NBA scores 2014: The Bulls win an Eastern Conference thriller and 3 other things we learned
The Bulls had a dominant second half to beat the Raptors, the Spurs snapped a four-game losing streak and the rest of the action on a great NBA Monday.
The Bulls are a scary team when all of their core players are healthy. The Toronto Raptors found that out the hard way on Monday, as Chicago came from behind to get a valuable win at home against the team with the best record in the East. Derrick Rose exploded for 15 points in the fourth quarter to finish the game with 29 while Kyle Lowry had 34 on the losing effort. The game had a playoff intensity at times yet both teams put an offensive show to elevate a typical regular season matchup into one of the best Eastern Conference games of the year.
The first three quarters of the game followed a pattern: The Raptors were the aggressor early while the Bulls merely watched the deficit get bigger before a reaction followed that initial lull. Toronto started the game well, with Jonas Valanciunas having his way inside against the Bulls’ bigs and Terrence Ross raining threes. The lead reached nine before Chicago reacted. Jimmy Butler went into attack mode while Taj Gibson came off the bench to provide the inside presence neither Gasol nor Noah could establish.
The Bulls merely survived in the first half, as their defense wasn’t up to their standards, letting role players like James Johnson and Ross run amok, and the offense oscillated between stagnation and lazy passing that resulted in turnovers. Those few minutes in which they raised their intensity were enough to stay close in the scoreboard but not to ever take control of the game, as someone always stepped up in a timely manner to protect the lead for Toronto.
The Raptors completely forgot about Valanciunas in the third quarter but it didn’t cost them early, as the Bulls were also struggling offensively. Eventually the Bulls’ defense, with a seemingly omnipresent Jimmy Butler leading the way, started to consistently create misses for the first time in the night. Ross went cold and Toronto relied on second chance points for its scoring. After once again getting up by double digits the Raptors let Chicago chip away at the lead until it was almost gone.
The Bulls finally broke the pattern in the fourth. Aaron Brooks provided the scoring punch to keep up early while Butler hounded Lou Williams into misses. The Raptors were for the first time in the game without a buffer to withstand the inevitable Bulls’ surge. After mostly staying out of the way Derrick Rose decided it was his time. He canned jumper after jumper to create separation as Kyle Lowry did his best to match him and single-handedly keep the Raptors in it. His efforts were in vain.
The Bulls finished the final period scoring 49 points, the most by any team in the fourth quarter since the Pacers did the same against the Celtics in 1994. The historic late game performance as well as the terrific defensive effort in the third quarter show exactly why despite only having the fourth best record in the East the Bulls are a legitimate contender. Few teams can muster the combination of elite defense and explosive individual offense Chicago can when things are clicking.
3 other things we learned
The Clippers‘ defense is not improving. The Spurs scored 125 points on the Clippers on 63 percent from the field and 56 percent from beyond the arc. Sure, the Clippers scored 118 points on the Spurs on 50 percent shooting but San Antonio can look at Kawhi Leonard’s absence and take comfort in knowing they got lit up without one of their best defensive players. The Clippers were only missing Spencer Hawes, who isn’t known as a stopper. The personnel is not there for L.A. to have a top five defense but if they want to be a viable contender they will need to at least escape the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency.
The Hawks are turning doubters into believers. Atlanta went on the road for a three-game trip after beating the Bulls at home, looking to confirm their contender status. They succeeded by winning three straight games against the Cavaliers, Rockets and Mavericks without Jeff Teague in the lineup. The Hawks don’t have a huge star or players with illustrious defensive reputations, so it’s tempting to dismiss them as a candidate to come out of the East. At some point, however, the evidence gets overwhelming. Mike Bundeholzer has his team playing at an extremely high level and if they can keep it up, they can beat anyone.
James Harden is having an MVP-level season. Harden scored 44 points in 26 shots against the Trail Blazers. He only needed 32 minutes to do it. Granted, Portland was without its starting inside duo of Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s still an amazing feat by Harden, who shook off Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum to get wherever he wanted to on the floor. The Beard is leading the league in scoring among illegible players at 27 points per game and is at least showing more focus and effort on the defensive end. Few players are performing at the consistently high level Harden is right now.
Play of the night
The Memphis Grizzlies are going though a tough time, having lost three straight after a triple overtime win in San Antonio on December 17. Few things went well for them against the Jazz on their latest defeat but at least Vince Carter gave the fans something to cheer about when he turned back the clock with a vintage dunk:
8 fun things
Manu Ginobili got tricky against the Clippers, even by his standards. First there is this ball fake and spin move that has DeAndre Jordan still confused. Then he threw a no-look, over the shoulder pass to assist Danny Green for a three-pointer.