In other words, the Magic — who were missing Al Harrington, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson — were highly unlikely to enjoy the same kind of offensive success they had against the Nuggets (currently 21st in Defensive Rating) and Suns (23rd in Defensive Rating).
Second: Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls rarely lose two games in a row. It happened only four times during Thibodeau’s first season and only once last season. What’s more, the Bulls haven’t lost two games in the United Center since dropping five in a row (during a larger 10-game skid) in March of 2012. Back when, you know, Vinny Del Negro was coaching the team.
That trend continued last night as the Bulls put forth a much better offensive effort, scoring 99 points on 47.7 percent shooting and finishing with an Offensive Rating of 105.3.
That said, it wasn’t an overpowering win, nor a particularly pretty one.
The Bulls looked absolutely helpless against Arron Afflalo (game-high 28 points, 10-for-17, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and trailed by as many as 7 points in the third quarter. Then — with Thibs employing an unusual lineup of Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson — Chicago outscored the Magic 31-23 in the final 12 minutes to secure the comeback victory.
Said Deng: ”This was a tough game. They’re playing well, and we lost our last game. It’s one of those we needed to win. You don’t want to lose two, then we’ve got Oklahoma (City) coming in. The fourth quarter was really good for the team.”
Deng certainly did his part, scoring 15 of his team-best 23 points in the second half — on 9-for-16 shooting — to go with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. And 8 of those points came in the fourth, off three mid-range jumpers and a couple free throws.
Noah did his part, too, racking up 20 points (7-for-13), 9 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and 4 assists. His 7 fourth-quarter points included two jumpers from about 20 feet out that were followed by some pretty enthusiastic finger pistols. He also fed Gibson for a dunk-and-foul with 39 seconds left. Taj completed the three-point play to put the Bulls up 96-89, which essentially put the game away.
The only two blights on Noah’s performance were 1) a missed free throw with 23 seconds to go and 2) a rushed (and needless) three-pointer with three seconds left. The first blight kept the Bulls stuck on 99 points — a mere one point away from earning the UC crowd free Big Macs — and the second blight was a rather misguided attempt to make up for the first.
Said Noah: “I got caught up in the moment. I regret it a little bit. It wasn’t a good shot. You have to respect the game because you never know what can happen in a game, I just got caught up in the moment and I was trying to get the people a Big Mac. They really wanted a Big Mac and I felt like, not only did I take the shot and miss the shot, we didn’t even get the Big Mac. Next time I won’t take that 3-pointer.”
Noah isn’t kidding. The crowd spent the last minute of the game concerned much more with the prospect of free food than Chicago’s 3-1 start. They groaned when Noah missed that free throw. They groaned even more loudly when Kirk Hinrich bricked two freebies 13 seconds later. And there was a collective “Awww!” when Noah’s ill-advised triple went astray.
Oh well. As Walt Disney used to say, always leave them wanting more.
Back to the game…this may have been the best performance of the new bench so far. The reserves contributed 29 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots. And, as noted, Butler (4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal), Gibson (12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Robinson (11 points, 5-for-8, 6 assists) were instrumental in Chicago’s fourth quarter comeback.
Those contributions were needed because Carlos Boozer (6-for-18) was struggling to locate his shot and Kirk Hinrich was solid (8 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) but not providing the necessary spark.
Still too, it helped that the Magic were minus three projected starters, and that Glen Davis was so darn shot-happy. Last night, he led the Magic in field goal attempts (22) and missed field goal attempts (15)…and that included several air balls. Big Baby was averaging better than 25 points in Orlando’s first two games, but that doesn’t mean he should force up jumpers over taller opponents. But that’s what he did again and again.
Which played into the Chicago’s defensive plan.
Davis was also a big part in what may have been the game’s defining moment. With his team trailing only 93-89 and nearly a minute left in the game, Davis forced up a 26-footer that never had a chance of going in. It was, to be very generous, a questionable decision. In 341 career games, Davis has attempted a total of 39 three-pointers and converted only six of them, a “success” rate of 15.4 percent. What he was doing chucking a three in that circumstance is anyone’s guess.
The Bulls responded to Baby’s brain spasm with that play in which Noah fed Gibson for the dunk and contact. That two-way sequence turned a winnable game into a loss for the Magic.
So Bulls fans might consider sending Davis a thank you card.
On the other hand, The Bulls had their struggles with Afflalo, not to mention E’Twaun Moore (17 points, 7-for-13, 3-for-4 on threes) and Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks).
The Bulls also lost track of Orlando’s three-point shooters, which helped the Magic go 8-for-19 from downtown (42 percent). By contract, Chicago attempted a mere six three-pointers, converting on only two of them.
I know it’s early, but the Bulls have attempted only 42 threes, which ranks 27th in the league. Worse, they’re shooting a dismal 26.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is 29th in the league. It’s always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a four-game sample, but I can’t see these numbers changing much. The Bulls — without Derrick Rose and especially after the departure of Kyle Korver — aren’t going to get many threes this season.
But that’s a worry for another day.
Key Stat Part 1:
In their first two games, the Magic averaged 14 fast break points. Last night, they scored only 9.
Key Stat Part 2:
According to Hoopdata, the Bulls shot 18-for-36 (50 percent) from 16-23 feet. The “long two” is the worst shot in the game…but the Bulls were converting it last night.
Quote of the Night Part 1:
Robinson: “I think we wanted it more. I think at the end, we were more gritty. Coach said whatever it takes to get the win. So tonight, we had to gut it out.”
Quote of the Night Part 2:
Noah: “(Winning is) all that counts, but we need to play better. This isn’t going to cut it against a better team. We’ve just got to keep fighting.
14-53. 26 percent. No, that’s not the percentage of roller coasters Nate Robinson is allowed to ride at amusement parks. That’s what the Bulls starters shot from the field against the Hornets. The bench wasn’t much better, as the team as a whole finished 29-88 (33 percent). You aren’t going to win many games against high schoolers shooting like that.
“Tough day at the office,” Joakim Noah said after the game. That’s an understatement. At a lot of offices that would be grounds for firing.
And this horrendous shooting didn’t come against some defensive powerhouse like the Heat or the Celtics. It came against the Hornets. When they were without Anthony Davis. Orlando’s starting bigs were Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez. Those guys are not known for their spectacular defense (both had 105 defense ratings last year).
But then again, Chicago isn’t known for its offense.
This was the worst fear of Bulls fans. When the offense wasn’t working, who was going to start creating? Would Rip start moving off the ball and hit some shots? Would Boozer get in the post? Would Deng find ways to score? Nope. All wrong. The answer was that nobody would score.
The Bulls went 3-17 from deep to continue their terrible long-range shooting. That puts them at 25-percent from three point range on the season.
If there is one good thing from this game, it’s that we have now, hopefully, seen rock bottom. Oh, and Marco Belinelli put in his best game as a Bull, against his old team. Marco scored 13 points on 4-10 shooting. He added two assists and a steal as well. So he’s got that going for him…which is nice.
That’s enough about last game. It’s giving me terrible flashbacks.
Today is a new day, and possibly another chance for the Bulls to be horrible. Or maybe not, because they are facing the Magic. Orlando decided to get rid of Dwight Howard and start over. They got Arron Afflalo from the Nuggets and…well that’s really where the good news ends. But with that said, the Magic are 2-0 on the year, thanks to great play from two holdovers.
Remember the Magic not only lost Dwight Howard, but also Most Improved award winner Ryan Anderson (who the Bulls just lost to). You’d think they would be struggling on offense with those two guys gone, but they haven’t been. Orlando scored 102 points against the Nuggets, and 115 against the Suns. J.J. Redick is averaging 22.5 points and 6.0 assists per game, while Glen Davis is putting in 25.5 points per contest.
It’s an extremely small sample size, two games, but Orlando has played well, and currently has a better record than Chicago, and most of the NBA. Don’t expect that to last, as the Magic are in a rebuilding year, and also have some injuries early. They will be without Hedo Turkoglu (hand) and Jameer Nelson (hamstring) tonight. But this Orlando team, although overmatched on most nights, is fighting for wins.
The last time these two squads met was the Bulls 85-59 domination of the Magic. It’s that type of game that can make some people forget about the embarrassment Chicago is coming off of.
Coach’s Corner: Some thoughts on last game and what I’d like to see: We all know the Bulls offense was bad. Rip and Boozer were terrible and when that’s happening no one can create. I’d like to see the Bulls stat running on the break more. They have bigs in Taj and Jo that can run the floor. Heck, Noah even likes to lead the break as if he’s a guard. And if Boozer isn’t shooting well, there isn’t a reason for him to be playing over Taj anyway. The Bulls defense is great so when they create turnovers, they should look to run. Because this offense needs all the easy points they can get.
It’s possible younger readers don’t know who Durham was. And that’s a real shame.
Durham was the voice of the Chicago Bulls for nearly 20 years — on both radio and television — an era of excellence that lasted from 1973 to 1991. He was there when Bob Love, Chet Walker, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier led the Bulls to the conference Finals in 1975. He talked us through the years of Artis Gilmore, David Greenwood, Orlando Woolridge and Reggie Theus. His voice ushered in the Michael Jordan era and accompanied us on that first title journey.
Perhaps Durham’s most famous call was when Jordan hit The Shot over Craig Ehlo in 1989:
In addition to covering the Bulls for so many years, Durham also called White Sox games (1989-90), served as a TV announcer for the Houston Astros (1983-85) and Dallas Mavericks (1993-2001), and spent time working for CBS, ESPN, NBC and Turner Sports.
Talk about storied careers. Durham was the Illinois Sportscaster of the Year in 1979, 1989, and 1990, won two Chicago Emmy awards, and was named the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award winner in 2011.
Some announcers emphasize flash over substance — current Bulls broadcaster Stacey King sometimes edges into that territory — but Durham was definitely a case of substance with very little meaningless flash. I grew up on a steady diet of Durham’s on air commentary. I don’t know how to explain the experience of listening to him other than to say he made the game of basketball feel meaningful. Even a regular season game in which the Bulls played, for example, the dreadful Los Angeles Clippers. Listening to Durham, you felt like these events mattered. Even a Dave Corzine turnover.
No less a man than Michael Jordan said: “The voice of champions. I will miss him.”
Bulls vice president of business operations Steve Schanwald said: “I am stunned. Devastated. I loved that man, we all did here, and of course Jim was the best in the business at his craft. No one brought the game more to life, brought more energy and humor to the broadcasts or painted a more vivid picture of what was happening on the floor than Jim did. I will miss his company and our conversations a lot. But I will always be grateful for our friendship and the times we shared together. Heartfelt condolences to Helen and his family.”
Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf released the following statement: “I was so sorry to learn this morning of Jim Durham’s untimely passing. Jim was the voice of the Bulls for 18 years and he was the best at calling a basketball game I ever heard. I loved the energy he brought to our broadcasts, the way he painted a word picture of what was happening on the court which made you feel like you were there, and his sense of humor. Most importantly, Jim was my friend and I will miss the conversations we had about the NBA, life in general, and his favorite baseball team… the Chicago White Sox. On behalf of the entire Chicago Bulls organization, my deepest condolences to Helen and his entire family. He will be greatly missed.”
Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson added: “Jim was a true professional and class act and I’m sad over the news of his passing,” Paxson said. “Over the years when he would broadcast one of our games for ESPN, he never failed to spend a little time catching up on life with me. He did the games as a simulcast with Red (Kerr) when I first came to the Bulls in ’85 and through the first championship season here. They were a terrific team but both were better people and great to be around. J.D. was an outstanding announcer with a steady voice and he knew how to call a game with the right balance of emotion and information.”
Click here for more personal stories about Durham from various ESPN personalities.
Those are the shooting stats for the Bulls’ starters against the Hornets on Saturday.
For those of you who enjoy simple math, that’s 14-for-53 combined, a conversion rate of 26.4 percent.
That starting unit was also 0-for-5 from three-point range (Luol Deng was 0-for-3 and Kirk Hinrich was 0-for-2).
There was some brick-laying off the bench, too, with Nate Robinson going 6-for-16 and Marco Belinelli finished 4-for-10 after a strong start.
As a team, the Bulls shot 33 percent from the field (29-for-88) and 3-for-17 on threes (17.6).
They committed only 12 turnovers, so they had that going for them, which is nice.
Still, the Hornets put on a pretty good defensive performance, especially considering they were playing on the road on the second night of back-to-back games. And they did it without both Eric Gordon and number one overall draft pick Anthony Davis, who was sitting out due to the NBA’s concussion rules.
New Orleans’ defense was aggressive and persistent. The Hornets players didn’t do anything flashy — although Robin Lopez finished with 4 blocked shots and Austin Rivers had 3 steals — but they were consistently physical and they contested everything. And, at times, the Bulls looked intimidated.
Said New Orleans coach Monty Williams: “We don’t get a lot of credit or notoriety for being a physical team, but that’s something we’ve prided ourselves on since I’ve been here, was to play a physical style of basketball, legally. I don’t think we out-worked them, I just think the ball came our way a few times and it was just a major battle in that paint. Anytime you play against Chicago, a team that (Tom Thibodeau) is gonna coach, you know you’re gonna play a team that is gonna hit you right in the mouth.”
On Saturday, it was Thibodeau’s team that got hit in the mouth. Repeatedly.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s a small sample size — only three games — but the Hornets currently rank eighth in Defensive Rating. They are limiting teams to 98.6 points per 100 possessions. They also rank fifth in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage (44.1). So far, they have held the Spurs (99), Jazz (86) and Bulls (82) below 100 points. Not bad considering that, in the early going, the Jazz are averaging 107.4 points per 100 possessions and the Spurs are scoring 105.8 points per 100 possessions.
So the Bulls got a taste of their own medicine: a team working hard and overachieving on defense.
How else do you explain a team with a starting lineup of Ryan Anderson, Greivis Vasquez, Austin Rivers, Robin Lopez and Al-Farouq Aminu coming into the United Center and solidly outplaying a starting unit of Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton?
Look, a lot is being made of Derrick Rose’s continuing absence, but the Bulls should be better than this Hornets team with or without Rose. Especially at home.
But on Saturday night, they were not.
According to Hoopdata, they went only 15-for-27 at the rim (55.6 percent). That’s not a great conversion rate around the basket. The Hornets were extremely physical in the paint, and the Bulls did not respond well to that. They became tentative, and coach Tom Thibodeau noted ”a lot of flipping instead of attacking” when his players opted to drive.
The Bulls also chucked up a long of long two-pointers from 16-to-23 feet — 22 of them to be exact — but connected on only five of them for a conversion rate of 22.9 percent. And I already mentioned their dismal 3-for-17 shooting night from downtown, which made the Bulls 8-for-39 from long range.
Said Joakim Noah: ”Tough day at the office. We got our asses kicked. They outplayed us. They were way more on edge than us. It’s unfortunate because it was a good opportunity to go 3-0.”
Look, some nights the shots aren’t going to go down, I get that. But this was far worse than it should have been.
Thibs, for his part, didn’t think his team’s misdirected shooting was the issue: ”I thought the start of the game set the tone for the game. We were back on our heels. They got an early lead. Their big guys hurt us. The thing about shooting, that doesn’t bother me. If you are taking your shot and you are missing your shot, you can live with that. The thing about the game was our approach to defensive transition. When you are not shooting well, you cannot allow that to sap your energy. You have to get back and set your defense.”
The Bulls did give up 17 fast break points. But, then again, they also scored 21 points in transition. So that part of the game was pretty much a wash.
Look, with all due respect to the NBA’s former Coach of the Year, teams don’t often win shooting 33 percent from the field and 17 from three-point range. Winning under those circumstances would take an even greater defensive performance (which the Bulls did not have) or an overpowering advantage on the boards (only the Bulls were outrebounded 44-41).
Without Rose, the Bulls’ offense relies on timing, precision, and execution. Nobody — with the occasional exception of Robinson — can really create their own shot.
When a pesky (and very physical) defense digs in and refuses to surrender good looks…Chicago’s offense stalls. Big time.
And it’s likely this problem will occur at times throughout the season. At least until Rose gets back.
Chicago won’t get much time to think about its dominating win over Cleveland as the Bulls head back to Chicago to face New Orleans in their first back-to-back of the season.
With a win against the Hornets, Chicago will improve to 3-0 for the first time since the MJ era (1996-97).
The Bulls jumped all over Cleveland right from the tip off. In the first half Chicago scored 17 points off of 11 Cleveland turnovers and shot 66.7 percent from the field. They held the Cavs to 35 points on 30.8 percent shooting through the first 24 minutes. The Bulls also had 32 points in the paint in the first half, while Cleveland had just 14. Basically pick whatever stat you want and the Bulls were better in it (except percentage of players nicknamed “Boobie”).
Then the Bulls basically just cruised through the second half to eventually win by 29.
Rip scored 19, and this time he did it efficiently (8-12). Boozer again put in a good game (19 points, 7-11 from the field, 5-7 from the line, seven rebounds, six assists). Deng awoke from his poor shooting slumber to go 5-8 for 14 points. Nate Robinson scored 16 off the bench in 27 minutes because of Kirk Hinrich foul trouble. All of the Bulls shot well, as Chicago finished 63.8 percent from the field as a team.
Hinirch did a great job making the game difficult for Kyrie Irving. Irving was off 4-10 with 4 turnovers in the first half.
Now the Bulls set their sights on New Orleans who beat Utah last night on a last-second bucket. Greivis Vasquez recorded a double-double (13 points, ten assists) as well as the game-winning layup with just over a second remaining.
Robin Lopez (9-16) and Ryan Anderson (5-9 from three) each scored a team-high 19 points. The Hornets outscored Utah 56 to 36 in the paint, even without their young rookie for most of the game.
New Orleans was 6-13 on the second night of back-to-backs last season. But this one could be tough, because they will be without number one overall pick Anthony Davis. Davis left the game against Utah with a possible concussion. The Kentucky grad had eight points, six rebounds and two blocks in the first half. Davis was impressive in his NBA debut when he went up against Tim Duncan. He and Noah would be a fun, lanky battle to watch.
The Bulls were 14-6 last season on no rest. But a lot of that was due to the strong bench being able to play extra minutes. I’m not sure that is the case this year. The Bulls bench did score 44 in the win over Cleveland, but the Cavs bench scored 34 of their own. The bench of the past almost always shut down the other team’s second unit.
Thibs did give the starters a bit of a rest last night though. Deng (31 minutes) and Noah (32) were the only guys to play more than 30 minutes. 31 minutes for Deng is basically a night off. So the Bulls will be pretty fresh for the second night.
Chicago was 2-0 last season against the Hornets. The Bulls held New Orleans to 81.0 points on 39.0 percent shooting in the two contests. Rose played in both wins against New Orleans, and dropped 32 in one of the contests.
Although the Bulls won both meetings against the Hornets last year, New Orleans has a new roster this year. Rookies Davis and Austin Rivers (who has not had a good start to his career) are both starting so far this season. Reigning Most Improved Award winner Ryan Anderson is also a new Hornet. Anderson averaged 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last year with Orlando.
Stats of the night: New Orleans was 6-15 last season after a win, while the Bulls were 35-17.
As Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said after thegame, this was a good, old-fashioned butt whipping…
…with the Cleveland as the butt and Chicago starring as the steel-toed boot.
The Bulls jumped on the Cavaliers early and often — leading 32-16 after 12 minutes and 60-35 at the half — and they were dominant in almost every phase of the game.
To wit: The Bulls shot a white hot 63.8 percent from the field and compiled 34 assists on 44 field goals. They outscored the Cavaliers 48-36 in the paint and 15-11 in fast break points. They got to the line 30 times and won the rebounding battle 41-33.
Kirk Hinrich was limited to 17 minutes due to foul trouble but still played really well (3-for-4 from the field, 3-for-4 from the line, 9 points, 6 assists, 0 turnovers and a plus-minus score of +21.
Even more impressive was Nate Robinson, who logged 27 minutes in relief and finished with 16 points (7-for-9), 12 assists, 5 rebounds and a steal. Did the Bulls really sign this guy for the veteran’s minimum? He’s been a steal so far. His energy and enthusiasm have been off the charts, and his play has been top notch.
If only he was a few inches taller. But I digress.
The Cavs started to show a flickering sign of life early in the third quarter, but Rip Hamilton single-handedly snuffed their sputtering flame. Hamilton shelled Cleveland with a 14-point quarter and finished with a co-team-high 19 points on an efficient 8-for-12 shooting. He really looked like the Rip of old, moving without the ball, drilling shots off picks and screens.
Said Hamilton: ”In the third quarter, I decided to get a little more aggressive. Some dude in the crowd called me old. That’s what woke me up. He called me Old Man River. So I said, ‘All right, I got something for you.’”
He sure did. Rip shot 7-for-8 in that third quarter.
Then there was Carlos Boozer. He also scored 19 points on similarly blistering shooting (7-for-11). He scored in the point, he scored from mid-range, he scored with his right hand, he scored with his left. Boozer added 7 boards and 6 assists for good measure, and he continued to show excellent chemistry with frontcourt mate Joakim Noah (10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals).
All that and the Bulls got solid contributions from reserves Taj Gibson (8 points and 6 rebounds), Marco Belinelli (8 points on 3-for-4 shooting), and Jimmy Butler (8 points on 3-for-4 shooting and 4 rebounds).
The Bulls were so overpowering that Luol Deng (14 points, 5-for-8, 5 boards) played only 31 minutes…and Marquis Teague and Vladimir Radmanovic even got some burn.
(As an aside: Teague is fast. We need to see more of this kid. But he’s a rookie, so we probably wont.)
Said Hamilton: ”When you have guys at every position who can score and make the right play, it puts pressure on the defense at all times. It keeps the floor spaced. Guys are scared to help. We did an excellent job of sharing the ball and making the easy play.”
This was classic Tom Thibodeau basketball: Hard-nosed defense combined with unselfish and opportunistic offense.
Speaking of defense, the Bulls held Kyrie Irving to 6-for-15 shooting and a game-worst plus-minus score of -21. Irving finished with as many turnovers as assists (4 each).
Stat of the Night:
The Bulls are now 2-0 for the first time since the 2002-2003 season.
Quote of the Night:
Robsinson on Hamilton’s third quarter eruption: “A blind man could have seen [that Hamilton had the hot hand]. You just kept hearing his name. ‘Rip Hamilton. Rip Hamilton. Rip Hamilton.’ He got us going.”
As has been the Bulls custom when playing without their starting point guard, they won in an unconvincing way in the season opener. But they won and if you ask Coach Thibodeau, that’s all that matters.
Joakim Noah had the type of game the Bulls are going to need to get from different guys if they are going to be a playoff team. He was the first Bull since Michael Jordan back in 1997 to record at least 20 points, ten rebounds and five steals in a game. Solid company for Jo. And Noah was great from the line (11-12), while also recording three blocks. So take that, MJ.
Carlos Boozer (8-13 for 18 points) stayed relatively hot and Rip Hamilton (7-16 for 19 points) shot better than he usually does in a Bulls uniform.
The key for the Bulls in the win was the same thing it has been for all of Thibs’ reign: defense. The Bulls held Sacramento to 40.5 percent shooting and just 87 points. The Kings also turned it over 21 times, including an enormous mistake on an in-bounds pass with less than a minute left.
While those numbers are good, keep in mind that the Kings aren’t the most impressive offensive team. Sacramento finished 21st in offensive rating and 26th in effective field goal percentage last season.
The Bulls no longer have a shut-down bench to rely on, but Thibs seems determined to clear that hurdle by playing starters extra minutes. This is nothing new for Deng, who played 42 minutes in the victory (Deng played more than 40 minutes 32 times last year).
But Noah logged 40 minutes on Wednesday night. Jo logged 40 minutes or more just three times last season. That was thanks in part to Omer Asik’s ability to hold down the defense at the center position. Thibs clearly doesn’t trust Nazr Mohammed (three minutes in the opener) nearly as much as he grew to trust Asik. But it takes time to earn Thibs’ trust, so maybe Mohammed can get there.
With that said, Nazr is never going to be the defensive stopper Asik was, but he can be a guy to give Noah a rest for 15 minutes a game. He needs to be that guy. Deng has been able to hold up pretty well playing those extra minutes, but it will be interesting if Noah can hold up as well.
As mentioned above, Noah had an impressive season opener, but his brother-from-another-mother, Anderson Varejao, had an even better opening night. Varejao put up a monster 23 rebounds to go with nine points and nine assists (he had 12 offensive rebounds). It’s always fun (and funny) to watch Jo and Varejao fight for every loose ball and rebound.
Varejao wasn’t the only Cavalier to have a nice season debut. Rising-star Kyrie Irving dropped 29 points against the Wizards. It’s amazing to me that a guy (or maybe “young man” is more appropriate) who just got his wisdom teeth removed scored 29 in the NBA, but Irving has tons of talent.
The Bulls may also have to look out for rookie Dion Waiters. The rookie put up 17 points on a not-so-efficient 6-14 from the field. But Waiters is never afraid to shoot, and is strong enough to drive the lane and finish with contact (trust me, I watched him at Syracuse, he is never afraid to shoot, no matter how ill-advised said shot may be).
Kirk Hinrich played poorly on the offensive end against the Kings, but it’s going to be on the other side of the ball that the Bulls need him tonight. Kyrie went 2-15 from the field in 26 minutes against the Bulls when the two teams met this preseason. Chicago would settle for another 1-7 night from Kirk if he could shut down Irving on the other end.
In that preseason match-up between the Bulls and Cavs, Chicago was 1-19 from deep. In their opener they were 2-9. The Bulls are going to have to find some sort of down-town rhythm or teams are just going to pack the paint and force the Bulls to win from outside.
Chicago was 3-0 against Cleveland last season, averaging 111.0 points in those wins (Rose and Irving played in just one game each). The Cavs averaged just 80.3 points while shooting 35 percent from the field in the three losses. That’s exactly the type of defense that the Bulls will need tonight.
Stats of the night: Chicago has won seven straight against the Cavs. The Bulls are trying to start 2-0 for the first time since 2002. For comparison, Cleveland started 2-0 in 2006-07 (STATS LLC).
It’s always good to open the season with a win. But, as is usually the case, this game had plenty to like and dislike.
Things to like:
I loved the productivity of Joakim Noah (23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, 3 blocks), Carlos Boozer (18 points, 8 boards, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block) and Rip Hamilton (19 points, 3 assists, 2 steals). Those three guys combined to shoot 21-for-41 from the field (51.2 percent) and 18-for-22 from the line (81.8 percent).
I especially liked seeing how aggressive Noah was on the offensive end. In years past, and even at certain points during the preseason, Noah has been hesitant to assert himself offensively. Last night, he was looking to score. And his game-high 12 free throw attempts were a sure sign of that.
By comparison, the Kings attempted only 16 foul shots as a team. The Bulls won the free throw battle handily (33-16). The Free Throw Percentage Margin was 31.6 to 15.5, which underscores how dominant Chicago was at drawing contact.
The defense was its usual self, limiting the Kings to only 87 points on 40.5 percent shooting. The Bulls generated 10 blocked shots and 8 steals. Overall, they forced the Kings into 21 turnovers off which they scored 25 points.
Teamwork was also on display, as the Bulls assisted on 7 of their first 9 field goals and 21 of 33 overall.
Lastly, after a forgettable preseason, Marco Belinelli played well: 12 minutes, 6 points, 1-for-2 from the field, 1-for-1 from downtown, 3-for-3 from the line, 3 assists and a team-best plus-minus score of +7. Let’s hope the lid is off the basket for this kid.
Things to dislike:
Luol Deng was a beast on the boards (12 rebounds) but his shooting was way off (3-for-13 including 0-for-4 on threes). He also went 1-for-3 from the line. I keep saying this over and over, but Lu’s shooting went downhill last season after his wrist injury. I’m very worried he’ll continue to shoot in this area until a) he has surgery to repair the ligament or b) he gets enough time off so that it can fully heal on its own.
And did I mention Deng played 42 minutes. Looks like he’s in for another marathon season.
Kirk Hinrich struggled with his shot too (1-for-7, o-for-1 on threes, 1-for-3 from the line). He had a game-high 7 assists, but if he can’t be a shooting threat, the Bulls’ offense will struggle.
I think offense is going to be a nightly roller coaster until D-Rose comes back.
Overall, the bench didn’t play poorly, contributing 23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocked shots. But they didn’t have that “game changing force” feel the Bench Mob of the last two seasons often had. I say “often” because the Bench Mob didn’t dominate every night…which means we can probably cut the new subs some slack.
I was also disappointed the Bulls struggled to close this game out. They built a double-digit lead in the third quarter but couldn’t hold the Kings off. And Tyreke Evans — who tortured the Bulls with 21 points — pulled Sacto to within three points (86-83) with 41.2 seconds left. Things were secured until Deng hit one of two from the line and Evans committed a five-second violation when he couldn’t get the ball inbounds.
The Kings aren’t a good team. And you hate to see the Bulls struggle to finish off a stinker.
Of course…it’s better than the alternative.
The Bulls offset their sub-par shooting by scoring 19 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds.
Slightly irritating stat:
Despite getting a combined 48 points from their starting frontcourt, the Bulls were outscored 44-42 in the paint.
Noah. He set the tone both offensively and defensively (his 5 steals were a career-high by the way).
Former Bull James Johnson had a James Johnson-y game: 2 points on 1-for-8 shooting with 4 turnovers and a plus-minus score of -13. I love seeing him in an opposing team’s jersey.
Quote of the Night:
Joakim Noah: “It’s one game out of 82. Good start. But we have a lot of basketball to be played.”
So we don’t have to worry about Gibson pulling an Omer Asik next summer.
Said Gibson: “You just do want to see what else is out there (in the free-agency market), but then you look (and think) you don’t want to be in some hell hole somewhere just chasing the bucks. It’s a great team here, family, organization. I just made a decision that would help me and my family.
“At the end of the day, I asked my agent (Mark Bartelstein), ‘What do you think?’ ‘Don’t give me the bullcrap, just be real with me,’ and he was real with me. He said, ‘I don’t want you to turn this down.’ He said, ‘I know we can probably get more this summer, but it’s all about if you’re happy or not.’ And he said, ‘I want you to take this; it’s too much of a risk to go out there, you never know what can happen.’ ”
Added Joakim Noah: ”I’m happy, man. That’s my young boy. Taj is my young boy … I’m really happy. It’s very well deserved. I see Taj’s grind every day. And I know how much he fights every night to represent for the Bulls. That’s just the icing on the cake. I’ve been through it so I know it’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s a very stressful situation, too, because a lot of people are telling you what you should do, what you shouldn’t do. But at the end of the day, there’s very few people that get it. It’s a very unique situation to be in. But with that amount of money comes a lot of responsibility, but Taj is a hard worker and somebody who really deserves (the deal).”
Locking up a key part of the team is always a relief. And, honestly, neither Gibson nor the team needed the whole “impending restricted free agency” thing looming as a distraction all season long. Not with Derrick Rose already slated to miss a huge chunk (or all) of the season.
Still…it makes me wonder…does this extension increase the probability of the Bulls using the amnesty provision to jettison Carlos Boozer’s contract next summer? I guess we’ll find out.