I feel like I should begin by giving some credit to those who made the trek to the United Center tonight even in what has been one of the worst winter storms we’ve seen in a while. Those in attendance were treated to a bit of a pleasant surprise of a win, as the Bulls came out victorious, 104-97 and improving to 17-12.
The first quarter got off to a very slow start, as the Bulls went down by nine to start the game, and could not slow a scorching Luis Scola, who started the game 6/6 from the field. From there, it was the surprising energy of Aaron Brooks and Bobby Portis that put the Bulls back in this game. Brooks and Portis combined for 17 of the 26 points the Bulls scored in the second quarter, and as the game progressed, Tony Snell provided a surprising burst of energy as well. Snell went on to lead the scoring with 22.
Is this a return to the “bench mob”? For years, the Bulls were known for a deep bench that could keep them in nearly any game and step up when the starters were off the court or injured, and for possibly the first time this season, we saw them up to their old ways. As mentioned previously, the offense was very much driven by Portis, Brooks, and Snell. This “line,” to borrow a hockey term, won great affection for their play tonight, even earning a nickname: The PBS Line:
If the Bulls were a hockey team, they'd be praising their PBS Telethon line (Portis-Brooks-Snell).
The play of these bench players was especially important, as Jimmy Butler was clearly not his best self. He scored just 5 points against the Raptors and had a +/- of -8 for the night. He’s been on a bit of a rough stretch in that regard, posting a +/- in the positive range just once in his last six games.
Butler is playing like he's just kind of out of gas tonight. 1/6 from the field. Not as active as usual.
Derrick Rose had his second straight excellent game, offering some more encouragement going forward. He finished 7/16 for 20 points and four assists. Two aspects of his night stood out in particular: knocking down 3/5 big three point shots and soundly blocking Kyle Lowry on defense.
The role for Bobby Portis. After a pretty impressive night (12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, +16), the question turns to where Portis will fit in the rotation with the Bulls. He has been somewhat inconsistent in his limited appearances so far, but he has shown the energy and potential for flashes of brilliance like he did tonight. It seems likely that his increase in minutes tonight came largely from his play in the second quarter. He spent 27 minutes on the floor tonight, his most so far this season, and the most since playing 23 against the Knicks over a week ago. If he can continue to provide the kind of energy that he did tonight, he will force his way on to the floor with more and more PT.
Doug McDermott was a late scratch for the night, with soreness in his right knee. He left the game on December 19 against the Knicks with the same problem, but he had played in the three games since then. It doesn’t appear to be serious, but as this is the knee that he had surgery on a year ago, this is something to keep an eye on.
Can I bag on Pau Gasol a bit? He may have tied for the lead among scorers with 22 tonight, but he had a +/- of -4 and at times looked lethargic and even downright indifferent. For instance, on a sequence near the end of the second quarter, Gasol was on the receiving end of a pass that he was not prepared for, which allowed the ball to get stolen and taken to the other end for a dunk. And then, he only continued by loafing back on offense after not even attempting to head to the other end following the turnover. On the return, he took the first shot and missed an easy jumper. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but although Gasol can usually score with regularity (he’s scored below double digits just three times all season), it might be that his age is beginning to show. If Portis can continue to show the kind of play that he did tonight, Gasol might benefit from increased breaks on the bench.
Kyle Lowry is having another All-Star season and was easily Toronto’s best player on Monday. He had 28 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals on efficient shooting. The Raptors were +12 in his 40 minutes and -19 in the eight he sat.
Coming up: the Bulls will stay at home to face the Indiana Pacers, who are 2-2 in their last week of play.