The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
Triple overtime wins, like the Bulls’ 128-125 over the Orlando Magic Wednesday, can be ugly as well.
Even when Joakim Noah has season highs of 26 points and 19 rebounds and when rookie Tony Snell is dunking flying in from the free throw line like Vince Carter and leading the team in scoring in the clinching overtime and when Mike Dunleavy is sending the game to a second overtime with a three and Jimmy Butler plays a franchise record 60 minutes and there are 20 lead changes and 14 ties.
This one was fun and memorable and exciting and so out of character that even Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his team was “funky most of the night.”
This was a game in which the Bulls trailed by 15 points late in the third quarter, a game in which the Magic led by rookie Victor Oladipo with a career high 35 points and playing without leading scorer Arron Afflalo and leading rebounder Nik Vucevic shot 51 percent. And coming in on an eight-game losing streak by an average of 17 points per game.
It was a game in which the Bulls with a last possession in regulation with the game tied tried to win it on a Butler drive. The last shot? He was stripped for a turnover to send the game into overtime.
It was in the first overtime despite four turnovers and trailing by three, Dunleavy curled over a bruising Noah screen to pull up for a three to tie the game with 13.4 seconds left. Noah then was able to force Jameer Nelson, who had 31 points and 10 assists, to shot fake long enough after taking him on a switch that the shot clock went off a fraction before what would have been Nelson’s winner.
Then in the second overtime and leading by three with 14.8 seconds left, the Bulls had Noah shooting a jumper, which he air balled. Noah shooting a winner? Glen Davis, of all players, then made a three pointer to tie the game. Noah, speaking of all players, then drove down the left side in an attempt to win the game. Again? But the Magic with a foul to give fouled him and Dunleavy missed a three at the buzzer.
It did appear both teams were picking plays out of a hat sent in by fans.
Ugly doesn’t have to be 82-78.
But finally in the third overtime with Snell, again of all players and playing all but three seconds of the three overtimes after only playing occasionally all season, opened the session with a three for a 122-119 lead. The Bulls fell behind on six straight Magic points. But Noah scored rolling to the basket on a pass from D.J. Augustin, who had 19 points, nine assists and zero turnovers and also played almost the entire three overtimes. The Bulls forced Oladipo into a miss on more Noah pressure. And then with the shot clock about to expire in a typical Bulls hot potato possession, the Bulls threw the ball to Snell. To bail them out?
And the kid did, waiting for a defender fly by and stepping coolly to his left and making a 17 footer for the last of his 15 points with 48.6 seconds left.
Noah then blocked an Oladipo try, Augustin missed, and with one more try the Magic again curiously went to Davis. He airballed a three when Nelson appeared to have a lane for a winning drive and passed back to Davis to shoot a three.
It must have been the humidity.
The Magic then fouled Butler with four tenths of a second left and the Bulls ahead 126-125. Just missing the second free throw would end the game as at least three tenths would come off, no time to shoot. But Butler, likely dizzy from the exertion, made both. It gave the Magic one last chance and Noah barely avoided a foul on the three point try.
That was simple, right?
“Just found a way,” said Noah. “That’s what it’s all about. We didn’t play great basketball tonight, but we found a way. We came back from the dead. A lot of people stepped up. The rook. Got to give him some love. The space jam dunk (to open the second overtime); that was big. Big jumpers.
“All you have at the end of your career is you have your memories,” Noah, the Bulls plowhorse and poet laureate, went on. “I think those are things, memories are the things you cannot take for granted. Playing in these types of games you come back from the dead, you’ll remember these games.
“There’s nothing better than the feeling of getting on the bus, that feeling when you win,” said Noah. “Even the guys who say I don’t care, they are driving home right now pissed off. There is no better feeling than winning a basketball game. This is the healthiest I’ve felt in a long time. I’m just enjoying playing basketball.”
That really is the true meaning of playing them one at a time, the significance of the principal sports cliché that applies best to the Bulls and this season.