A huge fourth quarter from the Chicago Bulls guided them to a 116-103 win over the Toronto Raptors in what might be a first round playoff series, feeling better and better about their postseason prospects, possibly because of Derrick Rose making his return very soon.
The Bulls keep getting pieces back from injuries and absences, and the whole thing is starting to look a lot better all the time. Jimmy Butler was the epitome of efficiency with 23 points on 7-of-8 from the field and 7-of-9 from the line. Pau Gasol didn’t have a double double (just 4 rebounds) but scored 18 points, Aaron Brooks continues to look a lot better in the backcourt now that Butler is back while Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell provided plenty of firepower from the bench.
Mirotic hasn’t been just the best rookie in the NBA over the last five weeks; he’s been one of the best players. This time he scored 15 points in 28 minutes and was a big part of the Bulls surging forward in the fourth quarter, outscoring Toronto by 18 points. Mirotic seems to be adding new shots to his arsenal on a daily basis, with a nice one-leg step back jumper providing him with some successful moments.
Tony Snell hasn’t been consistent as Mirotic, not offensively; the return of Jimmy Butler and prior to that Mike Dunleavy has eaten away at his minutes. But the Bulls have developed Snell into a very useful perimeter player who is a huge threat from the outside and defensively with his long arms, scoring 17 points on this occasion in just 18 minutes.
Not everything is perfect for the Bulls, who had a difficult time handling Greivis Vasquez (six 3-pointers) and sometimes look more than just a little bit off defensively. They had their confused moments offensively as well, leading to some easy points from Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan, although the turnovers seemed to stop in the second half.
This still doesn’t look like a championship team, but we’ve had quite a few titlists over the years that needed time convincing the outside world that they’re “worthy”. It’s hard to say when we’ve actually seen the real Bulls because of the usual injury shuffling Thibodeau has to go through each year, and yet maybe, for the first time in quite a while, he’ll have a fully healthy team for the beginning of the postseason and some home court advantage for at least part of the way.