I wrote Saturday I didn’t believe, based on the way the Bulls collapsed Thursday at home against the Miami Heat, that they could beat the New Jersey Nets.
It looks like my plan worked.
The Bulls needed someone to call them out, and I decided it had to be me at this point.
Yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
“Last game was really tough for us,” said Jannero Pargo, of all guys, who scored a season high 27 points to lead the Bulls 106-83 victory Saturday. “That was the biggest game. Really, any game this time of the year is the biggest game. And, it was a really big loss for us (Thursday). It was nice to bounce back tonight.”
It was a super ball bounce backas the Bulls were on the right side of a laugher for a change, avoided the ignominy of being swept at home by the now 9-64 Nets, and suddenly can begin to dream of Cleveland and the playoffs as the Bulls pulled within a game and a half of the idle and slumping Toronto Raptors.
“It was kind of an easy game,” said Derrick Rose, who was not much needed with seven points and nine assists without a turnover. “We did what we were supposed to do and get the win. We just have to carry it over to tomorrow (in Detroit). We needed tonight’s win a lot. We really need to go on a run. Everyone on this team is going to make a push. We’re trying to make the playoffs. That’s our goal for this season.”
Well, it’s nice to hear because they certainly hadn’t been playing like it.
Yes, there were the 10 consecutive losses with Joakim Noah out and Rose for the latter part of that streak. Luol Deng went out with a calf injury and remains out, perhaps for another week. And Saturday James Johnson didn’t play with a plantar fasciitis injury (yes, another guy) suffered in Thursday’s national TNT loss.
The result is the Bulls don’t have anyone who even can model as a small forward, perhaps with the exception, if you stretch it, of Hakim Warrick, who is more the power forward, anyway.
So the Bulls went with Kirk Hinrich at small forward with Rose and Pargo in the backcourt in a mini lineup that looked more dangerous to itself.
Pargo has been the target of fans’ ire this season shooting career lows in field goals and three pointers. And he’s not known as a high percentage shooter to start with.
But he had a dozen in the second quarter when the Bulls broke out to a 21-point lead.
“All year I’ve been thinking too much and not playing my game,” said Pargo. “It was nice to get out there tonight and take what came to me. It was nice to contribute.”
The big guy, though, was rookie Taj Gibson, who got the Bulls off to a good start, which they desperately need these days as mostly a front running team, with 14 in the first quarter as the Bulls went ahead 28-23 after one.
Gibson finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds with eight of 10 free throws and you wonder about the offseason talk about acquiring a power forward like Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire. Just a rookie, and a deserving one for all rookie first team, Gibson is quietly becoming Carlos Boozer. Gibson had his fourth double/double in the last five games and his rookie statistics are similar to Boozer’s when he was a rookie with the Cavs.
A little undersized with a nice free throw line jumper and a willingness to run the court as he was overlooked by the pro scouts, much like Boozer.
Why invest big money in someone like Boozer, who is five years older?
Gibson also was big in helping the Bulls hold Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian, who were 26 for 32 in Friday’s win over Detroit, to five of 20 shooting for a combined 14 points. The Bulls dominated the paint scoring 42-20 and outrebounded the Nets 54-42. New Jersey shot just 35.8 percent.
The Nets trailed 53-37 at halftime, and then gave the Bulls their only scare of the game as Jarvis Hayes hit three consecutive three pointers to bring New Jersey within 53-46.
But Gibson played a key role in the defense as Lopez turned the ball over on a trap and Gibson blocked a Lopez shot after Lopez missed a short shot. Yi also missed twice in that sequence as Gibson also got him for a block.
Meanwhile, the Bulls were back to competing, thanks, in part, to Noah, whose presence, though just for 13 minutes, is proving inspirational as he’s emerging as the only true emotional leader on the team. So Noah being out hurts not only in his effect on the boards.
“Good players make a difference,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “You can see how valuable Joakim is with his length and size. He was blocking shots and getting us out on the fast break. He is effective and can change the complexion of the game. We hope to build up Joakim’s minutes and his conditioning because he is a big part of that.”
With the Nets getting back into the game, Noah dunked on a long pass from Pargo for a three point play and returned the favor with a pass leading to a Gibson fast break, and Pargo added a big three.
“JP is a pro,” said Del Negro. “He has kind of been the odd man out with limited minutes early in the season. He understands his role well. He came up big. We need him to do that the rest of the season to win us some games. He was a big factor in the win tonight. It does not surprise me. The guys respect that. He puts his work in every day. He may not play for two, three or four games and then you put him in there and he’s ready to go. He’s not shot as well as he’s capable of, but his minutes have been inconsistent. When he gets consistent minutes, he shoots better.”
Noah then dunked on Lopez as Noah had five points and three rebounds in the third quarter while the Bulls pulled away for an 82-56 lead after three and Gibson, Hinrich and Rose played little after that.
“It felt good to play and get the win,” said Noah. “We just got to keep it going and carry it over. They’re not a good team, but we lost to them before, so you still have to go out and compete. It was good to come in tonight with the right mentality. I thought we played with a little bit of an edge.”
So if that’s all it takes, then maybe they can play into late April or May. It’s really up to them. I can only do so much.
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