When you design a schedule that calls for a team to play five games in six nights and nine in 12 you should expect what a sold-out United Center crowd received on Saturday night.
The league likes to call its product fantastic. On this night, however, it was just fatigued.
Give the Bulls credit for snapping out of it with the game on the line. Give coach Tom Thibodeau credit for getting his team to give him everything it had even when it had little to give, because the the Bulls came alive to start the fourth quarter and scored seven straight points while pulling away for a 77-64 victory.
These Bulls proved they can win in their sleep.
"We're not concerned with aesthetics," coach Tom Thibodeau growled. "We just want the wins."
The Bench Mob has been one of the primary reasons why the Bulls entered the game with the league's top record. The Bulls led by 10 early but Toronto kept whittling the advantage down before knotting the score at 37 at the break. The Raptors' bench outscored the Bulls reserves 25-4 during a lackluster first half that sucked the life from the crowd.
It was that same Bulls bench that proved critical in the Bulls earning their 12th win in 14 games and their fifth straight as John Lucas III and Taj Gibson provided much needed energy in the fourth.
"Taj and Luke work hard every day," Derrick Rose said. "We're not surprised. Everybody else is but the team knows what they do every day."
Rose penetrated and dished to Taj for a dunk to put the Bulls up by nine. Gibson got the defensive rebound and then on the Bulls' next possession Rose found Gibson again for lay-in as the shot-clock buzzer sounded. Gibson would add another dunk while scoring nine points to go along with five rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal in the fourth quarter.
Gibson credited Thibodeau for pushing the right buttons after his rough start. When Thibs said, "Taj, you're better than that," Gibson took it to heart.
"Thibs really turned into the mean guy that not a lot of people know about," Gibson said. "He told us to go after it. We're better than that. Guys really stepped up late."
"Thibs always tries to get the best out of us although he has never run up and down that floor," Joakim Noah said teasingly. When told Thibodeau played Division III basketball, Noah said: "Exactly." When asked if Thibodeau was harsher than normal, Noah said, grinning: "Thibs is always the same. He doesn't change. He's pretty consistent."
At their best, the Bulls are a team that attacks the rim offensively. At their worst, they settle for jumpers, which was the case during the first three quarters against the Raptors. Even when those jumpers weren't falling, the Bulls kept firing. They were 1 of 9 from three-point land before Rose buried one to put his team up by five late in the third.
Rose led the Bulls with 18 points and 11 assists while Carlos Boozer added 17 points and 13 rebounds and Loul Deng 14 points. Noah had four points and 12 rebounds. DeMar DeRozan and Leandro Barbosa had 15 apiece for Toronto.
Playing in the backcourt with Rose for the first time all season, Lucas III scored 10 points, including two three-pointers, in the fourth.
"That's the one thing about our team, you never know who is going to provide the spark," Gibson said. "There's always somebody off our bench that comes in and plays lights out. Who knows who's going to step up next game?"