, the Boozer+Gibson frontcourt has had an enormous amount of success this year after playing poorly together for the majority of last year. The duo played 13 minutes together last night, posting an offensive rating of 126.6 and a defensive rating of 65.6, per NBA.com's stats page. That's a whopping net rating of 61.0. On the season, those two have now played 56 minutes together and have posted an offensive rating of 109.5 and a superb defensive rating of 79.5. That's a net rating of 29.8. Let's hope this keeps up.
Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng were the other primary players in the fourth, and they all had their moments. Rose looked a bit like the old Rose before exiting the game with a "minor" hamstring injury, while Hinrich racked up four assists in the final frame. And though Deng stunk up the joint with his shooting all night, he kept the ugly jumpers to a minimum when it mattered and scored six points on 2-of-3 shooting in the fourth.
Overall, it was just really refreshing to see the Bulls capably finish off a game. The Cavs aren't a good team right now, but they do have Irving and a solid defense, and the Bulls were both able to keep Irving in check and score on that defense down the stretch.