Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bulls pulling clear in East #1 battle

With an unconvincing 95-87 win over the lowly Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night the Chicago Bulls opened up a 2-game lead over the Boston Celtics for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

Boston lost 83-81 to the Bobcats at home in Boston. A shocking result that showed the true frailties of a team still struggling defensively since 7-footer Kendrick Perkins departed in early March. To go with this struggle of stopping teams, they have lost their scoring touch to boot. Shooting just 42% since the trade of Perkins the Celtics have fell from a 2 game lead to a 2 game deficit in less than a month.

Chicago have had a busy 7 days with 2 sets of back-to-back games this past week. These two sets couldn't have been any more different in highlighting both strengths and weaknesses of this young Bulls' team. In two laughers over the Hawks and Kings showed the Bulls can score points easily when playing poorer defensive teams. However, these past two nights have seen Chicago needing bailed out by Derrick Rose with late-game plays befitting of his MVP-candidacy. Last night in Milwaukee, Rose scored 8pts in a 12-0 Bulls run along with providing assists on the other 8 of the Bulls final 16pts.

Time and again Rose has silenced his critics with various displays of his wide range of talents. Many said before the season that he had no jump-shot and could only score easy lay-ins. In reply he broke his scoring record against the league's top team and then equaled it again for good measure. Critics then told how he could only shoot from close range and not from 3-point range. So Rose went out and became one of the top 10 players in the NBA in 3-point shots made this year. He has quietened the people who said he couldn't pass by smashing his career high with 17 assists last night and has proved himself an adept defender with crucial blocks, steals and tipped passes. He should be a shoe-in for MVP if the media can avoid falling in love with LeBron James again.

On Saturday night, Chicago opened up the game by going down 8-15 as the Bucks continually scored from deep inside the painted area. Joakim Noah was found wanting against the tougher Andrew Bogut while fighting for rebounds at either end. Noah hasn't been the same since returning from surgery earlier this month. Another player not fulfilling earlier form is Carlos Boozer, playing poorly of late with just his 8th double-double game in his last 22 (last night) and another night of 0 free-throws for Boozer. Poor defending saw the Bulls fall as many as 15 points down before Keith Bogans (yes, you read it right) fired in back-to-back 3's to cut the lead to 9 and Rose poured in a nice lay-up to start an 8-0 run that effectively saved the Bulls from a blowout, energizing the split crowd and sparking the team into fight mode. The Bucks continued to do well in the third quarter, but they could not score in the 4th as their reliance on jump-shots cost them down the crunch time of the game. The Bucks struggle from 3-point range, so the Bulls defense tightened inside and allowed them to miss plenty of threes and long twos.

Chicago showed their fighting spirit with a 4th quarter rally on Friday night against Memphis and did the same again in Milwaukee as they stopped Bucks' top scorer John Salmons from scoring a single point in the 4th, including 2 brilliant defensive plays by a quiet Luol Deng that set up Rose to pull the team through. With 1:53 left, the Bulls had pulled level at 83-83 before a simply mesmerizing play by Rose. He crossed over his defender before driving the ball behind his back and then passing down low to Boozer for the dunk. The Bulls led the game for the first time on this basket. They went on to score 12 more unanswered off Rose with a soaring, twisting lay-in that got a foul too, which he made as Derrick scored all 12 free throws he was given. To end the game, he scored a Kobe Bryant-esque fadeaway leaning jumpshot from the foul line that swished in and sent the large swathes of Bulls fans in the Bradley Center into celebration. He wasn't done, dishing a nice lead pass to Ronnie Brewer for once final lay-in to put the nail in the coffin.

Chicago have 10 games remaining as they sit 53-19, the Lakers are 52-20 and would have game 7 of a Finals in Chicago (I'm dreaming I know). 6 of their next ten games are against teams with less more losses than wins as they face Philadelphia, Minnesota and Detroit in the next 5 days. They also have trips to Orlando and a home visit from Boston left in their final gallop to the finishing post.

Rose boasted that the team could finish go undefeated the rest of the way.

Who doubts him?

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