ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — On Tuesday earlier this week, I took a flight from New York City to Los Angeles. When we all gathered at the gate to get on the plane, we had to wait a while for the plane to arrive from its earlier flight. Once the plane arrived and we all boarded and got settled, the pilot came on and told us we would be delayed because they were having problems refueling the plane. Once they finally solved that problem, the pilot came back and told us that we’d have to wait to take off because we were deep in the line of planes waiting for clearance. And then we got switched to a different runway and had to go wait in that line. (Note to any pilots out there: If you begin an announcement to the people on your plane by saying, “When it’s going wrong, everything goes wrong,” before the plane is even in the air, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Just saying.)
On Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers won at Utah, and then had a late-night flight scheduled to San Antonio, where they play on Saturday. And that’s where the drama began, as Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal broke it all down.
First, bad weather forced their plane to land in Houston instead of San Antonio. So they decided to take a bus to San Antonio.
Unfortunately Mr. Rose is currently out of the lineup for Chicago, having missed the past six games with a hamstring strain. So when the game came down to the final possession against the Raptors tonight, it brought up a quasi-philosophical question: if the Bulls need a game-winner and Rose isn’t around to take the shot, does it make a sound? (Or something like that).
Looks like we have our answer.
For those that are new around these parts, the Horry scale examines a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time), importance (playoff game or garden-variety Clippers-Nets game), and celebration, and give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys.
The Bulls may not have Rose, but they still have one more All-Star, and that is Luol Deng. Let’s see how his understudy did:
The time element was the only thing difficult about this shot. Deng set a pick for C.J. Watson at the top of the key, then immediately dove to the basket to put himself in position for exactly what was to come — a potential tip-in situation. I would give Deng credit for a nice box-out to get his hold in the lane, but the Raptors really made it easy on him. To be fair, there is always a lot of chaos in a final-shot scenario like this, it’s easy to lose your man. But Deng faces no opposition at the basket once he gets in the air, and the ensuing tip-in after Watson’s shot comes up short is a piece of cake.
The Raptors led 101-100 after James Johnson hit 1-2 free throws with 15.2 seconds left in overtime, then failed to extend that lead when Gary Forbes missed a pair with 6.4 on the clock. The Bulls then inbounded the ball at midcourt with 6.0 seconds left — plenty of time to get a shot off, but with no room for error since they were trailing.
Here is what I wrote after Rose’s GWBB back on March 7:
The Bulls fell to the Heat in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, and the two teams appear on a crash course to go at it again this May. With the way Miami has improved, home-court advantage could certainly play a big role in that series, and as such, every win for Chicago will matter from here until the end of the regular season.
Since that win over the Bucks, the Bulls have gone 6-2, but have gained only one game on the Heat in the standings. The sentiment still stands.
If I had to make a list of every player in the NBA, then rank them most to least expressive, I’d probably put Deng somewhere next to Tim Duncan down near the very bottom*. So you know Deng has to be pumped to react the way he does after the ball drops — immediately pointing to the stands to celebrate with the fans. Of course by the time the camera pans in on his face the emotion is gone, but we’ll take what we can get from Lu. Bonus points for John Lucas nearly spinning like a top on Deng’s head, plus the shot of Rose watching it all unfold from the bench. By the way, someone tweeted after the game that in the Bulls’ last 82 games covering this season and last, their record is 68-14. Going to be an interesting postseason in the East, no doubt about it.
* Who would be at the top, you ask? That’s easy — Ronny Turiaf.
3 Horrys. Last-second tip-ins are always a fun sub-genre of the Horry Scale. I’m tempted to debit a half-Horry for the way the Raptors gave this one away, but I won’t. The stakes are always a little higher when you trail at the end, and Deng deserves a lot of credit for making a very difficult situation look relatively easy. Good on the Bulls for doing it all without Rose as well. And the cherry on top? The win made the Bulls the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season.
What do you think?
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As everyone knows by now, the compressed NBA schedule will force every team to play three games in three nights at least one this season (42 times in total). With only 66 games to stake a claim to a playoff spot or seed, how teams perform during these killer slates could have a large impact on how their seasons turn out.
With that in mind, we’re going to keep track of each of the 42 three-plays to see which teams take advantage and which teams fall apart. Up next, the Chicago Bulls, who played three straight from Jan 9-11.
Well, that was impressive. Oklahoma City set the bar high with their clean sweep of three in a row earlier this week, but the Bulls came along and took it a notch higher, earning the maximum possible points that the schedule would allow.
Game 1: Bulls 92, Pistons 68 - About what you’d expect when one of the best defenses in the league meets up with statistically the worst offense. Every team has an off night now and again, but the Pistons barely put anyone in double-figures, yeesh. 2 points (1 for win, 1 for +10 margin)
Game 2: Bulls 111, Timberwolves 100 - Chicago got out to a big early lead, then held on for dear life in Minnesota for the win. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Derrick Rose, better known as the Bulls’ entire offense, sustained a turf-toe injury (on hardwood???) that could prove meddlesome. Not tonight, but maybe later. 5 points (3 for win, 1 for road, 1 for +10 margin)
Game 3: Bulls 78, Wizards 64 - With Rose out because of the aforementioned toe injury (and backup C.J. Watson still hurting as well), the onus fell on journeyman John Lucas to come to the Bulls’ rescue. Fortunately they were playing the Wizards, and I’m pretty sure Bennie the Bull could have taken over the reigns and led the team to a win. Still, 25-8-8 for Lucas is impressive stuff. 6 points (5 for win, 1 for +10 margin)
Was this the most impressive performance by a team so far? The stats say yes — three double-digit wins in three nights. However, given that the combined record of the three opponents currently stands at 6-24, I suppose we’d be disappointed if Chicago did anything less. Still, the Bulls can do nothing but play the opponents put in front of them, and you gotta tip your cap to the new leaders, who notched 13 total points. The only way they can be topped from here on out is if a team plays two road games and wins all three by double figures, so, yeah, good luck beating Chicago.
Up next: The Philadelphia 76ers also played three straight Jan. 9-11.