After the Chicago Bulls' convincing victory over the formerly unbeaten Portland Trailblazers on Monday night, I can't help but be swept up in a wave of optimism. There is something different about this edition of the "Baby Bulls" that was not present in its countless other incarnations. We are now a team to beat, rather than a team that should merely "make some noise" in the playoffs.
110-98 was the final damage inflicted upon the shell-shocked Blazers. As in most decisive victories, 12 points did not tell the whole story. To Portland, it must have felt like 25.
Over the years, we have had games like this one. Most of them were the result of a particularly good shooting night that could not be replicated on a regular basis. Ben Gordon had his spectacular nights where he could do a handstand and still make a three-point shot in the process. This was obviously unsustainable over the course of a season. That's where they failed.
Yes, Luol Deng is not going to go off for 40 points every game. But when he can't, Derrick Rose will simply pass the ball elsewhere or take it himself. The story tonight was really the combination of the two. Rose had 13 assists (a career high), and Deng went for 40 (on a blazing 14-19 shooting.) That is no coincidence, obviously.
Also, I do believe it is time to come up for some sort of nickname for the filthy reverse lay-up that is becoming Rose's signature move. Just around half of his 16 points were scored on some sort of variation of that obscenity.
The talk around town in the preseason was of an improved Luol Deng. New coach Tom Thibodeau was going to allow him to be more like the player that Bulls' fans got to know and love during his first few seasons.
Today was the first sign of that being a distinct possibility. He was cutting and slashing all night. What really struck me was the number of high-percentage shots and layups he was still getting, even after his initial onslaught. I'm sure the Trailblazers assumed Rose would be taking over soon. Well, he did, just via his outstanding distribution skills. He made the right decisions at about a 90 % clip. No, there aren't any statistics for correct decisions, but I think you get what I'm saying. When he passed, someone scored. When he went for the bucket, he scored.
It began to feel like playground ball in the first and second quarters as Rose would simply dish the ball to Deng and let him roll. Good recognition of the hot hand, and great execution. In fact, this game was never close. Not for a moment.
Noah had himself a pretty good game in the box score department. He tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds, both average numbers for the big man. But what really told the story was his 4 assists. His passing was on full display tonight. He clearly is developing into one of the best passers amongst NBA big men. He also once again proved to be one of the hardest working players on the floor, seemingly everywhere at once. He certainly had a sportscenter highlight with his fast break feed from Derrick Rose, resulting in a convincing dunk.
How did he get in front of the entire Trailblazers defense?
He did fail to capitalize on a couple of easy baskets up close that on most nights would have been easy buckets. There is still a little polish needed in his offensive game. But I'll take this stat line almost every game.
Taj Gibson was quietly effective with his 12 points on 6-9 shooting. Just like Noah, his real skills do not quite always translate onto the scoresheet. He played some scrappy defense and gave even more energy to the team.
Omer Asik is beginning to show some potential, even with his NBA career in his infancy. He had 3 blocked shots that were not run-of-the mill type tips. They were swatted. No chance of going in. This agressive mentality also led him to foul out, unfortunately. There were other hiccups as well. NBA defense takes time to master. He did not quite look comfortable yet on offense either, as he needs to build up some strength. Hopefully, he will be able to crash the net a little more effectively as time goes on. He added 6 points to the effort, along with 7 rebounds.
Tonight, it seemed as if the refs were enjoying the sounds of their own whistles. A total of 73 foul shots were taken by both teams. This was an area that can also be worked on for the young Bulls. They shot just under 60% as a team on their allotted 32 shots (making 19.) The Trailblazers were significantly better, converting on 78% of their 41 shots.
Portland superstar Brandon Roy really didn't get started until the fourth quarter. He did, however, make his presence known while constantly chattering to the refs after every possession about the physical defense that Keith Bogans was playing. Eventually, they gave in. He got a few superstar calls, made all the more egregious by his constant loud expressions of discontent. He finished with 17 points on 4-12 shooting.
The real story for Portland was the lights-out play of LaMarcus Aldridge (Tyrus who?). In the first half of the game, he was seemingly engaged in a game of H-o-r-s-e with Luol Deng. He was firmly in command of the offense for large stretches, and looked unstoppable at times. He finished with 33 points and 9 rebounds.
Games like this will always be a source of encouragement. After all, there was Carlos Boozer sitting on the bench, looking more and more like a caged beast. He will certainly become a second scoring option once he is well in the near future. As good as Deng was tonight, he will not have to be that often when Booze hits the court.
We should all keep in mind that it was only one game and our record currently stands at 2-1. This victory just seemed to have that feeling of something bigger. The real evaluation will come once Boozer is healthy, and Deng has more time to prove us right or wrong.
The Portland Trailblazers are now 3-1 following the loss. The Knicks invade the United Center on Thursday in a game that we should also win handily.
** Here is a preseason article of mine: Luol Deng is a Link to Bull's Past **
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