Haven’t seen Bosh this pumped up in a long time.
Bulls 129, Raptors 134 (OT)

Crazy win, one which would’ve pumped me up to dangerous levels if it actually meant something in the playoff race. We played our fourth ideal game in a row and maintained a sizable lead throughout the afternoon. When the fourth quarter came our nerves tightened and the Bulls heated up to make it a game and would’ve taken their first lead very late on if Derrick Rose hadn’t blown a gimme layup. They were forced to foul and good ‘ol Anthony Parker stepped up and went a good ‘ol classic 1-2 from the line which gave us a two point edge. On the next possession Ben Gordon got the ball and we switched Chris Bosh on him yet again, Gordon drilled the jumper as the buzzer sounded to take it to OT where we barely prevailed. Looking back let’s just thank Parker for not missing both FTs because that would’ve put a real damper on the great team and individual performances.

I can’t explain the enthusiasm, hustle and unity this team is playing with. Wins against the Clippers, OKC and a depleted Milwaukee team weren’t great indicators of anything but on Sunday the opponent was far more motivated to get a win than any of their previous three. For the fourth game in a row we won the first quarter and did basically everything right. The ball movement spawned by Calderon was impeccable, I don’t know what it is with him playing against Rose but the rookie can’t get a hold of how to guard him. Rose was confused on the high screen and gave Calderon the open looks he needed to get warmed up and enough room on the other side of the screen that it served as an invitation to drive. Andrea Bargnani’s one-on-one game is blossoming these days and when you throw in Calderon’s renewed sense of looking for him in mismatches, it’s a good thing to watch and he rode it to 9 first quarter points. Poor John Salmons kept getting matched up with Bargnani who administered professional punishment in the post, moments later Salmons got matched up with Bosh who did the same on the boards. I couldn’t understand the Bulls’ rotations early on, they seemed very unplanned.

The first quarter saw a nice little battle between Ben Gordon and Anthony Parker. Salmons defending people he had no business defending took away from his offense and he only had one shot attempt in the quarter, Derrick Rose couldn’t get a handle on Calderon and our hedging and fight-throughs on the high-screen neutralized his blow-by game which meant it came down to Ben Gordon to do his thing. Gordon was making Parker run around at least two screens set by Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas (somebody tell Devlin it’s Tyrus, not Tyrese) on every play and was either nailing the shot or attracting help to dish off to the big man cutting to the rim. Parker didn’t go quietly either, he returned the favor with 6 first quarter points by doing the exact same. With Bargnani on early and Calderon getting the better of Rose, things looked up with a 31-20 lead.

Funnily enough, it was the least sophisticated offensive player that was keeping the Bulls in the game – Joakim Noah. He countered Bosh’s 10 first half points with 12 of his own. He showed a soft touch around the rim and had a good battle going with Pops who was bringing energy of his own, including a couple big dunks in transition. Salmons wasn’t even looking for his shot in the second quarter as Marion’s defense was doing the job. Jose displayed supreme confidence in his jumper all afternoon, there was no hesitation in his play and he felt confident launching it from any spot on the floor, he hit a couple threes which he wouldn’t even have dared attempted in January. Once again his ball distribution was all over the map, Chris Bosh 20 feet has been his only pass for most of this year but not so this homestand, let’s have a look at his assist distribution: Bargnani 7, Bosh 5, Marion and Parker with 2, Graham, Kapono and Pops with 1. Bargnani started off hot, cooled off and then warmed up again. His jumper’s looking very reliable but I still thought he fell in love with it a bit too much, especially considering Noah and Miller had no answer for him.

We carried an 11 point lead into halftime. Time Out. Elliote Friedman interviewed Bryan Colangelo during the second quarter and here are two quotes dropped by the GM. On the summer of Chris Bosh:

This summer we’ll sit down with Chris and talk about the variables that are out there. We’ll talk about free-agency obviously, we’ll want to bring it to a head, know what his plans are, what his intentions are. First and foremost talk about the possibility of an extension and if that’s not in the cards, then we’ll talk about what options there are and one of those options is to keep him here.

On Jay Triano:

Jay’s done a great job considering the difficulties we’ve faced…The job that he’s done, the message that he’s communicating, I’m sure it’s the right message and I’m sure its beign communicated in the right way.

That should tell you that Colangelo’s mentally prepared to lose Bosh and that Triano’s going to be the coach next year. Other than silly question about Bosh’s off-court problems, it was a good interview which brought up two of the more important issues heading into the summer. I’m very iffy about Triano returning, I think the effort’s been suspect on too many nights for him to get another shot and as for Bosh, I’d like to see him on the Raptors but if it’s at the cost of a max-money, current-team incentive, cap-killing deal, no thanks. Back to the action.

This game was played to the soundtrack of Leo harping on about how crappy Tyrus Thomas’ defense was. Funny part was that it was no different than the defense played by Bosh, Bargnani or any other Raptor in 90% of the games this season and yet we never heard such harsh criticism. Bargnani drains a tough contested jumper on an out-of-bounds play and Tyrese Thomas gets grief from Leo? Please, we’ve had enough of you.

The Bulls’ offense woke up at the start of the third as Gordon started handling the ball more and creating off the bounce against Parker. Salmons finally hit a couple threes and Derrick Rose started to turn on Noah’s solid screens for some scores. They’re not a playoff team for nothing and it was only a matter of time before they were going to be heard from. We needed to respond and did so: Bosh and Bargnani had 15 of the Raptors’ 17 points to start the third to keep the Bulls from coming all the way back. They had sliced the lead to 65-68 with 5:07 left when the Raptors responded with a 7-0 run sparked by a Bargnani three and Jose finding Marion on the post against Rose, a matchup that presented itself often because of the constant switching by both team but wasn’t taken advantage of nearly enough. Another 7-0 run saw the lead become as large as 14 before we settled for a 13 point edge going into the final quarter.

Bosh was instrumental in the third, the Bulls had come out with a renewed sense of energy and they had put a halt to our fastbreaking ball. Noah was sagging on Bosh and forcing him to test his jumper and Bosh delivered. A game-high 15 rebounds against the likes of Miller and Noah isn’t something to be scoffed at, we out-rebounded them 42-32 and were +11 in second-chance points. Lot of the credit there goes to Bosh who has been very aggressive on the boards this homestand. We relied on our two best players in this quarter and they delivered with 12 each. Having said that, I have to point out that whenever we gave the ball to Bosh in a set-piece the offense slowed down and the ball just didn’t move as well. You get the feeling he’s either going to take a shot or ask to get bailed out if nobody falls for his fakes; not exactly pretty offense.

This was a comfortable lead but the danger signs were there. Gordon and Rose were finding too many openings in our switch-happy defense and the Bulls as a team were shooting a healthy 50%. Even though we played some very good defense in the first half you could tell that the up-and-down nature of the game was starting to take a toll on our conditioning. The Bulls were going to make a run and the question was whether we had built up enough of a buffer to sustain us through. As it turned out, we didn’t as the Bulls put together a 42 point fourth quarter.

Gordon was THE offense for them, everything ran though him. Him being a dual-threat meant Parker and Bosh had a very tough time defending screens set for him. When he pulled back and opted for the Bosh switch he lulled him to sleep and knocked down a jumper. When the switch was late or hesitant, he drove down the lane. On one isolation play he contorted Bosh like MJ did Bird that one time. Our bench did a good job of holding their own to start the fourth with Roko and Joey giving us good minutes and when Jose drained a deep and very unexpected three, the lead ballooned to 17. That was it though because after that Rose used his quickness against Calderon to setup shots for Gordon and Thomas (who was missing all game except the fourth) while getting his. The dribble penetration was starting to become a big problem as it is in the fourth quarter for us, their backcourt combined for 60 points on 24-39 shooting. Our offense came undone for five straight possessions starting at 4:52 of the fourth during which span they went on a 9-0 run. It went something like this: Calderon turnover, Bargnani missing two jumpers, Bargnani 3-second violation and Chris Bosh stumbling and bumbling to lose the ball. This little lapse setup the events described in the first paragraph.

Triano switched Marion to Rose late in the fourth quarter but it didn’t seem to make a difference and if anything, since the Bulls weren’t even cross-guarding Rose, Marion had decent position at the mid-point area against Rose but we only milked it once. Calderon made a critical error in not passing the ball to Marion in such a situation because he couldn’t get a read on Gordon showing from the weak-side, it ended up resulting in a turnover and had we lost this game in regulation, that play would’ve been at the forefront of the discussion. Rose and Gordon’s performance in the fourth quarter was summed by this great Triano quote:

As the point guard goes at the defensive end, so does your team.

Their guards’ dominance continued in the OT with Rose and Gordon basically abusing whoever was guarding them, they scored 8 of their 10 OT points. We tried switching and even trapping the ball but it didn’t make a difference, they’re just too quick and too good. Two big plays defined OT for us, a Bargnani three which gave us the lead back with 1:47 left and a Bosh three-point play off an offensive rebound which once again erased a Chicago lead to give us a two-point edge with 8 seconds left. Derrick Rose then committed a rookie mistake by picking up the dribble in the paint amongst trees and committed the turnover. The Bulls were forced to foul and unlike Parker, Bargnani has ice in his veins. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro pointed to the three-point play as the difference:

It really came down to that tip Bosh had. That three-point play was really a big, big play.

I’d say Derrick Rose’s missed layup and OT turnover sealed their fate more than anything.

Liners:

  • This game was all about individual talent for the Bulls bringing them back in it and our great team-play pulling us through.
  • You Bosh-fanboys will hate this but I have to mention it: He faded away when Kirk Hinrich was guarding him and Rose was showing help. WTF? I thought his reaction to the three-point tip-in in OT let loose some pent-up frustration of not coming through in the clutch all these years. Again, it was a hustle play and Bosh is best when he’s hustling. Give him the ball in a half-court set and he struggles, ask him to let loose on the boards and be the garbage-man and he flourishes.
  • Brad Miller was swinging his elbows against Bosh in the high-post and Bosh took offense. Haven’t seen a Raptor take offense at anything for a long time.
  • I’ve already alluded to it twice but Devlin calling referring to Tyrus Thomas as Tyrese Thomas was lame.
  • Pops is not a flash in the pan. He’s what Humphries isn’t: a full-time garbage man that won’t try to take over the game with 15-footers. Don’t think Devlin should be calling him Big Daddy, so not creative.
  • Jason Kapono hit a three with Kirk Hinrich guarding him number-to-numbers.
  • Roko only played 13 minutes and in that short time managed to hoist up 8 shots while racking up 4 assists and 0 turnovers. One of his moves was a sweet turnaround against the smaller Rose.
  • The Bulls shot 55% and we shot 54%. You can’t even say that no defense was played, this was one of those games where you give the offense a lot of credit for putting up the numbers. I thought the Raptors were active on defense and swift in their rotations, they just ran into two very hot guards.
  • Jose’s showing us such a bounce in his step that even his harshest critic will wonder just how much impact the hamstring had on him. I say the jury’s still out, he hasn’t proven that he can handle starter minutes.
  • Terrell Owens was at the game.
  • Was anybody surprised when Parker missed that FT?
  • Golden State has a three game “lead” over us for the 7th pick and we’re only one “up” on the Knicks for the 8th pick. Standings.
  • For what its worth, we are seven games out of the playoffs with nine left to play and six teams to jump over.

Thanks for reading. @raptorsrepublic

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