CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau and his players have been consistent in their message all season: No one game means more than any other.
While Thibodeau may continue to hold to that motto, it's clear after watching and listening to his players following their impressive 99-90 win over the Orlando Magic, that they are starting to waver. They know this game meant a little something more. They know that Dwight Howard and the Magic have crushed them so many times over the past two years that they were starting to wonder whether or not they could actually knock them off. Most of all, they know that knocking off the Magic while playing without Joakim Noah and relying on a seriously pained Derrick Rose, gives them the type of confidence boost they need as we inch closer towards the All-Star break.
"It was great," Rose said. "That was one of the reasons I played. I know I'm sick, but at least I wanted to give my all out there. I'll probably pass out or something, but I was going to play in this game. It's a very important win. They smacked us both times we played them this year. For us to come out and play the way we played should build up our confidence."
For Rose to be able to play the way he did despite dealing with two stomach ulcers is only going to reinforce that confidence -- especially if these two teams face each other once again in May during the playoffs.
The sense of accomplishment that washed over Rose and the Bulls' in their locker room on Friday night was stronger than it had been all year.
"A big win," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "A big win. [The Magic are] one of the teams in the Eastern Conference that everyone kind of looks up to. And they beat us up pretty good last time we played them. We did a good job tonight."
The Bulls had success by going back to their basics. Rose, despite all the pain had 22 points and 12 rebounds. Deng had 26 points and eight rebounds. Carlos Boozer had 16 points and 16 rebounds. Heck, even Keith Bogans chipped in eight points. But the biggest difference for the Bulls on this night was that they played with the type of aggression that has eluded in previously matchups against Howard and company. Their defense was on point (again), despite the fact that Howard went off for 40 points. Their rebounding was constant. To put it in perspective, the Bulls, with Noah were outrebounded 44-21 in a Dec. 1 29 point loss to the Magic. On Friday night, the Bulls outrebounded the Magic 54-40.
"We just crashed," Boozer said, explaining the major difference on the boards. "We had attention to detail. We had all five guys focused on rebounding. Guards were getting in there, obviously the bigs were getting in there. And we just went to go snatch them with two hands. It was something that was lacking the first time we played this team. They kicked our butts on the glass and we focused on rebounding this game."
The other big difference was that the Bulls clogged up the 3-point line and didn't allow anyone not named Dwight Howard to beat them. The Magic were just 5-for-21 from beyond the arc.
"Making it tough for them," Rose noted. "Usually when they play us they hit over 10 3s or something like that. We were contesting all their shots, running them off the line, and making them play an inside game."
The Bulls found out something the rest of the league is already starting to understand about the new-look Magic. Howard can only do so much. Sure, the Bulls caught a break when Jameer Nelson left the game in the second half because of a thigh bruise, but if no one else on the Magic can step up, they aren't going to be able to beat the elite teams in the league. And make no mistake, the Bulls are becoming one of those teams as each day rolls along.
Rose is just happy his team finally found the right formula to knock off the Magic, although he admitted that it didn't exactly turn out the way he envisioned with Howard.
"If we could, we would have shut him down too," Rose said with a laugh. "But we just made a conscious effort to get out to their shooters, making sure that we run them off the line. All the shots that they shot, I think the 3-pointers were contested, we let some go uncontested, but the majority of them somebody had their hand in somebody's face."
And because they did, the Bulls earned what is arguably their biggest win of the season given all the circumstances.