Well, that was fun.
The Bulls came out of the gates absolutely on fire Saturday night, leading by 20 points after the first quarter and 27 at the half. Never a point of strength this season, Chicago went 13 of 20 from the 3 point line in the first half and played their usual suffocating defense. At that point, the celebration was on at the United Center as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and most of the '91 Bulls team received ovation after ovation from the sellout crowd during a fun halftime celebration of the franchise's first championship. The Bulls clicked into cruise control after that, much to the chagrin of coach Tom Thibodeau, and the Jazz made a prideful run in the 3rd quarter, but Chicago's lead was just too big and the Bulls finally pulled away again late.
Luol Deng was fantastic once again, leading the Bulls with 26 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds. If he keeps playing this well with painful thigh bruises, I may have to start showing up at the United Center with a hammer and bad intentions. Derrick was on fire in the first quarter, hitting 5 of 6 three pointers on his way to 17 points. He ended up with 26 points and 4 assists.
Both Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson had great shooting nights, going 3-3 and 4-5 from distance, respectively. With their contributions, the Bulls set a franchise record for 3-pointers made in the first half with 13, and in a game with 18. Save for a putrid stretch of defense in the 3rd quarter when the Bulls gave up 30 points, Chicago took care of business in front of the last generation's champions.
Hard to separate the game from the halftime ceremony, which was really fun and seemed like the evening's main attraction. A bit strange having Reinsdorf's son be the one to give out commemorative plaques, and the 50% attendance rate made it feel a bit like a high school reunion, but Michael and Scottie added a touch of class once they took the mic. Jordan's speech was especially well-delivered, as he made sure to mention Johnny "Red" Kerr, and even if he was pandering to the crowd, hearing MJ say that this Bulls team is on its way to six championships of its own gave me chills.
After the ceremony, Jordan showed how much the Chicago crowd meant to him. "I wish we could turn the clock back, Jordan said. "That’s how I feel. … I miss it."
And while Chicago may never love another player the way they love Jordan, if it is going to be anybody it will be south side native Derrick Rose. With the win, Rose has helped lead the Bulls to a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with only 17 games to play, the first time the franchise has been there since MJ and Scottie charged up and down the United Center hardwood.