The times where the Bulls offense was holding them back (from victories and entertainment value) feel like they're over. They wound up scoring 129 against the Toronto Raptors in a game where they saw themselves down double-digits several times in the game.
In the 4th quarter alone the Bulls scored 49, a franchise record, and only a few of those were due to some extended late-game fouling. Hell, no caveats should ever be given when a team scores that much in a quarter, my goodness.
A few things really help this year:
- Derrick Rose's return, as he had one of his best games of this season capped by an amazing 4th quarter. Rose had 15 points in the quarter and was basically a one-man show for the stretch where he hit 6 of 6 and got the Bulls up a comfortable margin with a few minutes remaining. Rose was dynamite from midrange, running a high pick and roll with Noah against Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, or just hitting pull-ups right in defender's faces. He wound up with a team-high 29 on the night, getting his usual few points with transition opportunities as well. And only 2 lazy early-in-shot-clock 3-point attempts.
- Jimmy Butler becoming a 2-way player, as while he didn't have quite the gaudy scoring output of the two games where Rose didn't play had another amazing all-around game. The few minutes where Butler sat were the team's worst stretch in the first half, so Thibs rectified the situation by just never sitting him in the second. Yup, it was another 44+ minute effort from Butler, and it was indeed a lot of effort, especially in the 3rd quarter when the Bulls were on the ropes a bit. Butler both had a few chasedown winning of loose balls, as well as several blocks of Raptor jumpshooters. Oh, and offensively he had 27 points on 16 shots, with 4 assists.
- Nikola Mirotic's arrival. And for those who think Thibs never makes adjustments, he correctly rode Mirotic down the stretch in this one. There were times when Mirotic's defense was poor, sure, but it wasn't all the time, and as a result he was clearly a net-positive with all he provided elsewhere: Mirotic more than held his own with defensive rebounding, ran the floor well, and was the part of a deadly lineup alongside Rose, Butler, Brooks and Noah. Mirotic hiself only had a single field goal in the final quarter, but it was a three-pointer, plus he went 5-6 from the line (the Bulls were an incredible 43-47 from there as a team). And the benefits from simply having his skills on the floor are tougher to measure but readily apparent.
Maybe Kirk Hinrich suffering a hamstring injury helped Thibs's hand a bit to get that particular final unit out there, but whatever it takes, man. Just an unstoppable and exhilarating 4th quarter by the Bulls. They shot 70%.
It was needed given how well the Raptors played tonight too. As mentioned, in the first 3 quarters the Raptors made several runs to go up double-digits, and it did put the Bulls chances in doubt at several points. Jonas Valanciunas was a load on the block for either Noah or Gasol, eclipsing his per-game average in shot attempts by the first quarter was over. Valanciunas had 16 first-half points on 7-14 shooting.
The Raptors other huge weapon in the first half was the 3-pointer, going 6/11 and led by Terrence Ross spotting up and Kyle Lowry pulling up in transition. Ross started out the game red-hot, converting some open looks while the Bulls were either chasing loose rebounds or doing some rare ball-hawking (even Butler!), but his basket to end the 3rd quarter was the last he'd have in the game.
Lowry looked poor in the beginning as it came to a floor game, but was hitting some tough long-range shots to at least stay productive. He eventually rounded into total form, keeping it up throughout and finished with a game-high 34 points. Though I'll caveat the crap out of that one, as it was a bit inflated by 10 points in the final few minutes after Rose's torching (of him) put the game practically out of reach.
But there's no shame in admitting Lowry and the Raptors are good, and they did put up an impressive 66 points on the Bulls in the first half. They did a good job using Ross and James Johnson to attack whoever wasn't Butler, and though they gave away some points though some dumb plays that could've given them more of a cushion, there was a lot to be impressed by (hell, it only makes the Bulls more impressive to conclude as such). One area where Toronto definitely lacked in this one was their bench, as Patrick Patterson was equalized by Taj Gibson, Lou Williams lost the short-guy-chuck-off with Aaron Brooks (who shot 6-10 for 17 points, helping the Bulls get the game close before Rose took over), and the rest were pretty awful.
The Raptors played smallish down the stretch with Patterson at the 4 and a Lowry/Williams backcourt, which only further enabled the Bulls to unleash that killer closing lineup. Another big turning point in the first and second halves was Noah, who didn't attempt a shot in the first half but went 4-4 in the second, as his pairing with Mirotic may be the best combination of the 4 bigs this season for the Bulls. It was quite the thing, and shows that the Bulls don't have to be a slogging defense-first team every night to win.