The Bulls escape with a thoroughly unimpressive victory in the Magic city on Wednesday night.
A back and forth first quarter saw the Magic hit their first six shots en route to an 11-4 lead, before the Bulls found their stroke as well, ending the quarter with a 29-28 lead. The frontcourt was the difference in this game, scoring 75 points in total. Carlos Boozer was hot from the tip, ending up with a 31 point, 11 rebound, 2 assist 2 steal night on 13-22 shooting. Taj Gibson was arguably better with 21 points, 11 boards, 3 assists, and 4 blocks on 8-12 shooting. Luol Deng was his usual dependable self, finishing with 23 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal on 8-16 shooting (2-4 from 3). The team as a whole shot 42% (5-12) from deep, while the Magic shot 38% (9-24, with J.J. Redick hitting only 1 of his 8 attempts).
With these numbers, one might assume that the game was a blowout, but these are the 2013 Chicago Bulls we're talking about, here. No lead of theirs is safe. After nearly squandering an 18 point 3rd quarter lead, the Magic pulled to within 2 before Jameer Nelson (who tied a career high with 32 points on 11-20 shooting) missed a 15 footer and Luol Deng hit two free throws to ice it. If this game had gone another 3 minutes, there's almost no way the Bulls would have won, and yet win they did. Rip Hamilton, despite taking only 6 shots, finished with a game high 9 assists, and seemed to add some much-needed spacing to Chicago's offense. He couldn't do much defensively, however, with sections of this game looking a lot like that Bobcats game, with Afflalo and Nelson penetrating and scoring at will for most of the game.
For the 5th straight game, the Bulls were outrebounded by their opponent (36-35 in favor of Orlando) and they managed to escape. Nikola Vucevic followed up his titanic effort against Miami with a 20-12 game. Perhaps most interestingly was the early contribution of rookie Andrew Nicholson, who hit his first 3 shots of the game, then appeared to fall into a well or a miniature black hole, totally a paltry 12 minutes on the night.
But perhaps most importantly, to tonight's events and the events of the immediate future, was the ghastly play of the point guards. Kirk Hinrich was 2-9 from the floor (with some of those misses by more than a foot), finishing with 7 points, 8 assists, 3 steals and a block in 32 minutes of play. His night was punctuated by a late game play in which he single-handedly kept the Magic in the game by driving into three defenders, getting his shot blocked, and recovering it while standing out of bounds. Nate Robinson, on the other hand, was 2-7 from the floor (2-4 from deep), with 6 points. This might not look too bad in a vacuum, but when taking into account the fact that Jameer Nelson had 32 points all by himself, the familiar patterns begin to emerge. If Hinrich and Robinson are this bad, how bad must Marquis Teague be to not get any playing time? Knowing Tom Thibodeau, the answer is more distressing than you might think.
Player O' The Game: Taj Gibson. 21 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks.
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