17. That’s how many Thursday night home games the Bulls have won in a row on TNT. That’s incredible. Is that an obscure stat? Perhaps. Is it an explainable fact? Absolutely not. What makes this streak even more incredible is almost every game in that stretch has come against a very good basketball team. You don’t play the Jazz on TNT, you play the likes of the Celtics, the Cavs, the Raptors. Like I said it defies explanation, which is also a phrase that could be uttered to describe the ending of the Bulls (28-29) 104-103 win over the Celtics (37-20) last night.
With one minute and twenty seconds left in the fourth quarter, Doug McDermott had just hit his second consecutive free throw to pull the Bulls within one at a score of 103-102. Over the next three combined possessions that included two consecutive Bulls offensive rebounds, both teams could not add to their tally. So with eight seconds remaining and Bulls trailing by one, it came down to Jimmy to decide things.
Butler took his time setting up his move insuring his shot would be the last. From the right wing Jimmy awkwardly pulled up for a game-winning attempt while falling off-balance, the shot did not go. But after a dejected Bulls began heading toward their bench, they had realized a somewhat questionable foul had been called. Objectively, Marcus Smart played some pretty great D and may have grazed Jimmy’s elbow on the shot, but that’s not a call you make in that circumstance. As he has done so many times this year, Jimmy came through to knock down the ensuing two free throws to take a one point advantage. A last ditched effort from Al Hereford careened off the rim and the Bulls were heading into the All-Star break on a winning streak after back-to-back impressive wins over the Raptors and Celtics and within a game of the six-seed in the East.
My unsung hero of the night goes to the oft-maligned Bobby Portis. The reserve forward had a career high 19 points to go with eight rebounds on 8/13 shooting from the floor. 13 of those points came in the first-half when the Celtics were threatening to run away with this one as they shot 53 percent in the half. Portis was hitting jump shots from all over, including one from deep, and displayed the type of hustle the Bulls had dreamed about when they drafted the 2nd year pro number 20 overall in the 2015 draft. Portis still struggled a bit on the defensive end and turned the ball over twice from traveling, but the Arkansas grad showed something the Bulls hadn’t seen out of him in a long time, potential.
Another reason the Bulls won this game was due to their dominance on the glass. The Bulls out-rebounded the Celts 51-31 on the game including a staggering 15-4 edge on the offensive boards. This allowed the Bulls to win thanks to shooting noticeably worse than the Celtics thanks to the 13 extra shots they attempted compared to their opponents. This also resulted in a decided edge in second chance points, 22-4 in the Bulls favor.
Not everything went right for the Bulls, as they continued to stink up the joint from behind the arc. They shot 6/25 on the night (24 percent), lowering their league worse average from 31.8 percent. The lack of spacing in the Bulls offense often creates a log jam in the paint which makes it much more difficult to drive with any sort of efficiency. Doug has been hit or miss, while Niko got a DNP coach’s decision leaving the Bulls ammo-less. The Bulls will never be the Warriors in terms of shooting, but you have to at least make your opponent respect your shooting ability to free up space.
Isaiah Thomas continued his recent hot-stretch going for 29 points on 8/18 shooting while going an impressive 9/9 from the charity stripe and dishing out seven assists. The diminutive guard didn’t have his usual 4th quarter heroics, often forcing up shots in the final frame, but his ability to manipulate his body to get shots off in the lane against bigger defenders is extraordinary. Thomas is a worthy all-star, and I hope he doesn’t get overlooked (no pun intended) for his stature as his game speaks volumes.
Up Next: The Bulls get a reprieve for awhile as Jimmy Butler heads to New Orleans for the All-Star game this Sunday in the annual East vs. West clash.