It was just seconds left in a Night of the Remarkable Turnaround as the Bulls went from 19 down in the first quarter to lead by 17 and eventually coast home to a 98-91 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Luol Deng, who did a clever job making Dirk Nowitzki look old by running out on him for 20 points and nine rebounds, was settling into the left corner near the baseline as Derrick Rose dribbled out the clock. At the final buzzer, Deng couldn't contain himself, leaning into the crowd that had been angrily booing the Bulls in that first quarter and to a few fans who were taunting Deng about his contract and the team.
"You need to stop drinking!" Deng volleyed.
Yes, in your face! Dallas Mavericks, too.
It was that kind of night when the Bulls, after some recently meek performances, especially here Tuesday against Atlanta, decided to stop being the victim and respond.
"I think we just started attacking," said Ben Gordon, who had a game high 35 points and 10 trips to the free throw line. "They were attacking us with their transition game. They put us on our heels early. We kind of looked like we took it personal and we started attacking them. We started getting back on defense and that helped."
Oh yeah, that.
"It's on our home court. We were down 24-5 or whatever," noted Gordon. " We heard the fans starting to boo us. I think everyone took it a little personal."
It was a terrific Bulls effort, especially after that stunningly poor start, against what had been a very good team. The Mavericks had generally laughed their way through here, winning eight of the last nine. But this is an aging, declining Mavericks team that is 2-6 and hardly looking like a playoff contender anymore. Recently one of the elite of the West, the Mavs are among a declining Western Conference as the Bulls, 4-5, are now 3-0 against the Western teams.
Nowitzki had 12 points on five of 17 shooting. And if not for 16 points and 18 rebounds from Erick Dampier, it would have been really awful for Dallas.
"It's hard to say we're fighting," said Jason Kidd, who was schooled by Derrick Rose as Kidd had five turnovers and Rose none while Rose finished strong for 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists after a poor shooting start.
Still, the Mavs looked like they'd apply a knockout punch early and shockingly with Nowitzki hitting a quick pair of jumpers. That sent starter Joakim Noah to the bench for the rest of the game after four minutes and had the Bulls defenders, a generous term, more spectators as they collapsed and the Mavs pulled up for wide open jumpers.
Though the Bulls still trailed by 10 after the first quarter, they effectively got back into the game quickly in the first quarter, getting the deficit down to four at one point behind the Best of Ben Gordon.
We saw the Worst of Ben Gordon Tuesday with a bunch of head down drives that led to runouts for the Hawks with no one getting back to help.
That was Bad Ben.
Thursday was Good Ben.
It's what you have to accept with Gordon, who scored a dozen in the first quarter after the Mavs big start with a wide assortment that included a three, a floater, a shake and bake on Kidd a layup and a 20 footer.
"Ben had one of those nights he can have," said coach Vinny Del Negro. "Ben was hot, so I kept calling his number. When you need points, Ben can give you that. He made shots and got us back in there. And the defense kind of picked up."
Well, that was sort of the way it went.
Question: Ben, what was your mindset?
Gordon: "Shoot every time. I got fouled a few times, but didn't get the call. I didn't let that stop me from being aggressive. I continued to go to the basket and the second half I started to get some calls."
Question: Ben, the coach said he was calling your number.
Gordon: "I didn't even know if he was calling my number, actually. I was just going, anyway. I wanted to be aggressive and get something going. We had to do something to get the team going. We were down 25. I figured if we were going to lose this way, I might as well go out shooting all my bullets."
You've got to give the guy credit. He tells it like it is.
Meanwhile, Deng was good on run outs.
"We went back at them in transition," said Del Negro. "I thought Luol did a fabulous job defensively and creating some offensive plays in the open court and continually staying aggressive."
And, yes, Tyrus Thomas, that big heart breaker, though with a modest eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks, was the game changer he can be in a heartening effort.
Yes, at times he strayed outside for that mostly erring jumper that turns everyone into statues watching the spectacle.
"If he gets tip dunks, catches alley oops, rebounds, that gets him going instead of staying on the perimeter and starting off the games hooting so many jump shots," noticed Gordon. "He' s a young player trying to find his way now and he has to get himself going by doing some of the dirty work and as he gets comfortable then stepping out and shooting outside shots."
And this time Thomas was the guy everyone wants him to be, chasing down loose balls, keeping shots in play for second shots, defending the basket and changing shots.
"I've just been out of it," Thomas conceded. "Since the first game, I really haven't done much. I think I came out today and kind of looked like myself a little bit. Like I played in preseason. I thought I had a great preseason and I haven't played like that since the first game. I tried to come out tonight and focus and win and we won."
Though the Bulls picked up Lindsey Hunter earlier, he didn't play and Rose, who said his back was feeling better with a win, played almost 42 minutes. That will have to change, but players like that are life preservers for coaches, and a young coach like Del Negro has trouble taking them out of the game. Larry Hughes returned for his first action of the season and had five points and Drew Gooden came back from his ankle sprain, still hobbled a bit, and had eight points and eight rebounds.
Gooden sits in the locker room between Rose, who usually dresses quickly and speaks to reporters and Gordon, who generally dresses last, though he's always accommodating to the media. Gooden generally works on his facial hair, Johnny as he's named his chin hair, while Rose and Gordon talk and likes to offer an occasional comment, though the playful Gooden also picks up the irony and humor in the sometime player clichés.
Rose, though naturally quiet, has been growing a bit more outgoing in his comments and is beginning to joke with reporters at times, though he usually hews to basketball speak.
"I wasn't worried at all in the beginning," said Rose, who has the eternal optimism of youth. "It was only the first quarter. An NBA game is long. I knew we were going to come back. I was just worried about chipping away at the lead. I knew in the second half we'd shooting the ball better and I was going to be making shots (after a one of eight first half). We just needed to stay closer. With our offense," said Rose, "just beat your man and if a big man steps up, shoot."
Gooden then began to giggle and Gordon dressing slowly also laughed.
"Shoot your jumper, beat your man," said Gooden.
"Yeah, beat your man, shoot," said Gordon.
Yes, it is a relatively simple Bulls offense thus far. Drive the ball, try to create contact (the Bulls got 33 foul shots Thursday), get to the basket or pull up. Yeah, there are some post ups thrown in and you try to run when you can, and the Bulls did get 18 fast break points. Hey, it's not like anyone wants to throw it to Noah or Thomas inside.
But it is an offense of youth and legs. The Bulls had the younger legs against the Mavs, and it made all the difference this time.
It was a night to puff out your chest some and have a celebratory drink. Take that.
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.