What a difference a day (or two) makes.
On Tuesday night, the Bulls looked hapless and bored against the Milwaukee Bucks, trailing a very bad team by 18 points in the third quarter before eventually fighting back to eke out a win. On Thursday night, the Bulls played neck-and-neck with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, not just winning in the end but doing what few NBA teams have done since he entered the league: stopping LeBron.
Yes, the Bulls held LeBron to 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and yes, this is considered stopping LeBron in an age when the King routinely scores 35 and 40 points against lesser opponents.
The Bulls' Luol Deng, fully back from injury and playing productive minutes again, did a suitable job on James, making life difficult for him once the ball slowed down in the half-court.
The Bulls switched screens and rotated well, offered open shots to Cavs role players, and did a good job of helping in the lane when James beat Deng to the basket. It was a pretty encouraging team performance from a Bulls team that couldn't figure out how to stop Brandon Jennings two nights before.
The key stop of the game came late, when, with four seconds remaining, James drove to the hoop around Deng. Bulls center Joakim Noah came over to help and jumped with LeBron; LeBron jumped into Noah, flailed at the hoop, and expected a call. He didn't deserve it -- the replay showed James initiated the contact into Noah, who jumped straight into the air -- and he didn't get it.
A win over the Cavs at home in 2008-09, when Cleveland went 66-16 and lost nary a game at Quicken Loans Arena, would have been cause for celebration. Thursday night's win is less dramatic. The Cavs are clearly struggling to figure out how offseason acquisition Shaquille O'Neal fits into the team, and Cavs coach Mike Brown seems content to let Shaq slow his team's pace down, which in turn costs LeBron easy fast-break points. (The Cavs should be playing really fast, but Brown hasn't seemed to figure this out.)
Still, though, the win was a redemptive one for the Bulls, who were beginning to look like 2008-09's Bulls all over again: talent, potential, and nothing else to show for it. Here's hoping 2009-10 is different.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. He is the editor of Yahoo! Sports's college basketball blog The Dagger and a contributor to Inside The Hall. Follow him at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com, or on Twitter.