For the first three quarters this looked like a walk in the park for the Bulls. Coming into this game on a six game winning streak, it looked like the Bulls would keep the gravy train rolling to start this game. Leading 22-17 after the first quarter and 47-35 at the half, the Bulls seemed poised to dominate this contest wire to wire.
A big part of that early hot start had to do with Jimmy Butler, who turned in yet another incredible performance Monday night. It will never get boring to gush about Mr. Buckets so allow me to kvel: Butler scored 27 points, grabbed nine rebounds, swiped four steals, made 9/12 free throws (including a perfect 6-6 in the second half) and rang home both of his attempts from deep, one of which ended up being the clinching points for the Bulls. Butler punctuated a stellar first half for the team with a breathtaking slam to beat the buzzer
The Bulls led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter and truly looked dominant. Aggressive post play by Pau Gasol early in the game forced Roy Hibbert into foul trouble reduced the Pacer big man to a complete non-factor. Hibbert only logged 16 minutes of court time, recording six points and three rebounds. With Hibbert limited, the Pacers were forced to rely heavily on Lavoy Allen, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, a trio that any rational human would salivate over going up against.
Tonight was not a great night to be a rational human. The three aforementioned bench players, along with frisky wing CJ Miles went insane in the fourth quarter. Copeland was six for seven in the fourth, including one insane three pointer that nearly brought the building down. Copeland, the 30 year old in just his third year in the NBA, was not just a jump shooter in this game, bullying a somewhat gassed Jimmy Butler (44 minutes) in the paint with the game on the line.
Indiana’s run in the fourth was not so much a series of unbelievable shots on their part, but rather an unimaginable drought for this Bulls team which has been so great at putting teams away this season. Chicago was held without a point for over seven minutes in the final period. And remember Dunleavy’s awesome and-one that extended the lead to 20 points with 2:33 left in the third? The Bulls would go without another field goal for 11 minutes.
The biggest culprit in the near collapse was Derrick Rose, who had a game he hopefully soon forgets. Rose shot just 5-20 on the night, going 1-7 from three and missing all six of his field goals in the fourth quarter. Rose made all six of his attempts from the charity stripe, but failed to draw a shooting foul in the fourth during a stretch where his quickness and ability to slice through the lane was much in need.
The Bulls as a team managed only 11 fourth quarter points, collectively shooting an unthinkable 9.5%. Chicago has been the league’s best team in terms of fourth quarter point differential so they were due for some regression, but the fall back to the mean was hard and fast. Still, great teams find ways to win even when cosmic powers from beyond have put a lid on the hoop. Jimmy Butler accounted for one of the team’s two field goals, a dagger three pointer to reclaim the lead on a great kick out from Pau from the post.
The Bulls really seemed determined to give this one away. On the final play of the game, with just half a second remaining on the clock, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose miscommunicated on a switch resulted in CJ Watson being WIDE OPEN in the corner. CJ short armed the shot and harmlessly bricked it off the rim, but it served as a nice reminder that sometimes winning and losing simply come down to dumb luck.
Despite the quasi-meltdown and late game theatrics, the Bulls squeaked out a win, extending their current run of victories to seven. With another game tomorrow night back in Chicago against the Nets, lets hope the Bulls quickly get back in the groove that allowed them to dominate the first 36 minutes of this game.