Monday, April 15, 2013

Game No. 81 Recap, Bulls-Magic: Magic Cures What Ails You

Chicago Bulls 102, Orlando Magic 84

The Bulls entered tonight having squandered any momentum that win against New York could have possibly generated; since then, the Bulls have lost two straight, putting them a game behind Atlanta with two games to go. A Chicago loss and an Atlanta win tomorrow night would seal the Bulls' playoff seed at the 6 spot, meaning a tough first round opponent in the Indiana Pacers.

As such, a game like tonight's, against a quite frankly horrid Orlando Magic squad, was one that a team with even a modicum of hope for any sort of playoff run should win. Jacque Vaughn's Magic team entered tonight with a 20-60 record, second to last in the Eastern Conference and the second worst mark in the entire league (they're only one game better than last place Charlotte).

Fortunately for the Bulls, both Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson made their return, albeit from the bench and under a minutes cap.

Orlando jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead, but a Hinrich trey from the straight away and a beautiful backdoor dish from Carlos Boozer to Jimmy Butler allowed the Bulls to pull within two; on the next possession, Boozer faced up and hit his patented jumper to tie it at 9 four and a half minutes in.

The Bulls' defense was far from lockdown in the opening quarter, but the Bulls were able to capitalize on some easy buckets in transition situations and off of turnovers. Chicago entered the game tied for second to last in the league in points per game (93.1), but the Magic weren't far ahead, ranked 24th with 94.3 ppg. Of course, this is the NBA, where games aren't won or lost in the first quarter, or even the second or third.

Nonetheless, the Magic finished the first quarter with a shooting percentage of 47.6%; to the Bulls' credit, however, that number was hovering around 55% with just a few minutes left in the first quarter, so the defense tightened up a little bit. Chicago took a two point deficit into the second quarter, but, on the bright side, Noah and Gibson entered the game late in the second, logging their first minutes in some time.

Unfortunately, Noah picked up three quick fouls in just 4-5 minutes of play, with his third coming just over two minutes into the second quarter. A couple of minutes later, Rip Hamilton also picked up his third, putting the Bulls in an awkward situation very early in the game.

Upon an Orlando 24-second violation, Neil Funk mused that sometimes "you just have to wonder what Orlando is doing." An appropriate comment given that particular possession, and yet, the Bulls were still down four.

The offense was much harder to come by early in the second, as both teams combined for just nine points in the second frame's first five minutes. A 5-0 Bulls run gave them a 29-28 lead just past the halfway point in the second.

The Bulls offense start to hum down the stretch in the second, with four buckets from Boozer and Luol Deng from within 10 feet (three of them layups) and two more treys from Hinrich. Deng added another three for good measure, and a foul on a Jimmy Butler alley-oop dunk attempt sent the Bulls into the break up 49-37. Despite a shaky first 18 minutes or so, strong halves from Boozer (12 pts), Deng (14 pts) and Hinrich (3-for-3 from three) gave the Bulls a sizable cushion as the first half drew to a close.

The Bulls came out in the second and immediately found Marco Belinelli on the right wing, who nailed a good look from three to put Chicago up 52-37 in front of what appeared to be a mostly empty Amway Center. Chicago was 6-for-7 from beyond the arc at this point, the same Bulls squad that entered the game ranked 21st in the league in three-point shooting percentage (35%). That might have more to do with the Magic than anything else, but it still counts on the score sheet just the same.

Hinrich rained in another three with just under five minutes to go, giving the Bulls a whopping 68-45 lead. As I sort of hinted at earlier, it was only a matter of time before the Bulls overwhelmed the Magic. It is a good sign that this process began in the second quarter as opposed to the fourth, where even a team as poor as the Magic can sneak away with a win if you let them hang around.

Things were going so well that Nate Robinson --NATE ROBINSON-- was passing up open three pointers late in the third. On one possession in the third quarter's final minute, Robinson received the ball up top, an open look there for the taking, but chose to swing it to Butler in the corner (who buried the trey). Of course, Nate made up for this with a technical foul, just to prove that he had not in fact been possessed by altruistic spirits of some sort.

With both the Blackhawks and Sox on right now, there's probably not much use in talking about the fourth quarter. Orlando was only able to cut the lead to 16, but the outcome was never in question. Unlike Chicago's Nov. 26 collapse against Milwaukee, this Orlando team did not quite have the same, well, everything, basically. Actually, current Magic starter Tobias Harris was in fact a starter for the Bucks back then (Beno Udrih was also in Milwaukee then), but they clearly did not have enough residual magic (did you see that?) to topple the Bulls on this occasion.

Chicago rolled into Orlando this evening with reasonable expectations for a comfortable win. Unlike some other contests against the dregs of the league, the Bulls took care of business, keeping their hopes for the 5-seed alive.

Atlanta will take on the Toronto Raptors tomorrow at home before their Wednesday trip to Madison Square Garden. The Bulls will likely still need to win on Wednesday against Washington in the United Center, assuming Atlanta doesn't drop both of its remaining games (especially considering that the Knicks have nothing left to play for at this point in the regular season).

Regardless, tonight's performance was a much needed boost of confidence for a Bulls squad that had lost four of its last five.

No comments:

Post a Comment