Game Notes: Jazz at Bulls
Chicago vs. Illinois.
by Bryan Crawford
There were six million storylines in last night’s Bulls/Jazz contest. Well maybe not six million, but there were more than enough. For the Bulls, there was Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson’s plantar fasciitis, Luol Deng’s flu/knee issues which after the game turned into a strained calf and a pending MRI for the young forward, and the Bulls four-game losing streak.
And then you had long time Utah Jazz coach and Bulls legend Jerry Sloan made his annual trip to Chicago, but the story there was he really didn’t seem to care. When asked if it was still special for him to come back here, Sloan responded, “It’s like any other place now. I’m just trying to win a ballgame, that’s the bottom line.” He added, “I had my fun here. I don’t think anybody had more fun playing basketball [in Chicago] than I did.”
He also didn’t seem too interested in the life size mural the Bulls have of him along with several other greats like Chet Walker, Artis Gilmore, his former teammate Norm Van Lier, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, GM John Paxson, and of course Michael Jordan outside of the team’s locker room. When asked by Bulls radio man Chuck Swirsky if he wanted to do an interview in front of his photo, Sloan declined. The only thing he was focused on was the basketball game.
There was also Othyus Jeffers, a local product and recent call up by the Jazz from the D-League. His basketball road to the NBA has been anything but easy. After graduating from Hubbard HS on Chicago’s southside, he played JuCo ball in LA before transferring to the University of Illinois-Chicago where he played two years. It was during that time he was shot in the leg by his sister’s boyfriend during an altercation and after that incident, he transferred from UIC to NAIA powerhouse Robert Morris located downtown for his senior season.
He signed his 10-day contract with the Jazz after being called up from the Iowa Energy last Thursday and Chicago was the first stop on the Jazz’s four-game road trip. He estimated before the game that he had at least 150 people in attendance and the team had given him 50 tickets in which he distributed to family and friends who’d either called or hit him on Facebook. Said Jeffers before the game of playing at home for the first time as a professional, “It hasn’t hit me yet.”
But the biggest storyline of the night was the head-to-head matchup between All-Star PGs Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. Both are really loved around these parts for obvious reasons and all through the United Center you saw the customary Derrick Rose jerseys and t-shirts (it was Derrick Rose t-shirt night) along with Williams’ Utah Jazz jersey and a small sea of orange scattered about in honor of his playing days at Illinois. Everybody loves a good PG battle and fans weren’t disappointed as these two went at each other from beginning to end.
It started in the first quarter where the two matched each other point-for-point (8) and virtually assist-for-assist (Williams had 7 and Rose had 6) and it was fun to watch. Whether it was each guy setting up their teammates for easy scores, or dropping buckets on each other (including Rose losing Williams on a backdoor cut for a nasty two-handed baseline jam), it was what fans pay to see when they come to an NBA game. By the end of the first half, both had double-doubles. Williams had 16 points and 10 assists and Rose finished with 10 points and 11 assists.
Aside from that, the Bulls may have played their best two quarters of basketball all season as they shot 63 percent from the field in the first half and 67 percent from beyond the arc. But if I told you a team who shot that well in a half would go into the locker room losing, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but that’s what happened as the Bulls went into intermission down 61-63 to Utah.
In the third quarter it was more of the same as each guard seemed to be unwilling to let the other outdo him. Deron Williams slammed that point home literally when he caught Derrick on a fast break and dunked on him. It was a bittersweet moment for everybody in the arena as fans couldn’t seem to decide whether to cheer or keep quiet. I asked Derrick after the game if it was karma coming back on him with the way he’s been dunking on people this season and he just laughed it off and said, “Nah man, you’re gonna get dunked on in the NBA. I didn’t see him right there…I guess I gotta get somebody else now.”
But the story of the night came from a guy who has no ties to this area whatsoever. I’d already seen somebody explode in a quarter when Dallas’ Rodrigue Beaubois went for 18 in the third on Saturday. Last night it was Miles who couldn’t seem to miss from three-point land in the final quarter. He scored 16 points and went 5-7 from the field, four of those shots were from three, and they all came in a row after he missed his first two attempts. Said Miles after the game, “[Playing with] Deron and Booz, they draw so much attention that you’re going to get open looks like that. I was just able to make some. Then I kind of got on a roll and guys started looking for me.”
The Jazz beat the Bulls 132-108 and handed Chicago its fifth consecutive loss.
A little more than two weeks ago, the Bulls were sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Now after dropping five straight games, the Bulls find themselves in ninth place and out of the playoff picture with things not getting any easier on the schedule. They’ll now embark on a four game road trip of their own which will take them through Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas. Things are looking bleak for the home team as the speculation is they could miss the playoffs altogether without Joakim Noah in the lineup.
But there was a vote of confidence from an unlikely source in Jazz bigman Carlos Boozer who feels very strongly about the Bulls and their chances of making the postseason. “They’re a good team. Noah not being there hurts them a little bit. He’s pretty much their shot-blocker and inside presence, so him not being out there hurt them, but they’ve got a good team. They’ll be in the playoffs. I’m sure they will.”