The majority still isn’t sold on the Chicago Bulls being championship contenders, but it doesn’t stop the team from envisioning it happen, led by D.J. Augustin in 107-102 win over the Boston Celtics, improving their chances of having home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The postseason spot being clinched shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Bulls had a very rough start to the season and looked like making the playoffs might even be too difficult for them when Derrick Rose went down with his meniscus tear. Luol Deng being traded might have been the final signal to begin the tank job, but the Bulls, led by their demanding head coach and a group of players who are about winning, effort and believing, are proving the doubters wrong.
Sure, it hasn’t always been pretty basketball, but this Bulls team, moving everything through Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy, is a lot more enjoyable to watch than the one from last season, not to mention smarter. Yes, Augustin, the backup point guard, had a career kind of night with 33 points on 10-of-14 from the field and 10-of-10 from the line, but the point guards aren’t the story of this team, not on offense. It’s about Joakim Noah pulling off another almost triple double with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 13 assists, and simply putting the ball in the hands of the right player, regardless of his position, to make the right decisions.
The entire Bulls’ lineup finished in double figures, with Noah joined by Jimmy Butler scoring 15, Carlos Boozer adding 14 points, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich finishing with 11 points each. The Bulls shot 52.9% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc, taking exactly what a terrible Celtics defense was giving them, which meant a lot of freedom everywhere on the court, even though the game was a lot closer than it should have been according to the pregame odds because the Celtics got a big game from Rajon Rondo and looked a lot better than usual on the glass, allowing only two offensive rebounds while grabbing 12 themselves.
The Celtics got 17 points and 11 assists from Rondo, as five other players, including Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger with 16 points, finished with 10 or more points. But the rebounding advantage wasn’t enough with the Bulls looking so calm on the free throw line, converting 25-of-31 shots, and making Rondo turn the ball over way too much (six times), the sole bright spot from a not so great day from a team that usually takes pride in defense before everything else.
Even though we didn’t play great defense tonight, we pulled it out and we know what we have to fix. That is how we have to win. Our margin of error is not great. We’ve got to play with great intensity each and every night. If we had missed a couple of those foul shots, we don’t know what the outcome of the game would have been because they made some big 3s at the end.