A good comparison for the Bulls' improbable 88-87 victory over the Lakers would be "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," the TV version.
The Bulls pushed to a 56-49 lead by halftime unday in Los Angeles and all was well in Whoville. But most of the second half was cuddly as a cactus and charming as an eel.
After the visitors missed 6 shots on a single possession, the Bulls were shooting 14.6 percent from the field in the second half and made 1 of 18 shots in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant's layup on the next possession sent the Lakers ahead 82-71 with 3:44 remaining.
That's when the Grinch's heart somehow grew 10 sizes. Derrick Rose hit the game-winning, one-handed runner over Pau Gasol with 4.8 seconds left, but Luol Deng truly sparked the comeback.
During the game-ending 17-5 run, Deng scored 9 points. He jumped in front of Gasol to make a critical steal with the Bulls trailing by 1 and less than 20 seconds remaining. Then on the final play, Deng managed to block Bryant's driving 6-footer as time expired.
We're used to watching Bryant (28 points) pull up for jumpers in late-game situation. But this time he decided to drive the right side of the lane and the Bulls were waiting for him. If Deng didn't block the final shot, Joakim Noah might have.
"I really trust our defense and I trust our bigs," Deng told reporters after the game. "I wanted to crowd him so he didn't have a jump shot. I knew if he drove, our bigs were going to be there. That's exactly what happened."
Rose's game-winner was a shot he takes and makes often, but hitting this one with his team trailing and about five seconds on the clock should help his confidence as a crunchtime shooter.
"It was really a floater, that's just something I'm used to doing if I'm going to my right hand," Rose said. "They let me get to my right hand and that's how it got up."
The Bulls definitely got lucky. Gasol and Josh McRoberts combined to miss 4 free throws with the clock below two minutes and Deng might have gotten away with a walk between the clutch steal and Rose's late basket.
"We couldn't finish it," Gasol said. "We worked so hard to be ahead and at the end, a turnover here, and a couple missed shots here and there. Those hurt. They made us pay."
Rose led the Bulls with 22 points and hit 9-of-13 shots. An obvious criticism is he wasn't selfish enough and should have taken more shots.
But it's tough to fault Rose for trying to take what the defense gives. Everyone expected him to have more room to operate with a higher-scoring shooting guard on the floor in Richard Hamilton. But Hamilton (6 points) stayed quiet after picking up 2 early fouls and Rose continued to see double-teams most every time he touched the ball.
For most of the second half, the Bulls made poor decisions, settled for long jumpers and didn't show much hustle on the offensive boards. Even with that one late flurry, the Bulls were outrebounded 42-41 by a team that was missing starting center Andrew Bynum due to suspension.
Boozer got going in the second quarter, then barely touched the ball in the second half. The Bulls' reserves dominated in the first half, then lost the lead after halftime.
"We definitely don't want to be in a situation like that, but we fought our way back," Rose said. "We just played harder. We stepped up our intensity on the defensive end. Throughout the whole game, our defense wasn't there. I mean, we showed spots of it, but we didn't keep it consistent."
For the most part, this wasn't a very promising performance by the Bulls. But it's always nice to get a win and a wake-up call in the same game.