Death. Taxes. The TNT Bulls.
In a world plagued by uncertainty and risk, these are the three things you can always count on to make their presence felt. Logic and reason be damned, the Chicago Bulls are not going to lose to any basketball team on a Thursday Night Turner Network Television game at home, and that narrative will remain cemented for at least another seven or eight months after this evening. In their final Thursday night national TV home game of the season, the Bulls welcomed a defensively-lapsing-lately Cleveland Cavaliers team to the United Center and beat them nicely by a final score of 99-93. Butler, Mirotic, and Rondo all turned in great performances; and the win once again has the Bulls flirting with a 7th and 8th seeds in the East Playoff standings.
Both teams started off the game with individual players shouldering the bulk of the scoring load for their respective teams. Nikola Mirotic managed to pour in 13 points on 3-5 shooting from distance to lead the Bulls’ offense early on, but any damage he did offensively got almost instantaneously cancelled-out every time by LeBron James. James seemingly had every Bull but Jimmy Butler guarding him in the first half, and he capitalized on the match-ups with several physical finishes and dunks at the rim. However, despite the offensive onslaughts of Mirotic and James, everyone else that made their way onto the court struggled to get it going offensively in the first quarter. Everyone else except for Rajon Rondo, that is; whom executed this brilliant pass fake on one of what would become his many assists this evening:
Despite their initially hot 3-PT shooting, the Bulls still finished the first quarter down 28-22 to the Cavaliers.
Kyrie Irving started to get it going offensively in the second quarter, but Jimmy Butler began to step up his own efforts, and this helped continue the theme from the first quarter along with everyone else on the court stinking for both teams. One would have figured that the Cavs’ superior team-wide shooting would have opened up a significant lead for Cleveland, but the Cavs would go on to win the quarter by only three points. This was because the Cavs committed an alarmingly high amount of turnovers and general fouls, two bad habits that would continue to plague them for the remainder of the game. Despite the budding bad basketball for Cleveland, the visitors still managed to close out the first half with a 50-41 lead over Chicago.
Then the third quarter kicked off, and the Bulls came flying out of the locker room with a rocket up their collective ass. The Bulls would open the quarter with a 15-5 run to retake the lead, and then after falling back again behind six points, ripped off a brilliant 15-2 run to take a seven point lead in the game as the third period wound down. The offensive explosion came as a result of continued marvelous facilitating by Rondo, whom finished the quarter with 14 assists to go along with seven points and nine rebounds. Mirotic also boosted his point total to 26 for the game before the quarter ended, including a key back-to-back sequence of 3-PT shots during the second run to push the Bulls out to a sudden seven point lead. These efforts allowed the Bulls to enter the final quarter of play with a 78-71 advantage.
The fourth quarter proved to be yet another sloppy sequence of basketball for both teams, with neither team managing to total 20 for the period until the final thirty seconds of the contest. The Cavs couldn’t buy a bucket, but managed to enter the bonus very early on in the final quarter, from there on doing a deal of their damage came from the freethrow line (including towards the end of the game when they managed to cut the Bulls’ lead in half with under two minutes remaining). Fortunately, the Bulls managed to get a bit of contribution from everyone in the final quarter to scrap together enough points to hold the lead steady, and Chicago eventually dribbled the ball out on the final posession for a 99-93 victory over Cleveland.
The two stars of the game were far and away Mirotic and Rondo. Mirotic finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 9-14 from the field and 6-11 from distance. He also helped hold Kevin Love to only eight points on 3-10 shooting. Mirotic has now hit the 28 point mark in three of his last four games, and looks every bit dialed into his “March Niko” persona as he’s ever been. Despite a quiet close to the game, Rondo was instrumental in sparking a Bulls’ offense that essentially won the game in the third quarter (37 team points), finishing with fifteen assists and serving as the Bulls’ most critical offensive player in the win despite shooting only 3-13 from the field. After a slow start, Butler quietly played solid basketball for the remainder of the game and finished with 25 points on 10-17 shooting, six rebounds, and five assists. The Cavs got excellent performances from LeBron and Kyrie, but the support they received ultimately led to Cleveland’s downfall as their bench only totalled 12 points and no non-starter scored more than five points.
Whatever your personal perspective on the Bulls may be at this point, this is undoubtably a tremendous win for the team on a variety of fronts. Not only did the Bulls just sweep their biggest divisional rival for the season and preserve their ridiculous TNT streak, but the win also puts the team back within a game of the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers for the final seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Chicago will have a chance to creep further towards that mark on Saturday when they meet up with the Atlanta Hawks for an April Fools Day basketball showdown.