Game Notes: Sixers at Bulls
Bobblehead night, a blowout, and one huge missed dunk.
by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
I’ve been highly critical of the Bulls management in the past, but looking at what they did over the last two days of the trade deadline, I tip my 59fifty. They managed to create cap space and make themselves a player in “Free Agency 2010: The Summer of LeBron” (coming to a theatre near you), while making the team much better than it was before and without sacrificing their push to make the playoffs this season. This is a much better and much deeper Bulls team and they managed to put it all on display as they dismantled the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday on Derrick Rose bobblehead night at the United Center. No, I didn’t get one as the promotion was only for those who had tickets. Bummer right?
I arrived at the United Center about 15 minutes after the locker rooms were opened to the media. As I made my way into the Bulls locker room, none of the new faces were in there (although I did see Acie Law in the hallway trying to figure out which doors led where). But the story of their first home game as Bulls was trumped by Joakim Noah who would be playing his first game in almost two weeks after sitting out with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. No one had any clue his first game back would be so memorable though.
As he was surrounded by reporters, he spoke on how tough it was to miss the game a few nights earlier in New York, “Playing at home… the Garden is a great environment to play in. I live like five minutes from there. I can walk from my house to the Garden so that was tough.” He also spoke on his former teammate Tyrus Thomas, “I think Tyrus is misunderstood a lot. He’s a very emotional player and he definitely went through a lot during his time here. He probably has the most potential of anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s great. He actually left me a couple pairs of shoes in my locker and we were really close and I really hope that he’s going to do very well over there in Charlotte.”
And when asked about his health and how his foot felt, Noah said, “I’ve been talking to the doctors almost every day and just going to and the trainers every day and them feeling out my foot… They know that I want to be out there,” He added, “ I’ve got new orthotics in my shoes and my friend went to the gym the other day and somebody at the gym said, ‘Drink this, it’s good for feet’, so I drank it.”
Did it work?
“Hopefully,” he said. “We’ll see. I drank it yesterday so… Whatever helps.”
Maybe it was the combination of free Derrick Rose bobbleheads along with Allen Iverson being in town with the 76ers that packed the United Center on Saturday night. Even though he’s just a shell of the player he once was, Iverson has always gotten love from the Chicago fans. He received his customary quasi-roaring ovation from Bulls fans as his name was called during the starting lineups which is still pretty cool to see and hear.
The first quarter itself was pretty closely contested as both teams went back and forth. There were seven lead changes and ten ties in the quarter. The one-on-one matchup between Derrick Rose and Iverson that fans—and Vince Vaughn who was sitting courtside—wanted to see didn’t happen as rookie Jrue Holiday had the unenviable task of trying to keep Rose in check.
For the second game in as many nights, Hakim Warrick showed he can do everything Tyrus Thomas could do on a basketball court, the difference being Warrick’s more consistent doing it. Hakim is a basketball player. Period. How else can you explain after being with the team for only 48 hours and going through one very light practice/shootaround him being able to come right in and contribute the way that he has? As soon as Vinny Del Negro put him in the game, his impact was felt. Just ask Thaddeus Young who was on the wrong end of a poster as Hakim threw one down on him in the post that really seemed to get him going.
But as nice as that dunk on Young was, what we all saw later in that first quarter was the unimaginable and the unthinkable.
When Joakim Noah got in the game with 3:33 seconds left in the quarter, the United Center went absolutely bananas. You could tell he was glad to finally be back on the court and the love Chicago fans showed him may have gotten him a little too amped. Not even two minutes in, Luol Deng got a steal off a flubbed dribble by Thaddeus Young and hit Noah with an outlet pass for what should have been an easy breakaway dunk.
We all saw him last year during the playoff series against Boston go down the court in three dribbles and slam one home on Paul Pierce, so fans were expecting the same kind of exciting finish. Instead, Noah got the pass, took one dribble and then clanged the two-handed jam off the back rim and the ball bounced high into the air. Luckily for the Bulls, the miss was rebounded by Hakim Warrick and they kept possession of the ball. The look on the faces of the players on the Bulls bench after Joakim missed was priceless, especially Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich who just couldn’t seem to contain themselves.
After one quarter, Chicago leads Philadelphia 25-23.
Saturday was James Johnson’s birthday and I know he got one of his wishes: A chance to see Allen Iverson play. He also got a chance to get out there and play quality minutes and he celebrated with a bang. That bang being the one handed, fast break tomahawk dunk that he threw down on Marreese Speights that had everybody in the United Center pumped up. But as nice as that dunk was, it was merely a footnote in a quarter of absolute domination of the Sixers on the part of the Bulls.
Chicago outscored Philly 33-16 in the quarter, but not only that, only three Sixers made field goals in the quarter and none of them were starters. Yes, you read that right. Not one starter for Philly made a shot in the second quarter. Not Allen Iverson, not Andre Iguodala, not Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, or Jrue Holiday. Nobody. The Sixers went 5-16 from the field as a team in the quarter and to add insult to injury, with exactly five minutes left before halftime, the Bulls closed the quarter on a 21-1 run that officially put the game out of reach.
At halftime, the Bulls lead 58-39.
The Bulls extended their 21-1 run to 27-1 before the Sixers finally made a basket one minute into the third quarter. But by then Chicago was already up 23 points. Eddie Jordan decided to play Allen Iverson alongside Lou Williams in place of Jrue Holliday who was having a nightmare of a game (up to this point he still hadn’t registered a single point) and the switch seemed to work and spark some energy in the visiting team. The pair was very aggressive and scored 8 points apiece in the quarter and the rest of the squad seemed to feed off of their energy. This was actually a good quarter of basketball from the Sixers as they shot 52 percent from the field and scored 30 points, their highest point total in a quarter the whole night.
The Bulls countered that attack by getting balanced scoring and solid contributions from everyone VDN put in the game. He went seven deep and everybody who played scored. Acquired in the Tyrus Thomas deal was Flip Murray, who showed why he was a solid pickup for the team. Not only can he play defense, but he can make shots, something the other newcomer Devin Brown hasn’t been able to do since he’s been in Chicago. Alongside Hakim Warrick, the two combined for 22 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. Chicago hasn’t seen that kind of production out of two of their bench players in a long while.
After three quarters, the Bulls lead the Sixers 88-69.
Not only is it garbage time, but it’s the James Johnson show too. I guess turning 23 years old and then having a killer party after the game inspired him because he was all over the place and playing with an energy that I’ve never seen from him before. He caught Marreese Speights again with a nasty poster dunk on his head and then received a technical for taunting as he just stared the second year big man down.
Bulls win, 122-90.
As I looked over the stat sheet waiting for the locker rooms to open, I realized Taj Gibson had another amazing game. The rookie has been playing so well that he almost seems like the steal of the draft. His line for the night: 20 points, 13 boards, and 2 blocks. He did it so quietly I was almost shocked when I saw it. I certainly wasn’t surprised though. He’s been doing that all season long.
“He works,” said Del Negro offering praise for his rookie big man. “He’s such a great kid. He’s very coachable and he wants to learn. He’s always working.” While I tried not to read too much into the comments, it was hard not to feel like VDN was taking a parting shot at Tyrus Thomas who also sneak dissed the coach in postgame comments in Charlotte as well.
The other thing that completely threw me for a loop as I looked over the stat sheet was that Bulls only committed three turnovers the entire game. In the NBA, any team that takes care of the ball that well is probably going to win the game. “They just played so much better than us,” offered Allen Iverson during his postgame comments. “They took care of the basketball. They shared the basketball. They did everything that we didn’t do right on the basketball court… A team that only turns the ball over three times and is making shots is going to be hard to beat.”
On Tuesday night after the Bulls defeated the Knicks, Derrick Rose was asked if he knew if the Bulls were going to make any moves before the trade deadline. He said that he didn’t know, but he was OK with the team as it was. I asked him after Saturday night’s victory how he felt about the team now with the new acquisitions and Rose responded with, “I feel better. These guys that we got coming in they’re veterans, they’ve been playing in the League for a long time. They know their roles already and they’re just good guys. I’m excited about the guys that we have right now.”
And about that missed dunk. Joakim Noah said with a smile after the game, “Oh my God, they’ve [teammates] been killing me through the whole game!” I asked him after sitting out for so long if he’d forgotten how to dunk and he said, “Nah man, I just got too excited. I put too much on it. I wish I would’ve just laid it up.” He had a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing though, and winning four games in five nights, with two back-to-backs no less, had everybody in the Bulls locker room in a good mood after the game.