The importance of yesterday's game was well known.
On the line? Sole possession of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference with just two games to go.
One team showed up, one team did not.
Full credit to the Chicago Bulls.
They played an excellent game and should be commended for getting a big road win, 104-88.
The Bulls had a game plan and ran it virtually to perfection, in particular on the defensive end. Chicago played swarming defense and made things very tough on the Raptors who only managed 40 points in the second half of the game and 88 overall - far below the team's season average.
Even more impressive was the Bulls ability to create easy offense off of their defense, constantly leaking guys down the court and beating the Raps to the other end.
The Raps game plan?
'Flawed' would be the best answer.
The Raptors struggled offensively all night and were (surprise!) brutal on the defensive end once again. I mean other than a few glimpses, this was a failure of a game. The team did not come out to play and will now likely pay for this performance and not make the playoffs. This game told me what I have known all season long - this team is not very good. I mean the HQ loves Sonny Weems but should he really be the team's high point getter (tied) in a game of this magnitude?
As mentioned in the preview the team that had their big-name players step up was going to be the team to get the W. Well, the Rose/Noah combination outplayed the Turkoglu/Bargnani duo.
I don't want to over-look the fact that Turkoglu still managed a very strong game, in particular on the glass, despite shooting 2-12 from the field, but at the end of the day the big money guys for the Bulls were simply better than the big money guys for the Raps.
Joakim Noah was just unbelievable to watch last night. He is an Energizer Bunny on the court in that he just never stops. He plays with an incredible amount of bounce but what is more impressive is that he plays under control. Noah was a mere three assists shy of a triple double. He did an excellent job on the glass, was effective from the field (despite the ugly looking shot) and was constantly hitting the floor and mixing it up. Considering how he plays it is downright astonishing that he only committed two fouls.
The other catalyst for the Bulls - Derrick Rose. Mr. Rose seems to be a man of his words and he helped to carry the Bulls to the win, in particular in the second half. Despite being guarded by Sonny Weems for a good chunk of the game Rose managed to carve up the Raptors defense on his way to 26 points.
Oh the Raptors defense. The Dinos have been an utter failure defensively this season and it seems fitting that it was another weak defensive performance that could be the final nail in this season's coffin.
The obvious question is why has this team been so bad defensively? Is it the players? The system? Wasn't Iavaroni brought it to improve the Raps D?
The other big reason the Raps lost this game was bench play. Save for Jarrett Jack the Raptors bench was absolutely non-existent.
The Raptors laid an egg at possibly the worst possible moment. Meanwhile the Bulls, on this night at least, look like a team truly gearing up for the playoffs. All is not lost but given the situation you have to like Chicago's chances right now. Oh and did I mention that Chicago might be one of the teams courting CB4 this summer? If they do manage to secure the 8th spot without Bosh you know they will be selling the "imagine what we could do with you" angle when free-agency opens.
We reached out to Matt at Blog-a-Bull to discuss this and a number of other points surrounding the situation in Chicago the past few days and thought we would share some perspective on the playoff/free-agency situation from the Chicago side of things.
RHQ: Looking at both the short and long term, in your opinion, is it more advantageous for the Bulls to make the playoffs this year, miss them, or no difference?
B-a-B: "Fundamentally, it's probably no difference. The one advantage to missing the playoffs would be the extreme unlikelihood that they would win the draft lottery and finish top-3, and while a Bulls fan would be the first to tell you such luck is still possible, the chances are negligibly small. As part of the John Salmons deal to Milwaukee, the Bucks can choose to swap picks with the Bulls, so drafting in the early teens (it's top-10 protected, so the lottery would be the only way to keep the pick) doesn't help the Bulls either.
And so it's not as much about 'why' the Bulls should make the playoffs as it is 'why not'. The series last year against the Celtics was ultimately meaningless, but it was fun to watch, and there is something to be said for the players who will be here a while (Rose and Noah, pretty much) to not only get playoff experience but learn how far they are away when going against a juggernaut like the Cavs. And in terms of 2010 free agency courtship, being a playoff team is a bit arbitrary given how they got into the playoffs, but it'd be yet another thing the Bulls can sell about themselves to players...like Chris Bosh."
RHQ: For the Bulls, it would seem that Bosh would be a perfect fit for them at the 4. But would you agree or do you think they'd prefer Amare? Or perhaps another free agent (outside of Wade and LeBron of course) even more?
B-a-B: "The Bulls may have specific weaknesses, but it can all be grouped into one big weakness: a lack of top-level talent. They need someone on par or superior to Derrick Rose if they're going to be serious about contention, and I'd hope that throwing away an entire season would be with this high-reaching goal in mind.
So it's really not about fit, just talent. That means LeBron first, then Wade, then Bosh. I'd assume they'll have enough feelers out there to see if the top of the FA class has no chance of choosing Chicago, so if that's the case I'm fine with making Bosh the #1 priority.
And frankly beyond him it's not that thrilling. Though I'd still take Amare Stoudemire or Joe Johnson*, neither seems worth the cost of the '2010 plan', as each have their own drawbacks to the point where it's unlikely either would be that second star to grow with Rose. But they'd certainly be a better team.*(I would not be surprised if the Bulls make Joe Johnson their top priority, by the way. Which is a bit depressing since his career track has Michael Finley written all over it.)
Bosh is younger, more durable, and a better defender than the other PFs out there like Amare, Carlos Boozer, or David Lee. He's also simply the better player, and as good as he is now I'd love to see him on a team with Rose, Noah and Deng, arguably a better start of a supporting cast than he's had in his entire career.
I still think Bosh's most likely destination (if he indeed leaves) is Miami to pair up with Dwyane Wade. However, there were rumors several weeks ago that Bosh did not want to be a second-fiddle to another start player, and while he may be perceived as that in Miami, he wouldn't in Chicago (though Rose is the hometown favorite, Bosh is currently better)."
If I was Chris Bosh and I watched last night's game I would rather be playing for the Bulls then for the Raps, that's for sure.
Unless Toronto can get some help it looks like the HQ will soon be converting into full draft mode in the near future and the countdown to Bosh's free-agency will begin.
It is possible that the Raptors do manage to make the playoffs, but again we ask you - do you even want them to at this point knowing the benefit of doing so is facing the Cavs and the cost is a first round pick?
Given the way this team is constructed and how it has played all season, I would rather start thinking about how things can be fixed than discussing how the Raps can avoid being swept in the first round.
I hate to say it, but based on this, I'm foregoing tonight's three keys as I'd rather this team loses to Detroit; thereby hopefully driving that proverbial final nail into what has been an extremely disappointing season.