Game Notes: Wizards at Bulls
Random thoughts from a pretty good game.
by Bryan Crawford
Head coach Flip Saunders came into the United Center on Friday night needing one win to notch number 600 for his career. Unfortunately for him, the Chicago Bulls came into the game on a roll and playing their best basketball of the season. After a boring win against Minnesota, the dismantling of the Pistons, and a tough road victory against the Celtics, the Bulls for only the third time all season found themselves with a three game winning streak and were looking to push the streak to four games for only the second time this season.
The Wizards season of disarray has been well chronicled so there’s no need for me to re-hash that. They came into the game only a few hours removed from now exiled All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas copping a guilty plea on one felony count of gun possession from the December locker room incident. The Wizards were on a three-game losing streak and were desperately trying to get a win.
They almost did.
Because of terrible Friday night traffic in Chicago, I arrived at the United Center a little later than I usually do and missed the pre-game locker room media availability session. So I made my way to the media room and ran into Michael Lee, the Wizard’s beat writer for the Washington Post. He remembered me from when we first met during the pre-season when Washington came to town and he mentioned that the last time he saw me, I was complaining about Gil not talking (which I was because at the time, he wasn’t). We both just laughed at it considering the circumstances.
Every home game the Bulls PR staff has these stat booklets that break down the Bulls and the visiting team. It also has general stats from around the League too. I have every one of these things from every game that I’ve been to and Friday night was the first time I’d actually paid attention to name of it. It’s called the “Bullsheet”. I thought that was hilarious.
So as I’m reading through the Bullsheet, a few things catch my eye. First, the Bulls have Gilbert Arenas’ name still on the Wizard’s roster. I heard David Stern found out about it and had the Bulls immediately remove him from that too. Second, Lindsey Hunter’s shooting stats for the season are horrible. He’s shooting 5-30 (.167 percent) from the field. But I guess for an old man, that’s not too bad.
Finally, we have DeShawn Stevenson’s stats. Let me preface this by saying that I like DeShawn and I’ve defended him in several basketball conversations, but in 37 games this season he’s averaging a measly 1.9ppg, 1.8rpg, and 1apg. It made me wonder why I even bother to argue in his defense at all. But I quickly came around when I realized that any guy that doesn’t back down from LeBron James is alright with me.
The Bulls have four designated areas for media to sit. One of them is on the floor behind the basket, two are situated in the lower bowl area above the tunnels, and the main pressbox which is at the top of the arena. My seating assignment for most games is usually above one of the tunnels, but every now and then I get assigned to sit in the press box. And on those nights, I become a floater. Meaning, I never stay up there very long as I always make my way down to the lower bowl and find a spot closer to the action. This night would be one of those nights.
I watched the first quarter from the box and while having a conversation with a writer friend of mine he tells me that he saw Earl Boykins dunk during pre-game shootaround. My mouth dropped to the floor and I couldn’t believe it. No way. Earl Boykins is small. Not small, but real small. I was determined to find out if it was true or not. More on that later.
The Bulls and the Wizards went at it in the first quarter. The game went back and forth with the biggest lead of the game being held by Chicago very early in the quarter at 7 points. Washington then quickly erased the Bulls lead on their next three possessions down the floor and it would be tight the rest of the way.
For the Bulls, Kirk Hinrich was on fire as he went 4-5 in the quarter and scored 9 points. I hadn’t seen him that hot in almost two seasons. For the Wizards, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood were balling in the quarter. Antawn had 9 points and grabbed 6 rebounds and Brendan had 4 points and 5 rebounds. Those two almost outrebounded the Bulls by themselves (11 to 12). Caron Butler and Derrick Rose both seemed to be struggling with their shots as Rose went 2-6 and Butler went 2-8 in the quarter.
That would eventually correct itself.
After one, Bulls lead 26-24.
Random First Quarter Thoughts
During a timeout, the Bulls show a video segment honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that featured John Salmons. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say more than two words.
The press box in the United Center is so high up that for some reason, Caron Butler looks like Bassy to me.
And you can barely see Earl Boykins sitting on the bench. He looks like a “.”
I hop on the press elevator and go down to the main level of the arena. As I’m walking towards the press section, I walk past two guys sipping beers. Nothing unusual about that at an NBA game right? Wrong. While one guy is sipping his beer from the cup, his buddy is sipping his through a straw and the other guy is holding it for him. Why?
Well you see, the guy sipping his beer from the straw was in one of those motorized, power chairs with the joystick. He was a quadriplegic. Seriously, I’m not making this up.
That’s not something you see every day; or ever for that matter. But it got me to thinking… Does that count as drinking and driving? Hmmm…
Anyway, the second quarter played just like the first with neither team able to deliver a set up punch which would later lead to a knockout blow. It was back and forth all the way through. Caron Butler found his shot and dropped 9pts and grabbed 4rebs in the quarter. Brendan Haywood is still working the glass (4 rebounds). And Antawn Jamison is having the game of his life. He put up 8pts and grabbed four rebounds which gave him a double-double by halftime (15pts and 10rebs). Brendan Haywood is working on a double-double of his own with 8pts and 9rebs. Butler, Haywood, and Jamison combined to outrebound the Bulls 12 to 10. This would be a recurring theme.
For the Bulls, it was a solid, highlight free quarter of basketball for them. It was like watching the Spurs. They were boring, but effective. At the half, Washington leads 48 to 47.
Random Second Quarter Thoughts
Good Lord, Sam Cassell is even uglier in person than he is on TV.
I’m taller than Earl Boykins. Like, a lot taller than Earl Boykins. Like, it’s not even close.
Someone tells me that Earl Boykins can bench press 385 pounds. My mouth drops. I don’t believe it, but I’ll find out.
Flip Saunders gave DeShawn Stevenson and not Randy Foye the unenviable task of guarding Derrick Rose. In the first half of the game, it appeared to be a solid strategy as Stevenson made it difficult for Rose who shot just 4-10 from the field. All of that changed in the third quarter as Derrick would go to work on him scoring 8 points, 6 of those coming off the mid-range jump shot. When his mid-range J is falling, he’s a problem.
John Salmons also gave the Bulls a spark off the bench scoring 7 points in the quarter. Since being demoted, he’s started to play better basketball of late.
And speaking of problems, Butler Jamison and Haywood continued to be one for the Bulls. Caron found his shot and dropped 8 points in the quarter and Antawn and Brendan both scored 5 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. And after struggling in the first half, Randy Foye got into the mix too dropping 6 points in the quarter.
It’s still back and forth as neither team can get any stops. After three, the Wizards lead 77-74
Random Third Quarter Thoughts
Seriously, Sam Cassell is a really, really, ugly dude.
I could probably hang Earl Boykins sneakers from my rear-view mirror.
If the Bulls ever get over .500, I wonder if that’s when we’ll get refs that I recognize. Like Dick Bavetta.
So by this point in the game I’m standing up watching the game from the visitor’s tunnel. A small congregation of people have gathered to watch Derrick Rose literally put the Bulls on is back and keep them from losing. Early in the quarter the Bulls found themselves down by 7 points and Rose takes the game over. Driving lay-ups, fast break lay-ups, mid-range jumpers, he did it all for Chicago. He finally looks healthy and he seems to be embracing the role of being “The Man” on the team.
After Antawn Jamison had been destroying the Bulls to the tune of 22 points and 14 rebounds through three quarters, Vinny Del Negro realized that Taj Gibson and Tyrus Thomas—who didn’t score his first points until very early in the fourth quarter—couldn’t guard him and finally made a switch and put Luol Deng on him. It was too late. Antawn Jamison was already in a good groove and ran off another 8 points and 4 rebounds on Deng.
Way to recognize what was going on out there Vinny.
The Bulls trailed the Wizards the last four minutes of the game and it looked out of reach when DeShawn Stevenson hit a big time three-pointer in the corner with less than a minute left on the clock putting the Wizards up two and doing the ‘You can’t see me’ hand gesture as he ran back up the court (which was very cool to see by the way).
But Derrick Rose came right back and hit a 13 foot jumper over Stevenson to tie the game.
After a steal by John Salmons with 5.1 seconds left in the game, Derrick Rose had a chance to win it in regulation but his 18 foot jumper went in and popped out forcing OT. Game tied at 104.
Random Fourth Quarter Thoughts
During a Bulls free throw, Luol Deng and Earl Boykins are having a conversation on the court. It made me think of this.
I really hope Sam Cassell looks like his dad.
This game would be over if somebody could just find a way to get a stop. I’ve already spent two hours of my life watching two team’s trade baskets the whole night and this OT session would be the same way.
Eight points would be scored by each team in the quarter with the Bulls having another chance to win with .5 left on the clock as Vinny Del Negro tried to draw up the same sideline out of bounds play that the Celtics ran to Rondo against Atlanta earlier in the week.
Not even close. Game tied at 112. Double OT.
Random OT Thoughts
Mike James mean mugs people. A lot.
Some fan is constantly yelling at Vinny to “run a play”. Vinny didn’t hear him. And if he did, he probably wasn’t listening.
Flip Saunders is only a little bit taller than Earl Boykins who only comes up to JaVale McGee’s elbow.
The game is still back and forth. Nobody’s getting stops. I’m ready for it to end. And it finally does. The Wizards shot 1-6 in the session and basically just ran out of time.
Derrick Rose hit a big floater to put the Bulls up by two with 5 seconds left in the game and Randy Foye had a chance to tie the game and send it into a third overtime but he lost the handle on his drive to the basket and had to put up a tough fall-away jumper with Kirk Hinrich all over him.
Game over. Bulls win 121-119
Even with such a big win and Derrick Rose having a career night, going into the Bulls locker room wasn’t a priority of mine. I was on a different mission. A mission that had me in the Wizards locker room looking for Earl Boykins.
I walk into the locker room and Brendan Haywood is talking. I stop to listen. Said Haywood of Derrick Rose: “Big time players make big time plays.”
DeShawn Stevenson is talking now. I ask him in spite of the public turmoil how is the team behind the scenes. Said Stevenson, “We’re still a team. Everybody here likes each other.”
Even though this would be their fourth loss in a row, they do seem to be playing better with Gil gone.
Sam Cassell walks in the locker room. He’s wearing ET brown boots, sweats, and a cream colored thermal. I might have been tripping, but I swear I saw his finger light up as he walked out of the room.
Randy Foye speaks on Derrick Rose: “He’s a real good player. To me, he’s one of the top five point guards in the League.”
Finally, I spot Earl Boykins who’s made his way to his locker from the showers. After he gets dressed, I break the ice and tell him about the time I saw him play in college when Eastern Michigan played Jackson State in Mississippi and he put on a show (he dropped something like 48pts). He laughs because he remembers it well. “They didn’t even know who I was when I came down there,” said Boykins. I tell him that they knew who he was when he left and that they still talk about his performance to this day.
Then I ask him about the pre-game dunk. He laughed and said, “Yeah. I keep telling people I got hops.” Brendan Haywood looks over and gives a confirming nod.
Then I ask Earl about his bench press numbers. ‘Hey Earl, I heard you could bench something like 385,’ I said. He takes a bite of his pizza, looks at me and shakes his head no. “Uh, uh,” he says. “315.” He sees my facial expression and laughs. My night is complete.
I leave the United Center not thinking about the epic game I just saw, but how a dude only barely taller than my wife and who had to look up just to talk to me could be such an amazing athlete. I finally come to these conclusions. In basketball, as long as you can play, size doesn’t matter. And even though he’s small, don’t get it twisted…
You don’t want it with lil’ Earl Boykins.