After two consecutive losses, the Chicago Bulls needed something big and inspiring to put them back in the right direction. It turns out that a career night from Pau Gasol was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Gasol, who should be in the declining days of his career, finished with a career high 46 points, adding 18 rebounds as he led the Bulls to a 95-87 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, with signs of lacking confidence shown by everyone but him. He’s just the fourth player since the 1999-2000 season with a 46-18 night, and he was outscored by the rest of his teammates by just three points, hitting less field goal than the rest of ’em.
Following the losses to the Jazz and Wizards, both by a combined 36 points, the Bulls looked very shaky. Gasol shot 17-of-30 from the field, but his teammates floundered with 31% from the field. Jimmy Butler was just 2-of-9, Tony Snell getting the start was just 1-of-7 and the bench trio of Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks, usually one of the more efficient bench mobs you can find in the league, ended up shooting a combined 6-of-25 from the field.
Gibson helped Gasol out when it came to offensive rebounds. Gasol grabbed 8 of them, Gibson had 5 and the Bulls dominated the boards with 22 offensive rebounds while the Bucks struggled in the paint on both ends of the floor. If it wasn’t for those second chance opportunities this would have been another bad night for the Bulls at home, who once again find themselves rotating lineups they don’t want or aren’t used to putting on.
Gasol is something of a comeback player, although he never really went away. Last season he didn’t put up bad numbers, but everyone assumed it was the D’Antonio system and the long garbage time season they had. Gasol is almost like a Renaissance man this season, good enough to be back in the All-Star game after a long absence, looking like he’s enjoying life in the NBA again, averaging 18.7 points with 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
Even great teams go through rough patches. The question remains hovering above these Bulls: Are they great, a team good enough to contend for the NBA title, or is this another group that’s built around Derrick Rose that will come up way short of their goal, this time even without injuries? Rose rested this time, but it doesn’t change the fact, that doubts remain over whether or not he can remain healthy enough to see this season through, and actually be in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.