The Bulls haven’t lost two consecutive games in more than a year. It’s the longest streak in the NBA and it speaks volumes about how consistent the Bulls have been. But it appeared destined to end for much of the first half of ÂSaturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers before C.J. Watson Âbegan doing a Derrick Rose Âimpersonation.
With Rose sitting out his third game in a row with a groin injury, Watson attacked the rim in the third quarter when his teammates were settling for jumpers. It reversed the momentum and helped the Bulls recover from a horrific start to beat the 76ers 89-80 at the United Center and extend their franchise-record streak of not losing consecutive games to 79.
“C.J. is smart,” Luol Deng said. “He knows when to drive and get contact. He’s good at getting fouled. He did that at the beginning of the third quarter and started getting us easy baskets.”
“We have to be ready.” How many times has coach Tom Thibodeau said that this season? His team wasn’t ready in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night and ended that game by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter. They were just as comatose while scoring 11 points in the first quarter against the Sixers. They missed their first eight shots and had three turnovers in the opening six minutes.
The Bulls began to reel in the Sixers in the second quarter and trimmed a 14-point lead to six at the break. But it wasn’t until Watson took over in the third that they began to pull away.
When Rose is out, the Bulls need a player to assume the scoring burden. Deng, playing with a torn ligament in his wrist, doesn’t appear capable, although he excels in numerous areas that help the team win.
In a thrilling victory against the Heat on Wednesday night, it was John Lucas III. Saturday night it was Watson, who is playing with a twisted ankle that limits his Âmobility.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” Watson said after scoring 20 points – and then admitting he wouldn’t be playing if Rose were healthy. “Even though I’m not as healthy as I want to be, I’m trying to pick it up where I can. Our offense is a point-guard offense. If the point guard isn’t aggressive, the offense doesn’t do anything. I’m trying to be aggressive and trying to take shots and find other people.”
Joakim Noah added 13 points and 11 rebounds. Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver had 11 each for a Bulls team that had 53 rebounds to Philly’s 39.
Jrue Holiday scored a game-high 30 for the Sixers, in part because the injured Watson was often guarding him.
“I just tried to stay in front of him and force him into the bigs and sometimes it worked,” Watson said.
There was relief in the locker room afterwards. If there’s one thing these Bulls don’t want, it’s for losing to become routine.
“It shows the character of this team,” Noah said of extending their streak of not losing consecutive games. “We take losing real hard. That’s a good thing. When you have a team that takes losing hard it makes you want to play with one another. That’s the beauty of this team. We don’t accept losing. We take losing hard and it gives us an edge the next night.”