Thursday, November 29, 2012

Game 14 Recap, Bulls-Mavs: Absolution

The airspace of mediocrity was far more kind this time around

Bulls 101 (7-7), Mavericks 78 (7-9)

Naturally, after mentioning that Shawn Marion has been averaging less than half of his career average in point thus far this season in my preview, he put up a quick six points within the first three minutes of the game. The Mavs started quicker, but the Bulls showed that they were up to the task early on, jumping out to an early 10-8 lead only to see it evaporate on the heels of a 6-0 Mavs run. The up tempo Mavs capitalized on some sloppiness from the Bulls, who committed four turnovers in less than six minutes of first quarter play. 

The Mavs were similarly sloppy, however, also as detailed in the preview: both teams accrued five turnovers earch in about eight minutes. However, the Mavs were able to weather the storm of of their own brand of sloppiness; a Troy Murphy trey later in the period gave the Mavs a 19-11 lead, extending the already blazing 6-0 run to an 11-1 avalanche.

Despite having been ground to a fine powder by Thibodeau's decision to turn Noah and Deng into Mike Martin/Ryan Van Bergen circa the 2012 Sugar Bowl, Noah was playing well through the first quarter and a half. He amassed seven points on 3-6 shooting, in addition to six rebounds and a block. Similarly, the Bulls' other iron man, Luol Deng, tallied a quick 12 points on 4-7 shooting. His jumper was falling and he didn't seem to be suffering from the effects of accumulated fatigue. 

In a rare stroke, Thibodeau put the entire bench on the floor a few minutes into the second quarter. Yes, even Nazr Mohammed. With the Bench Mob -2.0's kind offerings, the Bulls went up 41-28 at the 6:47 mark. This would be something to get excited about if not for what happened the other night against Milwaukee.

Gibson, Butler, Belinelli and Robinson combined for 25 points during what has to have been one of the bench's most successful (and extensive) shifts this season. Just like the other team that plays in the United Center (or used to before the the minions of herp and derp took hold of the NHL's CBA negotiations), the Bulls cannot survive without any secondary scoring. Unfortunately for the Bulls, their "core" guys aren't quite at the level of Toews, Sharp, Kane and Hossa.

If you're looking for encouraging things in what has been a season mired in mediocrity and incrementally revelatory --in a bad way-- about the Bulls' prospects in a Rose-less world, this is one thing you can point to and say "hey, that's something." 

Even more encouraging, the bench came back onto the floor after a timeout just past the six minute mark. This is progress. Once again, the Bulls found themselves with a sizable surplus; they entered the intermission with a 58-42 lead. Please let that sink in for a moment. The Bulls scored 58 points, in a single half. Okay, the Mavs are truly terrible defensively, and water is wet.

Halftime Stats (Bulls 58, Mavs 42)
Team PPP (points per possession)--1.34 (WOO)
  • Deng: 5-9, 14 pts, 3 rebounds
  • Noah: 4-7, 9 pts, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
  •  Robinson: 3-4, 10 pts, 5 assists, 2 steals
  • Marion: 5-7, 12 pts
  • Mayo: 1-5, 2 pts, 4 assists
  • Carter: 2-7 (0-5 from 2), 8 pts
The Bulls were not able to build upon an already significant lead as they did against Milwaukee, but, given the result of that game, maybe that's a good thing. They were able to maintain their lead, however, keeping it at 16 or 18 throughout the first ten minutes of the third quarter.

The only point of note here is that Luol Deng came down awkwardly on the offensive end at one point, with a noticeable limp as he came back down the floor after the next defensive possession. Luckily, you can breathe a sigh of relief, as he seemed to be alright after sort of just standing around at the 3-point line on the aforementioned post-limp possession. He even hit a corner three late in the period to put the Bulls up 77-56. 

This time, the Bulls entered the 4th with an 18-point lead. I wasn't at the game so I cannot speak to what the collective emotional state of the United Center was, but I could not help but think back to the Bulls' last game. Monumental collapses have a way of sticking with you. Although I don't necessarily believe in much of the cliched sports psychology many people will bandy about in situations like this, you do have to wonder if the last game was weighing on the minds of the Bulls players too heading into the 4th with a big lead once again.

Given the [execute ctl+v] nature of the NBA game and the volatility of leads, it is best to approach these sorts of games in segments. Three minutes into the 4th, the Bulls were still up 19, 81-62. With a much bigger lead to start with on Monday, the Bulls were only up six at the same point in the game. Progress!

Five minutes into the quarter, the Bulls had increased their lead to 22. At the same point Monday, the game was tied at 82 all. What had been a surprisingly potent Mavs offense to date (no Nowitzki, Terry jetting around elsewhere, Jason Kidd taking his effective old man game to Manhattan, etc.), the Bulls held them to 66 well into the 4th quarter. It was almost like watching the Bulls of old, strangling an opponent on the defensive end as the bench bested the opponent's bench by miles.

This time, the Bulls finished. A 101-78 victory against a team I thought would be able to score on the Bulls does not quite erase the haunting memories of Monday's game, but, as with every win, it's a start.

And that's what every win will be this season: a start. It won't be pretty, it won't be linear, it won't be logical. The Bulls will continue to do this for as long as Derrick Rose is out. They will falter down the stretch of some games, and they will show that old flare in others.

These is the reality of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls. It is one long stretch of theater: gain, tragedy, loss, failure and hope, intertwined in a senselessly infuriating yet strangely endearing bundle.

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