Bulls observations: Bulls make statement in Game 1 drubbing of Magic

Bulls observations: Bulls make statement in Game 1 drubbing of Magic

The Bulls beat the absolute brakes off the Magic in Game 1 of the ’96 Eastern Conference Finals 121-83. This team has largely cruised through the playoffs to this point, but their best basketball still lies ahead. Observations:

Not last year’s Bulls

The more I watch of this Bulls team, the more obvious it becomes how ahead of their time they were. The lineup of Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman is so modern in its defensive versatility and devastating fastbreak ability — a pace-and-space, switch-everything death lineup before it was cool

And even with Luc Longley inserted at the center spot, every player 1-4 could switch anything defensively, make plays offensively and get out on the break, all with a more-than-solid post defender anchoring the middle. The Bulls largely shied away from doubling Shaquille O’Neal tonight with Longley in the game, and Big Luc held up admirably. At one point in the third quarter, he and O’Neal were level in scoring, and Longley graced this game with a number of thunderous dunks en route to 14 points on 7-for-9.

Moreover, this didn’t look like the 1995 Bulls, who fell to the Magic in the second round of the playoffs. They made that clear from the jump, bursting out to an 11-0 run to start the game and never letting up. Their league-best defense hadn’t looked this smothering in this entire run to this point (they swiped 12 steals tonight, ever a persistent, festering whirlwind of limbs) — from start to the absolute finish.


Ahmad Rashad reported just before tip that the key to the Bulls finding an advantage in this postseason’s go-around with Orlando was that they had their “edge” back. I’d say so.

Numbers that stood out

Normally, a 62-28 rebounding advantage imbues a blowout (this one was) in which the losing side misses a seismic amount of shots. But not so fast: The Magic shot 47.9% from the field and actually missed less shots than the Bulls (Orlando was 35-for-73 from the field, Chicago 53-for-96). 

The difference was the offensive glass. Behind seven offensive rebounds (21 total) from Dennis Rodman, who feasted on tip-ins all night, the Bulls as a team corralled 20 offensive boards in this one. The Magic’s leading total rebounder was Shaquille O’Neal with six, and they had just 22 defensive rebounds as a team. These aren’t the bruising Knicks anymore — who, for the record, the Bulls dominated on the glass, as well.

Crisp passing from both sides, but especially the Bulls, also leapt off the screen. Much was made throughout this one of the Bulls’ focus on improving their ball movement from that series against New York. Put simply, they did. Though Jordan led the team in scoring with a pedestrian 21 points, they had six players in double-figures and every Bull who played scored. Separate behind the back feeds from Pippen, Kukoc, and Kerr, as well as savvy touch passes from Kukoc and Rodman (off rebounds) were beautiful.

And… Drumroll, please… The Bulls slung 37 assists. Jim Boylen would be proud.

Hey look, it’s that guy!

  • Lil’ Penny!

Big Penny had a game-high 38 points and was so damn smooth throughout.

  • Horace Grant was back in town one year after being carried off the United Center floor when the Magic knocked out the immediate post-Jordan-return Bulls in '95. He visibly struggled with an injured elbow throughout, then left the game in the third quarter after a collision with Shaq re-aggravated it. He won’t return this series.

  • This deafeningly loud suit donned by an injured Darrell Armstrong is splendid:


  • Bill Walton was featured in the NBC broadcast crew for this one, slightly softening the blow of saying goodbye to Tom Dore and Johnny “Red” Kerr for the remainder of this run. It was a relatively tame day from Walton but hopefully, he had his moments. Side note: NBC interviewed the Magic’s general manager in the United Center tunnel on Grant’s injury. How times have changed. 

  • Not a guy, but these are… Something:

Game 2 Friday. Hopefully the Magic join us. 

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Why Bulls-Pistons 1991 playoff walkoff remains iconic in Chicago sports history

USA Today

Why Bulls-Pistons 1991 playoff walkoff remains iconic in Chicago sports history

“Straight up bitches. That’s what they walked off like.”

Talk about a putback slam.

Horace Grant delivered one of the most powerful quotes of “The Last Dance” documentary.

The former Bulls power forward dunked all over the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons for walking off the floor in the waning moments of Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals.

Wednesday marks one of the most iconic anniversaries in Chicago sports history. On May 27, 1991, the Bulls beat the Pistons 115-94 en route to an emphatic series sweep. Just over two weeks later, they were NBA champions.

Up until “The Last Dance,” the most memorable takeaway from that Game 4 victory wasn’t necessarily a key play or a postgame quote. It was a number: 7.9.

That’s the amount of seconds that were left on the clock when Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and company ducked past the Bulls bench—without so much as a handshake— and eventually out of sight at the Palace in Auburn Hills.

It is one of the most iconic images in the Chicago sports canon. One could argue it belongs on a Bulls “Mount Rushmore” of images with, perhaps, Michael Jordan’s free throw line dunk in the 1988 Slam Dunk Content Or MJ weeping while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy after the ’91 Finals win over the Lakers. Or his final shot against the Jazz in 1998.

[MORE: Recounting the most memorable quotes from "The Last Dance"]

What transpired in suburban Detroit on that Memorial Day was more than just a victory or even a series sweep. It was a passing of the torch. Or, maybe, the Pistons’ torch was simply doused a’la the Wicked Witch of the West. Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and company caused the “Bad Boys” to melt under the lights of a national TV broadcast and ensuing media scrutiny. 

Many Chicago fans remember the brutal, sometimes bloody Bulls-Pistons games in the handful of years up until that Monday in Motown. The Bulls lost three consecutive playoff series against the Pistons, two of which came in the conference finals. The victory was not just a flag-planting in the ground. It was a relief.

And with that win, the Bulls took more of the Chicago sports spotlight. The Ditka-era Bears were fading. The Cubs were mediocre at best. The White Sox were on the rise but were still a few years away. The Blackhawks finished first in the Norris Division that year but were bounced quickly in the playoffs. The Bulls were THE story in town.

Imagine if the Pistons had won that ’91 playoff series. That would have made four consecutive playoff headaches courtesy of the Pistons. Do the Bulls rise up again? Do the Bulls even end up getting to the 1992 NBA Finals?

Be thankful for that day in Detroit.

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Report: Ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau leads list of Knicks targets

Report: Ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau leads list of Knicks targets

When David Fizdale was fired by the New York Knicks in December, it was fair to assume a coaching search would come in the offseason. Now, even with the NBA season still in limbo amid the coronavirus pandemic, that search is set to begin, according to a report from Shams Charania and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic.

At the top of their list of targets? Our old friend Tom Thibodeau, according to the report. Thibodeau has been reported as a candidate for the position in the past. The Athletic report notes that interim coach Mike Miller (17-27) and former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atikinson are also expected to interview.

Thibodeau last coached in the 2018-19 season, but was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves two-and-a-half seasons into a five-year contract. He amassed just a 97-107 (.475) record with the franchise, but helmed the 47-35 squad that snapped a 13-season playoff drought in 2017-18. The following year kicked off with the Jimmy Butler practice saga, which resulted in a trade of the star just 13 games into the season and foreshadowed Thibodeau’s eventual dismissal in January.

Thibodeau landed in Minnesota after being axed by the Bulls in the wake of the 2015 season. He led the Bulls through their winningest stretch of the 21st century, coaching to a 255-139 (.647) record from 2010-2015 that included five playoff appearances, three 50-win seasons, two first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference, an Eastern Conference finals berth and a Coach of the Year award. His resume is as stacked as any coach on the market.

The Bulls have been mired in a rebuild since his departure. The Knicks, should they land Thibodeau, will hope he can pull them out of theirs.