Bulls hold off 76ers, move over .500
December 1, 2012, 9:06 pm
Against the team that ousted them from last spring’s playoffs—in the same first-round series that saw superstar Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury, ending his injury-plagued season—the Bulls (8-7) knew it wouldn’t be easy, as a revamped 76ers (10-7) squad, without the services of sidelined center Andrew Bynum, has been one of the early surprises of the young NBA campaign.
Saturday night’s rematch, the first game between the two clubs since last postseason, actually resembled one of those playoff slugfests, and through a combination of tough defense, balanced scoring and an All-Star level evening from Luol Deng, the Bulls prevailed, 93-88, at the United Center.
Facing a familiar foe, the Bulls’ offensive approach mirrored the visitors in the early going, though probably not by design. The hosts elected to shoot contested outside jumpers, a tactic likely necessary for the smallish Sixers to thrive, but certainly not one that fits Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau’s desired inside-out philosophy.
Philadelphia was led by the play of Chicago native Evan Turner (12 points, seven assists), but behind balanced scoring from the starting frontcourt trio of Deng (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists), Carlos Boozer (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (12 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists), the Bulls made it a close-knit affair. Through one quarter of play, they led, 22-19.
Thibodeau threw in a slight wrinkle to his rotation in the second quarter, subbing out Deng, the league’s minutes-per-game leader, earlier than usual, for reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who had shown improvement as of late. Then, upon Deng’s return to the contest, he left Belinelli in the game, removing swingman Jimmy Butler, who first entered the contest in the opening period, as has been customary recently.
The Bulls held a slight edge for much of the quarter, with the Sixers nipping at their heels the entire time, as point guard Jrue Holiday (23 points, seven assists) propelled the visitors’ efforts. Despite continued stellar play from the frontcourt—though Noah was saddled with early foul trouble—the Bulls allowed their guests to catch up and at the intermission, the game was knotted at 41 apiece.
Holiday‘s blend of playmaking, strong drives to the basket, where he used his size to finish, and pull-up jumpers sparked Philadelphia after the break, aiding the visitors in taking a slim advantage. However, the Bulls utilized the talents of their own backcourt performer, veteran Rip Hamilton (15 points), to keep pace, as the shooting guard’s trademark mid-range game was clicking until he got hurt with 3:15 left in the frame, suffering an apparent left foot sprain and limping heavily before teammates Deng and Kirk Hinrich helped him to the bench and he subsequently went to the locker room.
The Bulls soldiered on without one of their top offensive threats for the remainder of the quarter and regained the lead, as Deng asserted himself as a scorer. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 67-64 advantage.
The hosts’ second unit—with like starters Noah, Deng and Hinrich mixed in—maintained the team’s lead by ratcheting things up on the defensive end of the floor, forcing turnovers and capitalizing with transition offense. Butler and Taj Gibson (11 points, eight rebounds), in particular, energized both the crowd and their teammates with high-flying acrobatics and timely scoring in general.
But the Sixers didn’t relent, and with Turner functioning as a playmaking point forward and athletic forward Thaddeus Young (22 points, seven rebounds) quietly wreaking havoc against both the Bulls’ set defense and on the break, Philadelphia remained within striking distance as the contest headed into the stretch run.
Taking Holiday’s lead, the visitors played valiantly as the game crept up to its conclusion, making clutch shots to give Philadelphia a last-gasp chance, but while it got a little hairy at the end—a Young layup made it 90-88 with 16.6 seconds remaining—a combination of unselfish Bulls offense, getting stops when it counted and high-pressure free-throw shooting, including three of four foul shots in the final minute by Hamilton, who returned to the contest, managed to preserve the hard-fought win.
Tags: thaddeus young
, Luol Deng
, Chicago Bulls
, Joakim Noah
, Taj Gibson
, Kirk Hinrich
, Evan Turner
, carlos boozer
, Lavoy Allen
, jrue holliday
, Dorrell Wright
, Jimmy Butler
, Spancer Hawes