In a game which featured playoff seeding implications, I sure didn't expect the Toronto Raptors to come out and lay an egg like they did tonight against the Bulls, losing 108-92. As a result, Chicago is now tied with Toronto in the loss column for the No.3 seed in the playoffs and also owns the season tiebreaker against them. So in a sense, this was a little more than a feel good win. But trust me, it felt REAL good regardless.
The Bulls in particular looked tremendous to start (and to finish, really). They put up a 32-point first quarter on 56 percent shooting. Taj Gibson, who was playing in his first game since suffering ankle injury No. 4 on the season back on Mar. 1, immediately provided a jolt of energy to the United Center crowd via a couple thunderous dunks. Then, Nikola Mirotic -- who interestingly entered the game the same time as Gibson at the 3 position -- dominated as soon as he entered. Mirotic scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, beating any defender Toronto threw at him off the dribble and also knocking down a couple trey bombs.
Toronto was pretty sloppy early, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes of the game. Although, the Raps were without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who was a late removal from the starting lineup. Lowry was still expected to play, but he wound up sitting the game out with a sore back. In his place, Grevis Vasquez got the starting nod and did an admirable job.
In the second quarter, Tony Snell was cutting and driving with great effectiveness. It's clear he and Joakim Noah have real chemistry on the court, which makes sense. Snell moves off the ball so well and Noah is always ready to make the pin-point pass. But beyond that, Noah's always trying to set Snell up via dribble hand off, often resulting in a three or a decent look around the rim. For the half, Noah finished with NINE assists. So not only was he getting Snell involved, but he was creating for others, too.
All in all, it was a really fun first half of basketball. Up-and-down, modernized (read: not college. Sorry, I had to) basketball. The Bulls put up 60 (!!!) first half points, believe it or not. Yes, a lot of that had to do with the Raptors defense, which is suspect. But the Bulls didn't shoot nearly 60 percent by complete accident. Also, while the scoring came easy, the defense -- aside from allowing DeMar DeRozan to go off for 19 first half points -- was pretty good, too! Seriously, it was the best half of Bulls basketball I've watched in weeks. There were dunks, there were threes. It was most excellent!
Then the second half started and the Bulls pushed their 12-point halftime lead all the way to 17 in the early third quarter. They built it all the way up to 21 midway through the third. The game reached a point where Chicago either could have definitively put Toronto away or foolishly let them hang around. Fortunately, Chicago chose the former. Without Lowry, Toronto simply didn't have enough motor. It's rare to say Chicago waxed a team up-and-down the floor, but they did just that on Friday night. Although Toronto cut the lead down to 11 in the fourth, there was never a real worry (besides that one possession where Toronto pulled down about 75 offensive rebounds).
On the night Noah tied a career-high 14 assists to go along with eight points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. Mike Dunleavy scored a sneaky 21 points. Mirotic balled out and dropped a cool 29 points -- scoring in every imaginable fashion -- and also pulling down 11 rebounds in 31 minutes. Man, Niko is too real. Give the man some Rookie of the Year consideration, please.
Who knows, maybe this is the turning point for Chicago? A blowout win against a legit playoff team. Niko played un-freaking-believably awesome. Point Noah went full Point Noah. Jimmy might be coming back soon. Derrick might...uh...Kirk didn't play awful! Look, it wouldn't be the first time I've said some crazy positive stuff after a great Bulls regular season win. But this win feels GOOD damnit. Like, 'I'm gonna go out and celebrate tonight,' good. I think we all deserve it after enduring these past few weeks together.