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Boozer, Watson step up as Bulls cruise sans Rose

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Boozer, Watson step up as Bulls cruise sans Rose

Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 10:58 p.m.

No Derrick Rose? No problem.

At least that was the case Tuesday night, as the Bulls (13-3) placed all five starters in double figures scoring and cruised to an easy 118-97 rout over the Suns (4-9) at the United Center.

For the second consecutive game, Carlos Boozer (31 points, six rebounds) came out of the gate as an assertive scorer, perhaps knowing his responsibilities were greater with the absence of Rose.

He had help, however, as C.J. Watson (23 points, five assists) filled in capably for the Bulls sidelined superstar and Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds) appeared to be breaking out of his funk, knocking down a pair of his patented Tornado jumpers.

I thought we had a lot of guys play well. I thought Joakim was great to start the game, very active, going after every ball, hustling, knocked down a couple shots. Of course, Carlos was on fire to start and to C.J.s credit, how hard he worked coming back, particularly on his conditioning, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I loved the way the ball hopped. The ball was not sticking anywhere. Once we got into a rhythm, we were able to knock some shots down.

Phoenixs fast pace, propelled by former two-time MVP Steve Nash (25 points, nine assists) the last point guard to win the leagues MVP award before Rose, Nashs elite scoring and playmaking were on full display early on actually benefited the Bulls, who wanted to get back to running in transition after playing at a slower tempo as of late.

Phoenix plays with a pace, so the game is going to be faster. I thought Nash put incredible pressure on us early in the game. Its amazing what hes doing at his age, said Thibodeau. Our defense obviously, we need work. I loved our offense. I thought the pace was great.

Rip Hamilton (11 points, six assists), back in the lineup after missing eight consecutive games, was an important factor in the Bulls building a comfortable cushion the veteran shooting guard was a scoring presence and also a playmaker, something needed without Rose available and the Bulls held a 39-31 advantage after a high-scoring opening period.

Rip really was terrific, not so much with his shooting, as much as his playmaking, said Thibodeau. Just having Rip, it gives you another primary option.

Added Noah: Rip is huge because hes a great passer very underrated part of his game and he really demands a lot of attention offensively, just with his ability to shoot the ball, so I think the more we play together, the better well be and its good to have him out there.

Chicagos offense was clicking on all cylinders Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could take pride in his teams protection of the basketball, if not how many points it allowed as the home teams gaudy field-goal percentage reflected its efficiency.

Beyond the aggressive Watson, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor in the first quarter, the Bulls got a significant contribution from Boozer, who knocked down mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper against the porous Suns defense.

I thought we really made plays for each other. I thought we made the easy play, said Hamilton. We didnt really take any difficult shots and when youre doing that, everybody out there is having fun.

More significantly, the heavily-scrutinized post tandem of Noah and Boozer appeared to be extremely cohesive, as the charismatic centers high activity level meshed beautifully with the power forwards deft outside touch. Thibodeau was so confident in his squads first-half performance that in the waning moments of the second period, after the lead had ballooned to a 20-point gap it was 67-47 in the Bulls favor, at the break rookie swingman Jimmy Butler saw some rare early action.

We knew we had to compete better than we did against Memphis. It was an embarrassing loss. Just the way we played, it wasnt right, said Noah. Just taking my shots when they were there and Rip opens up the floor a lot, as well.

Chimed in Thibodeau, weary of questions about the big-man duo: I think they do fine. I think the record speaks for itself.

I think that they played well. I think they were high energy, the ball moved freely, they were playmaking. Jo made a lot of good plays with the ball. Theyre fine, he continued. Jos timing is coming around. Hes a lot more active.

Noahs strong play persisted after the intermission a steal and coast-to-coast push for a layup opened third-quarter scoring as his energy, relentless rebounding and unique ball skills had a major impact on the contest. A 7-0 run to start the period set the tone in the lopsided affair, as the defense-less Suns could do nothing to slow the Bulls offensive rhythm, as wings Hamilton and Luol Deng (15 points, six rebounds) also got things going for the hosts.

Crisp ball movement, which often led to wide-open jumpers while Watson played point guard and facilitated at times and Deng exhibited his typical unselfishness, Hamiltons playmaking was subtly a key to the offensive flow was a marker of Chicagos success, as the high assist totals reflected. Despite Nashs continued brilliance, the Bulls took a 96-68 lead into the games final frame.

Hamilton gave credit to his backcourt partner, Watson, saying, He was awesome, he was great. C.J. did a great job. He got guys in the spots where they needed to be, he ran the offense and when he was open, he took the shot.

Concurred Noah: C.J.s a great point guard and sometimes, its hard when you play behind the MVP, but every time he gets big minutes, he steps up and hes been huge for us. Coming back from an injury like that and being able to play at a high level, its been very impressive.

With the game no longer in doubt, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry rested Nash and his other regulars, filtering in his reserves, and Thibodeau followed suit, giving Bulls reserves like backup center Omer Asik (11 points) an opportunity to get some work, since they hadnt been needed to provide additional firepower earlier in the evening.

With two days off before for their next contest, a rarity in the condensed schedule, a much-needed period of rest and the potential of Roses return loom before Friday, when the Bulls play the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

I thought we had some spurts when we played good defense and especially too, when youre going on the road, youve got to be air-tight with your defense, so thats something that we have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Fortunately for us, we have a day of practice coming.

Bulls observations: How the Bulls' defense corralled Shaq and broke the Magic

Bulls observations: How the Bulls' defense corralled Shaq and broke the Magic

My word, the Magic are toast. The Bulls went up 3-0 in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals with a smothering 86-67 win in Orlando. Observations:

Some wonky free throw shooting

Considering the Bulls’ status as perhaps the greatest team of all time, and the Orlando Magic’s reputation as supremely talented and formidable in their own right, the putrid free throw shooting in this one was a bit difficult to wrap one’s head around.

The Bulls finished the night 18-for-31 from the charity stripe, the Magic 10-for-24 (though most of that can be chalked up to Shaquille O’Neal’s 1-for-9 outing). And on technical free throws, the two teams combined to go 0-for-5. 

 

At one point, Michael Jordan was captured on the Bulls’ bench attributing a missed technical to sweat in his eyes (come on, now). NBC color commentator Matt Goukas offered the arduous brand of defense played by both sides to their dead legs at the line.

Whatever the case, it was weird. Even Jordan wasn’t immune; he started the night 2-for-6 on free throws and finished 6-for-11. 

Corralling Shaq

The Bulls did an outrageous job on O’Neal tonight. In the first half, he logged just eight points on miserable 4-for-11 shooting. His line for the night: 17 points, 8-for-19 from the field and five turnovers.

The beauty is there isn’t one person to credit for the Bulls’ impressive handling of O’Neal — perhaps the single most physically imposing player in the league at the time. The rotating cast of bigs (Luc Longley and Dennis Rodman, specifically) were more than serviceable making him work in single coverage. And from a scheming perspective, the double-teams the Bulls did utilize were perfectly timed and deployed. They didn’t come every possession, and when they did, they didn’t always come from the same person, from the same direction or at the same time.

That was the beauty of this team: Virtually any player in the regular rotation — from Jordan to Pippen to Harper to Kukoc — could be trusted to time their attack deftly and bother O’Neal’s dribbling with active hands and physicality. The result was O’Neal frequently fumbling the rock while executing routine back-downs, bricking bunnies and generally appearing uncomfortable — at times, even frustrated.

When it was winning time, O’Neal and Penny Hardaway (who, it should be noted, has had some crazy smooth moments in this series) combined for five points. Greatest defense of all time. 

When the Bulls flip the switch…

In that vein… Man. When this Bulls team wants to break you, they break you.

The Magic hung around for a while in this one, and give them credit for that. In the third, they shaved a double-digit deficit to just three points, and appeared to be on pace to give the Bulls a real test in the first game of this series on Orlando’s home court. All amid pedestrian performances from their two stars — even through three, O’Neal and Hardaway had just 15 points each. 

Then, that fourth quarter happened. I mentioned O’Neal and Hardaway’s foibles in that period. As a team, the Magic mustered just 10 points in the final frame, 29 in the second half and 67 for the game. And even listing that 10-point fourth quarter belies the fact that five of those points came in the final two-and-a-half minutes of regulation, and they began the period shooting 1-for-13.

This Magic team had two of the most electrifying players in the league at the time and was fresh off a Finals berth. Yes, they were banged up (Horace Grant’s series ended in Game 1 and Nick Anderson limped off the floor in the fourth), but when the Bulls lock in, they just looked so helpless. Most teams did, I’m beginning to see.

This stat says it all:

 

The Magic entered the fourth trailing 63-57. They ended losers by a score of 86-67. 90s basketball, baby.

Some signature nights

Scottie Pippen’s night warrants extended mention and celebration. In the box score, he shot 11-for-14 (after starting 9-for-10) to lead the game in scoring with 27 points. He also — typically — added seven assists, six rebounds and two blocks for good measure.

One of those blocks came on a preposterous chasedown midway through the second quarter. Even more preposterous was Pippen, seemingly in one fluid motion, stripping the ball out of a Magic player’s arms as he descended from making the block in the first place. His jumper was on, his ballhandling and fastbreak work as fluid as ever. He’s awesome. 

And in addition to Rodman grinding down O’Neal, he had a signature night all-around, as well. He finished with nine points, 16 rebounds (moving his averages for the series to 12.3 points and 16.3 rebounds) and four fouls — one of them a technical in the first quarter and one a tone-setting personal on Shaq in the fourth.

These guys are beaten. The Bulls seal the sweep Monday at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Jordan left this one early and banged up, but we have a feeling he’ll bounce back nicely.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Scottie Pippen explains why second half of Bulls' title run was more special

Scottie Pippen explains why second half of Bulls' title run was more special

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series is going to get plenty of attention with the rest of the sports world on hold.

The series will focus on the Bulls’ final title season, 1997-98, and was recently moved up to debut on April 19.

Scottie Pippen talked about those title years for the Bulls in a recent episode of his ESPN show, “The Jump.” He explained what it was like knowing the 1997-98 season would be the team’s last run together.

“For me, it was really everything coming to a head for us,” Pippen said. “A great run through the 90s. Dennis [Rodman] had came and joined us the second half of that run, and that part was really the more special part because we were the best team in basketball for a long time, and no one knocked us off. Knowing that that was the end of our run and that we had to end it that way, we made it very special, and we wanted to end it with a championship.”

It’s noteworthy that Pippen says the second three-peat felt more special than the first. It would make sense for the team’s first title to be special because it was the breakthrough, but Pippen likes the fact that the Bulls were able to maintain their throne for so long and never lose a playoff series with a full strength team.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.