This one was looking a bit like Mission Impossible.
The Bulls were playing their third game in four nights on the road Thursday night without three of their top four scorers—Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich all were out injured. The Golden State Warriors were coming off five days of rest and reintroducing one-time Warriors rookie of the year Chris Webber to their lineup.
It was a mission the Bulls reluctantly accepted and one might have thought they certainly would self-destruct in five seconds.
"Are you trying to scare me," Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan laughed when the circumstances were noted before the game.
But the Bulls roared off to a fast start, survived an 18-4 Warriors' run early in the third, regained the lead and held on for a 114-108 victory.
Chris Duhon was a surprising hero with a career-high 34 points, easily surpassing his previous mark of 26. He made 11 of 16 shots with nine assists. He was assisted ably by Joe Smith, who scored 27 points in 37 minutes, going 13 of 14 from the free-throw line in 43 minutes.
"I took open shots, got my rhythm, and they continued to keep falling," Duhon said. "Being the only guard tonight, it gives you extra confidence knowing that you could be a little bit more aggressive. Even if you miss a few shots and make a couple of mistakes, Coach is going to continue to keep playing you, so you just play a little bit more loose and don't play mind games with yourself."
Monta Ellis led the Warriors with 25 points, shooting an astounding 11 of 12. Baron Davis added 22 and Al Harrington 20 off the bench.
Talk about your great guard matchups in the NBA.
There was Steve Nash and Chris Paul the other night in Phoenix. There's always Paul and Deron Williams. There's Kobe Bryant against Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, Allen Iverson against Davis and, of course, Davis vs. Duhon.
And you know Davis stands little chance in that one. Huh?
At least that's the way it was Thursday night as Duhon, coming off 45 minutes played in Portland on Wednesday night, blitzed the Warriors and Davis with 15 points in the first quarter on 6-of-7 shooting and four assists as the Bulls took an 11-point lead before ending the quarter with a 32-23 lead that left the home crowd stunned.
"We really needed this one," said Thabo Sefolosha, who had nine points and seven rebounds. "It was a close game, and we were able to finish it. A lot of players stepped up and brought a lot of things to the team. It's great when the team plays like that, fighting together for wins."
The Webber experiment went about as expected as he missed his first two shots and the Warriors trailed 14-6 before he was removed for the rest of the first half. This also was a matchup of Warriors' No. 1 overall draft picks, Webber and Smith, and it looked like the Warriors brought back the wrong one as Smith's 27 points easily eclipsed Webber's four.
"I don't think the guys are quitting, I think the guys are stepping up," Boylan said. "We're down quite a few players, but we're not letting that change the way we're playing. The guys that we have are coming out and playing hard and taking advantage of their opportunities to get some serious playing time."
The Bulls drove on the Warriors and, with Duhon cleverly using high screens, eased ahead 40-28 midway through the second quarter. Suddenly, Oracle Arena wasn't looking so much like the chamber of horrors it has been for the Bulls, who hadn't won in the building since 1998, where Michael Jordan suffered his only serious injury as a Bull with a broken foot in 1985.
But this was a game in which it looked like the Warriors would be the ones limping away.
Still, Golden State, which never saw a long three-pointer they didn't like, finally fell into a few as Davis and Harrington banged in one each.
And when Ben Wallace began shooting free throws as badly as ever—he came up short once and also missed the rim on the side on another attempt in going 0-for-7—and the Bulls committed three straight turnovers, the Warriors began running and dunking. Turnovers feed their game and the Bulls obliged with 25 in the game. The Warriors drew within 50-47 at halftime despite going 2 of 13 on threes.
The Warriors took their first lead at 59-58 four minutes into the third and it looked like they would open up the game with the 18-4 run. But Duhon drove for a score after a Warriors' turnover, put in a thrilling reverse on a drive and then flew the length of the court after a Warriors score with three seconds left to tie the game 77-77 after three quarters.
Like they say around the NBA, with Bryant and Duhon anything is possible.
The Associated Press contributed to this storyCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun