Bulls barely, and we mean barely edge Magic without Dwight Howard

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Bulls 102 Magic 99.

This was a fantastic ballgame that will be overshadowed by narratives about the MVP. The questions will be about how the Magic nearly beat the Bulls with Dwight Howard spending a one-game suspension for hitting 18 techs, and what that says about Howard’s MVP candidacy. The other side will respond with how another brilliant game from Rose nearly resulted in a loss due the defense, which many say is the real MVP of the Bulls, and what that says about his MVP candidacy. In reality, both of those questions are stupid. It was a great game for Rose, an example of why he’s probably winning MVP, and shows that the Magic have some teeth left in them.

Perhaps most notable in the game was how the Bulls were undone by an effective defense and how the Magic’s ability to create ball movement inside led to cuts. The Bulls’ normally tenacious defense was pretty meek today, allowing cuts inside and Ryan Anderson to be active at the rim. On the flipside, the Magic played solid defense in terms of bringing doubles in the post. This gave Bulls fans a full look at what they’re getting from Carlos Boozer in the playoffs. Boozer was terrific in the first quarter, using a nice array of moves to create points in the post. In the fourth, he was mostly a disaster, including a terrible pass out of a soft double that led to a transition bucket from Jason Richardson.

But all the doubles the Magic brought? None of them were committed to keeping the ball out of Rose’s hands on the perimeter. Time and time again Rose caught a kickout pass with a defender trying to recover, ball faked and went right around the defender. The result was a blistering 39 points, 5 assists performance. Though Rose did have five turnovers to those five assists, he also scored those 39 points on just 17 shots. Crazy efficiency. And that was the difference in the game. Well, that and about .000001 seconds.

Jameer Nelson had a shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. He caught and had to pump fake to free himself from Rose. He rose, and fired from 38 feet, making it. The ball left his hand just a tenth of a second late. Waived off, Bulls win.

A great game that showcased that if these two meet in the second round, this could be tougher than most people are counting on.

Provided that Gilbert Arenas doesn’t get minutes. Yeesh.

Some notes:

  • Chris Duhon actually played really well in limited minutes to keep the Magic in it late. Then Gilbert Arenas came in and, well, yeah.
  • Joakim Noah played terribly in the first quarter and was benched for most of the game. Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau each took turns screaming at Noah early. Strange.
  • Taj Gibson hit a three loooong two. Actually happened.
  • The Magic still needed that player everyone says they need, who can create perimeter penetration to open up lanes. Turkoglu did some, but wasn’t fast enough and the drives wound up bogging down.