Despite the absence of Carlos Boozer due to a sore hamstring, the Bulls opened a six-game road trip with a convincing victory over a division rival. And unlike their two losses to the Bucks earlier this season, they managed to build a big lead and keep it.
The Bulls outhustled and outworked the Bucks. They made the hustle plays and maintained their focus for most of the game (minus one sloppy stretch of the third quarter).
The Bulls (28-17) stayed 1.5 games ahead of the Pacers (27-19) for the lead in the Central Division. And get this: they’re only a game behind the Knicks (28-15) and 2.5 games behind the Heat (29-13). That they’ve managed to remain within striking distance of the Eastern Conference lead without Derrick Rose playing a single game is more than impressive. It’s a minor miracle.
Player of the Game:
Nate Robinson. Little Nate was the unquestioned goat of Chicago’s last loss to Milwaukee. He incited Brandon Jennings with a continuous stream of smack talk and Jennings responded with a season-high 35 points…which also happened to be the highest single-game total of any Bulls opponent this season. Still is as a matter of fact.
After that game, Jennings said: ”[Robinson did] a little trash talking before the second half. I guess he felt like he had it going, he was getting the best of me. I really don’t take trash talking too kindly because I don’t really do a lot of trash talking. I warned him, so, hey, it happens.”
Robinson didn’t forget. Nor apparently did he forgive. Nate erupted off the bench with 16 second quarter points — on 7-for-9 shooting — as the Bulls outscored the Bucks 32-18 in the period to go into halftime with a 55-37 lead.
To be fair, Nate had it cooking all game long, scoring a game-best 24 points while going 9-for-11 from the field, 2-for-3 from three-point range and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. He even chipped in 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 rebounds. He hit jumpers. He drove in for layups. He even got his first dunk of the season on a nice backdoor cut:
He also played some inspired defense against Jennings, who shot 6-for-18 and scored only 15 points. Mind you, Jennings played 14 more minutes than Robinson, so holding him down was certainly a group effort. But whenever they were matched up, Nate was there, slapping at the ball and forcing Jennings into bad shots.
The coup de grace game with just under three minutes left to play. The Bucks kinda-sorta within striking distance — the Bulls were up by 10 — when Jennings drove into Robinson and got called for an offensive foul.
Nate took a dive for sure, but it wasn’t a Vlade Divac-style flop by any stretch of the imagination. Still, Jennings — frustrated by getting repeatedly shown up and taunted by Robinson — threw the ball, walked right up to the official, and said the call was bull-you-know-what. Then he said the official knew the call was bull-you-know-what.
That did it. Jennings earned a technical foul and an ejection for his behavior. And that pretty much sunk any chance the Bucks had of making a comeback.
Here’s video of Nate abusing Jennings throughout the game:
Said Bucks coach Jim Boylan: “Even though he and Brandon are going at it, I don’t think it’s taking away from Brandon’s game.”
Uhm…are you sure about that, coach?
Said Jimmy Butler: ”I think Nate got the best of [Jennings] in this one. He got him extremely frustrated, not to mention that Nate was knocking down a lot of shots. He was knocking down a lot of shots and was really into him defensively. I think he wasn’t letting anything go easy. Nate took it as disrespect last time at home when (Jennings) was doing Nate’s celebration. I don’t think Nathaniel Cornelius Robinson liked that too much.”
Admittedly, I wish Nate had canned the trash talk, although I know it’s part of his game. Still, here’s a guy playing on a minimum contract who always brings 100 percent energy and effort off the bench. He’s leading the team in Player Efficiency Rating (18.4). He’s doing pretty much everything the team could possibly ask of him under the circumstances. Even if his decision-making and shot selection occasionally drive the Bulls and their fans crazy.
Said coach Tom Thibodeau: ”The good outweighs the bad. He’s a catalyst. He’s a spark plug. The thing that I like right now is I think he’s really improved defensively and he’s got to keep working at it. His defense is getting better and better. He’s always had the ability to score the ball and he’s playing both positions. He’s playing the point, I think he tries to run the team more at the point, then when he goes to the 2 he looks to score more, but he’s done a good job for us.”
Added Joakim Noah: ”I knew that he had a lot of energy and always talking a lot of trash. But after spending time with him, he’s a great teammate and he’s playing at a real high level for us right now. He’s playing great basketball. I think the last couple weeks he’s brought his intensity and he’s really channeling his energy the right way, not getting down on himself when things aren’t going well and just being aggressive offensively, being aggressive defensively and he’s been huge for us.”
As Exhibit A, I present last nights performance: 27 minutes, 18 points, 8-for-12 from the field, 1-for-2 on threes, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a plus-minus of +19. Like Robinson, Butler scored in a variety of ways, shooting, driving, and dunking. He played great D as always. He was energetic and efficient. And, with Robinson, he was a huge part Chicago’s 50-25 advantage in bench scoring. And that was minus Taj Gibson (14 points, 7-for-12, 9 rebounds), who started in place of the missing Carlos Boozer.
Said Thibs: “He’s a big lift. He can guard, he can score and play multiple positions and make hustle plays. He’s doing a lot for us. He’s a big part of this team.”
Butler has made me a believer.
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls outscored the Bucks 66-40 in the paint. According to Hoopdata, Chicago converted nearly as many shots at the rim (28) as Milwaukee attempted (31). And their conversion rate at the rim (75.7 percent) was much better than the home team’s (48.4). Robinson — the tiniest man on the floor — was a perfect 6-for-6 at the rim. Butler and Deng were both 5-for-6.
Oh, and those 66 points in the paint? That was a Bulls season-high.
Key Stats Part 2:
Chicago’s D let up a little in the third quarter, when the Bucks shot 11-for-22 (50 percent). But it was cranked up the rest of the game, as Milwaukee went 9-for-23 (39 percent) in the first quarter, 7-for-18 (39 percent) in the second and 7-for-19 (37 percent) in the fourth.
With Boozer out, Deng (13 rebounds, 12 points, 5 assists) had to join Noah (12 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists) in the double-double club. Gibson just missed by one rebound.
Gibson had a good game overall, especially in the early going when the team was looking for him in the post. Taj was much more assertive on offense than usual and attempted eight shots at the rim, making five. He even hit a slick turn-around jumper from the baseline.
But Gibson — who averages about 20 minutes a game — logged 34 minutes of PT because of Boozer’s absence. And you could see a decline in his performance in the second half, especially on the defensive end. (Check the plus-minus stats if you don’t believe me.) Ersan Ilyasova was shooting over Gibson and driving past him, and Jennings hit a three over Gibson as well. You could tell Taj was gassed. If Boozer misses a few more games, the extra minutes could take a toll on Gibson’s performance.
According to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats and Information): “The Bulls have won 41 straight games when scoring at least 100 points, tied for the longest streak in NBA history. The Spurs had a 41-game streak from 2003-05.”
Chicago and Milwaukee will meet for the last time in the regular season tonight as the Bulls try to even the series at two games apiece and pull further ahead in the Central Division.
The Bulls got Luol Deng back last time out, but may be without Carlos Boozer tonight. Boozington will be a game-time decision because of a hamstring injury. Although he started January off on a great run, he has cooled as of late. Boozer is shooting just 40.5 percent over the last five games, and is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. However, he has played well so far against Milwaukee, averaging 21.0 points and 13.7 rebounds in the three previous games.
Deng, after missing five games, played 31 minutes against Charlotte. That’s a great sign going forward. Deng was averaging the most minutes in the league, so if Jimmy Butler’s emergence gives Lu fewer minutes, and in turn helps Butler develop, Bulls fans should be very pleased. Although the lighter load could just be because it was Deng’s first game back and Tom Thibodeau wanted to bring him back into it slowly. We’ll know for sure which it is if Deng is playing 45 minutes by the end of the week.
Rip Hamilton is averaging 18.7 points per game against the Bucks, his third best total against any opponent this season. He averaged 26.0 points per game over the first two games before going 2-11 in his 16 minutes of action in game three. Rip has scored in double figures just eight times since November (he was injured for much of December). He scored two points against Charlotte, and only played six minutes in the second half. Hamilton is probably going to continue losing minutes to Jimmy Butler, and when Rose returns, it may only get worse, with Kirk Hinrich taking some minutes at shooting guard. If Hamilton wants to stay in the lineup, he has to start making jumpers and force Thibs to have him on the floor (trading Rip would also solve this problem, which the Bulls are surely trying to do).
Even if the Bulls are without Boozer tonight, they do have a bit of an advantage, as Milwaukee will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
Milwaukee fell behind early against the Pistons Tuesday night, but then blew by Detroit behind 30 points from Brandon Jennings. Jennings was by far the best starter for the Bucks, who got a big lift from their bench. The Bucks’ reserves scored 59 points, led by 17 from Mike Dunleavy. Beno Udrih didn’t shoot well (3-9), but dished eleven assists. Samuel Dalembert recorded a double-double (12 points, 10 assists) off the pine in just 21 minutes.
The Pistons had their own gem off the bench, as Andre Drummond had a monster 18 points and 18 boards. The entire starting line-up for the Pistons combined for 19 rebounds.
Milwaukee, going up against a team that isn’t good at forcing turnovers, coughed it up just 10 times. They forced the Pistons into 21 turnovers, and scored 29 points off of them. The Bucks are 4th in turnover percentage and seventh in opponent turnover percentage. The Bulls have lost the turnover battle in the previous three games, but not by too much (15.3 to 12.3). Chicago has turned it over just eight (Lakers) and eleven (Bobcats) times in their last two games.
The Bucks got this big win without running their players into the ground—a novel idea right Mr. Thibodeau? Monta Ellis played the most minutes with 34. For comparison, Deng playing 31 minutes in a game causes me to celebrate (see above). Jennings did his damage in short time, scoring his 30 points in 30 minutes. And those were the only two guys that played about 30 minutes.
Jennings tore the Bulls up in the most recent matchup, scoring 35 points, and the Bulls blew a 27-point lead in another game to find themselves down in this series.
Chicago is 12-6 on the road, which is the best road record in the league, but over their next stretch they are going to prove how good they are away from the United Center. The Bulls play ten of their next 12 games on the road, with ten of those contests coming against playoff teams. The Bulls two home games over that stretch are against the top teams in each conference, San Antonio and Miami.
Stat of the night: The Bucks are averaging 12.3 blocks per game against the Bulls this season. Chicago is blocking 3.3 Milwaukee shots per match-up.
The Bulls scored only 14 points on 4-for-15 shooting in the third quarter and gave up 30 points in the fourth to make this game a little more “exciting” than it needed to be.
Luol Deng (31 minutes, 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) returned after missing five straight games with a hamstring injury and the Bulls managed to avoid losing at home to a lesser team…something that has happened six other times this season (including to the Bobcats).
While Luol Deng was out, Jimmy Butler started in his place, averaging about 45 minutes per game. With Deng back, Butler logged only 31 minutes of PT, but his performance sure didn’t suffer any. He scored a career-high 19 points on sizzling 7-for-10 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot. What’s more, Jimmy attempted a game-best seven free throws (and made five).
Butler also scored three clutch baskets as the Bobcats were making their final push:
5:16: Made a 21-footer to put the Bulls up 82-71
3:01: Hit a layup off an offensive rebound to put the Bulls up 84-74
1:53: Hit a layup off an offensive rebound to put the Bulls up 86-78
These three scores were huge for multiple reasons. The last two were big time hustle plays. They perfectly illustrated the persistence and desire that are powering Butler’s breakout. His final bucket was particularly amazing. Kirk Hinrich had missed a three-pointer and it looked like the Bobcats had come away with the board. Suddenly, the ball was in Jimmy’s hands, and he spun around hit a whirling layup (while, frankly, getting fouled without the call) and converted the dagger bucket (watch it here at around the 1:54 mark).
Now let’s talk about that long jumper. Going into the season, critics said Butler’s lack of shooting touch was going to hold back his development. In the opening weeks, Butler was incredibly hesitant to launch from distance, and his outside shooting stats aren’t great. According to Basketball-Reference, he’s only 7-for-29 on threes (24 percent) and 36-for-113 on jump shots (31 percent).
That said, Butler is 6-for-16 from 10-15 feet (37 percent) and 22-for-54 from 16-24 feet (40 percent), which aren’t terrible shooting percentages. What’s really holding him back is his three-point shooting.
Still, when you add his outstanding defense to the equation, Butler’s progress has been fantastic. He has become a dangerous weapon off the bench — now a clear and obvious upgrade from Ronnie Brewer — and might actually allow coach Tom Thibdodeau to get Deng a little rest now and then.
Said Deng: ”Jimmy’s playing great. Jimmy’s playing great for us right now. We need that. It helps with the depth of our team. He’s just got to keep growing. He’s just got to keep growing, keep getting better — he plays so hard. This is what we’ve been doing all year. But he’s been patient, he’s been working on his game and I’m just so happy for him. I’m so happy for him that … sometimes it takes time to understand the game, the NBA, and what you can do. There’s a lot of areas he can get better at but what he’s shown so far is just his hard work and he’s going to keep on getting better.”
Added Butler: “I think it hit home the most whenever Lu came up to me and said, ‘You can do this. It’s your time. Step in and just keep playing the way you’ve been playing.’ When you hear that from an All-Star, from him, from Derrick [Rose], from [Joakim Noah], that’s big. And me only being here for almost two years now, I think that’s what I needed to hear. It’s not my play that gained confidence, it’s my teammates telling me that I can do it and that I’m out there producing. That’s what gains confidence more than my play.”
Player of the Game Runner Up:
If Butler was the player of the game — and he was — then Nate Robinson was the runner up. Little Nate’s packed a whole lot of performance into his 26 minutes off the bench: 15 points (6-for-12 from the field and 3-for-5 from downtown), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocked shots and only 1 turnover. Did you notice he had three blocked shots? The dude is four feet tall!
Nate also ignited Chicago’s offense to open the fourth quarter. He started things off with a three-pointer. Next he assisted on a breakaway dunk by Butler. Then he nailed another three. He followed that with a layup.
Considering Robinson is playing on a minimum contract, he is absolutely killing it. He leads the team in Assist Percentage (31.2), Steal Percentage (2.4) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.8). He’s second in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.501), True Shooting Percentage (.533), Offensive Rating (108 points per 100 possessions) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.152).
Chicago’s bench vastly outperformed their Charlotte counterparts, finishing with more points (45-29), rebounds (21-11), assists (7-4), steals (3-1) and blocked shots (7-2). Heck, based on the plus-minus stats, you could argue they vastly outplayed Chicago’s starters:
Joakim Noah (+7)
Kirk Hinrich (-1)
Rip Hamilton (-7)
Luol Deng (-7)
Carlos Boozer (-12)
Taj Gibson (+21)
Nate Robinson (+14)
Marco Belinelli (+12)
Jimmy Butler (+12)
Look, fans still miss the old Bench Mob, and that’s fair. But it may be time to give management some props. The combination of Butler Robinson, Belinelli and Gibson are starting to really gel. According to Hoopstats, the Bulls bench currently ranks 11th in Efficiency and sixth in Efficiency Differential.
Said Boozer: “Our chemistry with our second group now is awesome. They come in the game (with) great confidence, making big plays, important plays, and I think our whole group is growing.”
Added Noah: “It’s huge. And I think that to get to where we want to get to we need everybody. It’s not about starters or bench, it’s us as a team. I think that a lot of guys have stepped up throughout this year and that’s the strength of this team is any given night Nate [Robinson] can really go off, Marco, Rip, Jimmy, everybody, Taj. Everybody has a role and we just feel like we can even play better.”
Playing Like an All-Star:
Noah sure isn’t resting on his laurels now that he’s finally made the All-Star team. Last night’s line: 45 minutes, 18 rebounds, 13 points, 7 assists, 5 blocked shots and a steal. His defense and rebounding were huge. His passing was phenomenal…Noah is without question the best passing big man in the game.
Over the last four games, Noah has pulled down 18, 16, 17 and 18 rebounds. He’s also dished out 2, 4, 10 and 7 assists.
He’s also leading the league in Defensive Win Shares (3.6) and third in rebounds per game (11.3).
If I have any concerns with Noah this season, it’s his shooting. His field goal percentage (45.8) is lower than it should be when you consider 320 of his 432 field goal attempts have come inside of nine feet. Here’s his shooting broken down by zones (via Basketball-Reference):
Now Noah’s overall shooting percentage obviously takes a hit from all the missed tip shots. But still, he’s converting only 55 percent of his shots at the rim and only half his layups. Those aren’t good percentages for an elite center. And 33 percent on hook shots? Kareem isn’t happy with you, Jo.
Noah absolutely deserves to be an All-Star and I would rank his all-around skill set as high or higher than any other big man in the league. But it would be nice to see Noah put the ball in the basket with a higher rate of efficiency.
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls once again hit more shots at the rim (20) than their opponent even attempted (19). Unfortunately, Charlotte was 7-for-11 from 3-9 feet, so Chicago’s advantage in points in the paint (44-38) wasn’t as big as it probably should have been.
Key Stats Part 2:
The Bulls had 22 assists on 35 baskets. The Bobcats had 12 assists on 32 baskets.
Was that a Ben Gordon sighting? It sure was. Air Gordon lit up his former team by hitting four of his five three-point attempts and scoring 18 points in 28 minutes. That’s the kind of performance Bulls fans remember, although the Bobcat faithful isn’t seeing a lot of it.
Gordon’s actually playing well this season. He’s near career-highs in field goal percentage (.450) and three-point percentage (.425) and he’s averaging 21.7 points per 36 minutes. And his PER of 17.2 is the second-best mark of his career. But he’s playing only 22 minutes off the bench for an 11-33 team. And a lot of nights you can tell he’s not into it the way he used to be.
Speaking of flashbacks, there was Tyrus Thomas too, launching (and missing) three jumpers and finishing with zero points and a plus-minus of -11 in seven minutes. I can’t say I miss that.
Quote of the Night:
Deng on his return: ”[The injured hamstring] felt great. It felt great. Honestly, I was a little worried. I haven’t gone full speed like that. With the game I was worried a little bit about the change of speed. So I’m happy that I was able to not have any setbacks or any problems … It felt a little tight but it didn’t feel like it felt before I (injured) it last time or how it felt when I first (injured) it in Toronto. It was definitely a different feeling.”
Charlotte Injury Report:
Byron Mullens: out (sprained ankle)
A Friday night win over Golden State looked like a good sign for the Bulls, something that could be built on. They had been struggling at home on the season, just above .500, and the Warriors were coming off wins over the Thunder and Clippers.
The Bulls, somewhat easily actually, took care of the Warriors, which set up the chance to either build on that victory, or slip up as Washington was awaiting them. The Bulls came out flat and opted for the latter. It was just another dip in the up-and-down season that is the 2012-2013 Bulls campaign. They’ve had highs (two wins at MSG over the Knicks and third place in the East without their best player, to name a few), but also some lows (ending Charlotte’s 18-game losing streak, the Suns’ 12-game road losing streak, falling to the Wizards, to name the worst).
If we are going to praise the Bulls for their highs, and beating the Warriors in the commanding way they did was a high, we have to talk about their lows as well. Under Tom Thibodeau it wasn’t often the Bulls came out flat. But this year, it’s happened way too many times. They don’t have their best player, which could be an excuse, but they have shown they can win without Derrick Rose.
These losses are frustrating because the Bulls have shown that they are still a very good team. They proved it against the Knicks, Thunder, Heat, Grizzlies (played them very tough twice) and Warriors. So the problem isn’t talent, it may be effort and focus.
One of the worst no-shows of the season was a home game against the Bobcats, in which Charlotte ended an 18-game losing streak. The Bulls got embarrassed in that one, and should come looking for revenge tonight. Chicago shot 35.1 percent in that loss and managed just 81 points against one of the worst defensive teams in the league. The Bobcats give up 103.2 points per contest.
Joakim Noah was the biggest disappointment, scoring just two points and grabbing four boards in his 30 minutes of action. Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds) and Luol Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds) both put in double-double, but pretty much everyone else on the team came up small. Nate Robinson finished 2-11 starting in place of Kirk Hinrich. Marco Belinelli was 3-12 off the bench and Marquis Teague was 2-7. Maybe it was that Hinrich, their leader was missing….they really could have used his 7.0 points per game…(does the math)…nope that wouldn’t have been enough.
Since beating the Bulls to end 2012, the Bobcats are 3-9. They’ve beaten the Pistons, Magic and Timberwolves. They are fresh off that Minnesota win, a game that ended Charlotte’s 16-game home losing streak (it’s good to know the Bulls aren’t the only team that the Bobcats snapped something against). It was a very injured Timberwolves squad, but it counts nonetheless.
Kemba Walker led the way with 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks. Off the bench, Ramon Sessions was 9-10 from the charity stripe, finishing with 23 points and Ben Gordon scored 18 points. Charlotte scored 50 points in the paint, to 32 for the Timberwolves, and grabbed eight more rebounds (38-30).
The Bulls may get a boost with Luol Deng coming back. Jimmy Butler said after shootaround that he was “glad to have (Luol) back. We’re going to just keep going. Same role coming off the bench.” Deng is officially listed as a game-time decision.
From Stats LLC: The Bulls have won five of their last seven games against teams with winning records by an average of 8.4 points. The bad news: Charlotte is far from a winning record.
Wizards Injury Report:
Cartier Martin: out (hyperextended knee)
The Bulls had been struggling at home all season, with a record just over .500 and losses to some sub-par teams. Coming off a hard-fought win against the Pistons, the Bulls were expected to have their hands full against the Warriors. That was far from the case though, as the Bulls jumped all over Golden State from the beginning and cruised to a 16 point victory.
In the first quarter, Chicago held Golden State to 22.7 percent shooting, while the Bulls hit at a 53.8 percent rate. Kirk Hinrich had eleven in the first quarter and hit two treys. Before last night, he had hit more than two three-pointers in a game just twice. And those eleven first quarter points would have tied for his sixth highest scoring game of the season. He ended up with a season-high 25 points and connected with 6-7 from deep (he hit eight threes in all of November). Things were working for the Bulls early, and although the lead shrunk to 13 at half, Chicago maintained control throughout.
Jimmy Butler got his first double-double, recording a career-high 12 rebounds to go with 18 points. Carlos Boozer (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (14 points, 16 rebounds) also joined the double-double party. Those three guys owned the glass, and the Bulls out-rebounded the Warriors 56-37. Chicago grabbed 16 offensive rebounds against the best defensive rebounding team in the league. Golden State had been giving up 11.3 O-boards per contest.
Nate Robinson was Good Nate last night, scoring 22 points on 16 shots. Even Daequan Cook hit a three. It was a dominating all-around performance (The Warriors did get to the line 33 times, and hit 29 of them, which was one of the few negatives).
From one of the better teams in the leagues to the second worst, Chicago’s attention now turns to the Wizards. The Bulls topped Washington in late December in what was an ugly contest as neither team shot 40 percent. The Wizards won the rebounding battle 56-49, but the Bulls turned it over just nine times and allowed only eight points off those giveaways to make up for the difference.
Marco Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring in the first match-up with the Wizards, scoring 17. It was Rip Hamilton’s first game back after missing 12 contests, which forced Belinelli back to the bench. The fear was that the he couldn’t duplicate the same numbers he had as a starter. It looked promising after that game, but hasn’t been so great since. Since Belinelli returned to the bench, the 17 he scored against Washington are his high. He is averaging just 8.9 points in the month of January, hitting double digits just five times.
Emeka Okafor dominated the glass, grabbing 18 rebounds, including six offensive ones. The way the Bulls cleaned the glass like Windex against Golden State, Okafor shouldn’t be allowed to duplicate that high number.
The biggest difference in this one (other than Luol Deng possibly being out) will be the presence of John Wall. At least one team in this match-up will have their franchise point guard. Wall is averaging 14.0 points and 6.9 assists in eight games since his return from a knee injury. Washington is 5-3 with the Kentucky-grad in their line-up, topping the Hawks and Nuggets among others (all of their losses were single digits as well).
They got a double-digit win last night over the very injured Timberwolves though. Minnesota, who was without Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Alexy Shved, allowed the Wiz to shoot 57.8 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from deep. Six Washington players scored in double figures and ten guys had at least six points, all led by Jordan Crawford’s efficient 19 (7-10). Bradley Beal dropped 16, while Wall and Okafor each chipped in 14.
It was the second highest point output for the Wizards this season. They rank last in offensive rating (97.6) and second to last in effective field goal percentage (.461). For as bad as their offense has been, and it has improved with Wall back in the line-up, their defense has been impressive. Washington ranks seventh in defensive rating (103.3) and ninth in opponent eFG (.483). The Bulls managed just 87 points against the Wizards on December 29.
Washington has won four straight at home, and is 6-3 in their last nine, while the Bulls have won five straight on the road. Chicago is 4-5 on the second night of back-to-backs and the Wizards are 1-10.
Talk about controlling the backboards. Chicago’s starting frontcourt was totally dominant in this game, combining for 41 rebounds to go with 45 points. Carlos Boozer (15 points and 13 rebounds), Jimmy Butler (16 points and 12 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (14 points and 16 rebounds) all finished with double-doubles. What’s more, they combined to pull down 15 of the team’s 16 offensive rebounds.
Not bad considering the Bulls were playing a 26-16 team that was coming off back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Clippers (32-12) and Oklahoma City Thunder (34-10)…two of the best teams in basketball.
Said Noah: ”We just went after it, went after the ball. We knew they were playing some really good basketball and I think we played with the right edge tonight. We played probably one of our best games.”
Overall, the Bulls outrebounded the Warriors 56-37 and outscored them 30-6 in second-chance points.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”It’s huge. Jo was terrific — offense, defense, rebounding, energy. Carlos, his rebounding and just his presence inside, his cutting and screening led to fouls, which got us to the free throw line, got us established inside, opened some things up for us.”
Chicago’s one-two punch at point guard delivered the knockout blows. Kirk Hinrich (season-high 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting) and Nate Robinson (22 points on 10-for-16 shooting) were absolutely on fire. Hinrich was a red-hot 6-for-7 from downtown and repeatedly punished the Warriors for sagging off him on D.
Said Captain Kirk: ”The guys set me up with some great plays. I was hitting shots and they just kept finding me.”
Hinrich and Robinson also combined for 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and only 3 turnovers.
Said Thibodeau: ”I thought Kirk and Nate were terrific together. They played well off each other. It’s one of the reasons we signed Kirk. He has played both the positions and played both well. He and Nate can go back and forth.”
Added Robinson: ”It was just fun, man. [Hinrich's] the captain of the team, he’s the leader and he had us going. For us, the ball finds energy. Kirky had great energy today. Each guy did, including myself, but we just feed and play off each other. It just happened and just felt natural. When you’re out there playing basketball and you’re having fun, the ball — it doesn’t care who gets the credit. The ball hops and we’re just having fun and knocking down shots.”
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls — thanks largely to Hinrich’s hot hand — were 9-for-20 (45 percent) from three-point range.
The Bulls proved once again that shutting down the three-point shot is a big key to holding down offensively explosive teams.
Key Stats Part 2: According to Hoopdata, the Bulls converted more shots at the rim (19) than the Warriors even attempted (16). Both Chicago and Golden State converted a high rate of their attempts at the hoop — 73 and 75 percent, respectively — but the Bulls were largely successful in forcing contested shots away from the basket.
The Warriors were 0-for-7 from 3-9 feet, 2-for-7 (28 percent) from 10-15 feet and 9-for-27 (33 percent) from 16-23 feet. That means 46 of their 78 field goal attempts were launched from 16 feet or further out…and they converted only 28 percent of those shots.
The Butler Did It Again:
Jimmy Butler…oh my God. Luol Deng leads the league in minutes per game and does a little bit of everything for the Bulls. And, with Derrick Rose still rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee, Deng is the team’s floor leader and game closer. So when he went down with a minor hamstring injury…things looked bad.
The second-year man out of Maquette has stepped in and the Bulls have barely missed a thing. He’s done an adequate job scoring, his rebounding has been fantastic and his defense has been as good and at times even better than Deng’s. He also provides things — like speed and athleticism — that Deng does not.
I’m not suggesting that Butler is better than Deng. But the kid is playing at an extremely high level right now. Here are his stats for the last five games:
At Boston: 13 points, 4-for-5, 4 rebounds
Versus Memphis: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Versus the Lakers: 10 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal (and great D on Kobe)
Versus Detroit: 18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Versus Golden State: 16 points, 6-for-10, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist
What’s more…Butler has 17 offensive rebounds over those five games.
Taj Gibson had a rough outing. He finished with zero points on 0-for-4 shooting and had more personal fouls (4) than rebounds (3). Ditto for Marco Belinelli (3 points on 1-for-5 shooting).
According to the AP recap, the Warriors haven’t won in Chicago since January 18, 2008. Baron Davis — remember him? — dropped 40 on the Bulls, who featured a starting lineup of Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Joe Smith, Thabo Sefolosha and Ben Wallace. My how times have changes.
Quote of the Night:
Noah: ”That’s the beauty of this team, man. A lot of guys can step up. Nate Robinson again, huge for us. Kirky Worky, huge for us. Jimmy Boy, huge for us. Carlos, huge for us. It’s just that everybody came in with the right mindset, right edge. It’s a big win.”
Warriors Injury Report:
Andrew Bogut: out (ankle)
Brandon Rush: out (knee)
Another hard fought win at home over a team that really shouldn’t be that tough to beat has the Bulls sitting atop the Central Division and in fourth place in the conference. Doing this all without Derrick Rose, and the last two wins without Luol Deng, deserves some credit.
But the Bulls struggles at home are cause for concern. Detroit is 4-15 on the road after falling in the United Center, and the Bulls had to come back from 17 down to get the win.
Chicago will have its hands full with the Warriors, especially the point guard combination of Kirk Hinrich/Nate Robinson as well as Joakim Noah.
Noah will start with the task of trying to stop David Lee. Lee was named an All-Star last night for his 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He also averages 3.7 assists per game.
Only one Warrior made the All-Star team, which means Stephen Curry got snubbed. Curry is the leading scorer on the Warriors averaging 20.9 per contest along with 4.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Rajon Rondo has scored season-highs against the Bulls twice this season; Brandon Jennings has scored big as has Raymond Felton. The point being that less talented point guards have torn up the Bulls’ defense.
It’s going to take a team effort to slow down Curry, but it starts with Hinrich and Robinson. We all know Robinson isn’t a great defender, and although Hinrich is thought of as a good stopper, he really isn’t. Kirk and Nate both have defensive ratings of 102, while the Bulls as a whole are at 100.8.
Curry is the third best three-point shooter in the league, hitting on 45.1 percent of his treys (over his last ten games he’s shooting 47.1 percent). Klay Thompson is not too shabby from deep either, as he connects on 38.9 percent of his threes. As a team Golden State shoots 39.0 percent from three, second best in the league (Oklahoma City is shooting 39.1 percent).
The Bulls are 5th best in the league defending the three, holding opponents to 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. They have also allowed the fewest three pointers made in the league (191). Opponents are shooting 32.7 percent from three against Golden State, second best in the league.
While the Bulls are coming off of a tough win against the 16-26 Pistons, the Warriors topped the West-leading Thunder on Wednesday night.
The Warriors are currently riding a three game winning streak and are just now hitting the end of an extremely tough stretch. Golden State is 5-5 in the month of January, which doesn’t seem very good, but it’s impressive when you look at their opponents. They lost to the Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Heat and Spurs, all of which are playoff teams. The Warriors have also beaten Clippers (twice), Blazers and Thunder over that stretch.
They took care of Oklahoma City Wednesday in their most recent time out. Curry scored 31 points to go with seven assists and four steals. He didn’t shoot well though, going 11-27 from the field and 3-14 from deep. Lee finished 50 percent from the field and recorded 22 points and 12 boards. Thomspon scored 19 and Carl Landry dropped 20 off the bench.
Although the Warriors aren’t normally good at forcing turnovers (28th in the league in opponent turnover percentage), they forced Oklahoma City into 19 giveaways, and scored 24 points off of them.
Last season: The Bulls and Warriors played just once last season, in the second game of the year, an eight-point Golden State victory. Monta Ellis, no longer with the team, led the Warriors with 26.
Hamstrung: LuolDeng said his chances of playing against Golden State are “not good.” That means more Jimmy Butler, who is averaging 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in his three games as a starter, and came up huge in the fourth quarter against the Pistons.
It’s official: Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have been selected as reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Deng will be making his second straight trip to the ASG. He’s currently averaging 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 15.2. He currently leads the league in minutes per game (39.8).
This will be Noah’s first All-Star appearance. He’s averaging career-highs in points (12.2), assists (4.0), blocks (2.1) and steals (1.3) to go with 10.9 rebounds per game. Noah is second on the Bulls in PER (16.9) and first in Win Shares (4.4). League-wide, he ranks ninth in minutes per game (38.3), eighth in blocks per game, eighth in total blocks (83), seventh in rebounds per game, seventh in total rebounds (435), seventh in total offensive rebounds (152), sixth in Defensive Rating (96.7) and second in Defensive Win Shares (3.2).
Noah said (via press release): “I’m extremely excited to be recognized as an All-Star for the first time. It’s more of a team honor than an individual honor, because it would not have been possible without my teammates and coaches. I look forward to representing my teammates and the Bulls organization during All-Star Weekend.”
The home team needed a herculean effort over the final 14 minutes to rally from a huge deficit against a Detroit squad that is 16-26 overall and only 4-15 on the road. The Bulls played with little energy or interest for the first three quarters of this game…a continuing trend at home against lesser teams.
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls forced the Pistons into only 12 turnovers, but they scored 18 points off those miscues.
Unfortunately, Chicago committed 15 turnovers for 19 points going the other way.
Key Stats Part 2:
The Bulls outscored the Pistons 14-5 in fast break points. The majority of those transition points came after the Bulls fell behind and they — led by Nate Robinson — had to start pushing the tempo.
Key Stats Part 3:
The Pistons outscored the Bulls 44-30 in the paint and many of those were scored directly at the rim. Detroit’s guards kept getting penetration — especially off high screen and roll plays — and hit several layups both contested and uncontested. That said, the Pistons had only 6 points in the paint during the fourth quarter. Speaking of which…
Key Stats Part 4:
The Pistons shot 6-for-21 (28 percent) in the fourth quarter, including 5-for-15 (33 percent) on two-pointers and 1-for-6 (16 percent) on three-pointers.
Meanwhile, the Bulls shot 10-for-18 (55 percent) in the fourth, including 8-for-15 (53 percent) on twos and 2-for-3 (66 percent) on threes.
Player of the Game:
Nate Robinson. The Bulls looked like they were wading through mud for most of the game. Seriously, I was ready to storm the locker room and check to see if they were wearing shoe weights. Then Robinson struck like a bolt from the blue and turned the game around.
Little Nate’s stats were pretty good — 21 minutes, 11 points, 4-for-9, 7 assists — and he hit some tough shots. But, as is usually the case Robinson, his energy and enthusiasm were bigger factors than his numbers. He excited the crowd and his teammates. He pushed the ball at every opportunity. He set the tone for the comeback.
Said Robinson: ”I can speak for [Noah] when I say this: We just play for the fun of the game. We just have fun and the energy’s always going to be there. We just try to have that snowball effect on everybody else in the arena, and it does. For us, that’s our biggest [addition] to the game: coming in and bringing energy. That’s the gift that we can bring to everybody else is to play as hard as you can and to have fun. We have fun out there and you can see it on guys’ faces. Everybody’s involved, the crowd, even Coach a couple times. Deep down inside, Thibs wants to smile but he doesn’t. But he really does sometimes.”
I think Thibodeau’s face might crack if he smiled.
Player of the Game Runner Up:
Jimmy Butler. He played a fantastic all-around game with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and a blocked shot. He was the only Bulls player who was really hustling for the first three quarters. This was most evident late in the second quarter when he rebounded his own missed layup and dunked the ball home.
Butler also had two key clutch buckets: A no-hesitation 17-footer to put the Bulls up 79-73 with 4:22 left and then a cold-blooded three-pointer to put the Bulls up 82-80 with 1:51 remaining after the Pistons had retaken the lead.
I should also note that Butler’s D was a big reason Tayshaun Prince went 5-for-12 and scored only 11 points.
Jimmy has played extremely well in the absence of Luol Deng (hamstring). And while Lu’s starting spot is definitely secure, maybe this stretch will convince Thibs that he doesn’t need to play Deng 40+ minutes every night. Especially since Butler provides a little more speed and athleticism than Luol does.
Play of the Game:
The Bulls were leading 82-80 with about 30 seconds left when Rodney Stuckey posted up on Kirk Hinrich. Taj Gibson left his man to make a soft double team on Stuckey, Noah failed to rotate into Gibson’s slot, and Stucky dished the ball to Jason Maxiell for an easy layup that tied the game.
It was a bad defensive sequence.
That sequence was quickly erased by the following amazing hustle play by Noah:
Said Noah: “It was a dangerous play because I kept it in play. It could have went either way. If they get the ball, it’s a four-on-five fast break on the other side. Fortunately, Marco got the ball. I didn’t really see the play, but I just heard the crowd and it was an and-1. The basketball gods were on our side again.”
Added Thibs: “That was incredible. I don’t know how he got to it. It was an incredible play, and then Marco making the shot and hitting the free throw. It is big-time stuff. Joakim was something. He had 18 rebounds and did not come out in the second half. He made great hustle plays. I thought our team spirit was terrific. That unit that finished the game really inspired us.”
1. Terrible initial shot by Marco Belinelli. He rushed it.
2. None of the Pistons reacted after Noah saved the ball. I guess they all assumed that either a) the ball was out of bounds before Noah touched it or b) Noah was standing out of bounds when he touched it.
3. Despite the rushed shot, Belinelli showed great presence of mind in corralling the saved ball and swooping in for the layup.
4. The Pistons compounded their lack-of-reaction error by committing an incredibly weak foul on Belinelli during the layup.
The Rise of Taj:
Gibson hasn’t been playing well lately, right? Well, he played well last night: 24 minutes, 5-for-7 from the field, 4-for-5 from the line, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 1 assist.
Gibson’s defense during the final 12 minutes was a big key to the comeback. Taj also had some clutch fourth quarter scores:
7:05: Went 2-for-2 from the line to tie the game at 73-73
6:03: Hit a layup to put the Bulls up 75-73
5:05: Nails a 14-footer to put the Bulls up 77-73
Those were six straight Bulls points during a crucial stretch. My only complaint was that Taj once again pulled down only 4 rebounds. According to Basketball-Reference, he ranked second-to-last in Defensive Rebounding Percentage last night. Only Nazr Mohammed had a lower DR%, and Nazr played nine seconds.
Goat of the Night:
After scorching the Lakers with 9-for-11 shooting, Kirk Hinrich went 0-for-5 from the field and finished with zero points in 34 minutes. The Bulls were outscored by 10 points when he was on the floor, the worst plus-minus on the team.
Quote of the Night:
Noah on what he thought of his amazing save-pass to Belinelli for the winning layup: “I didn’t even really see it. I had the cheerleaders’ pom-poms in my face.”
Quote of the Night Runner Up:
Robinson on leading the comeback: “I just felt like I was invincible, unstoppable. It’s the Peter Pan theory — you can’t fly without happy thoughts.”
Pistons Injury Report:
Rodney Stuckey: left Tuesday’s game (sprained ankle)
With two of their best players sidelined, Chicago battled a tough Memphis team before falling in overtime and next time out topped the struggling Lakers. The Bulls had practice winning without Rose last year, as he missed some games in the lockout shortened season. But this is something new.
Now the Bulls set their sights on division-foe Detroit. The Pistons are 4-2 against Central opponents so far this year, and have won seven of their last ten and nine of their last 13. During that streak, they have wins against the Heat, Bucks (twice), Hawks and Celtics. That’s not a bad group of victories.
Detroit is traveling to Chicago after taking care of the Magic on Tuesday night. The Pistons bench scored 48 points to just 29 for the Orlando reserves and had six players in double-figures, led by Brandon Knight’s 18 points.
Greg Monroe scored 16, while Jason Maxiell and Andre Drummond each tallied eleven points and eleven rebounds. “The performance from our bigs was really good,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “That was a big part of our game plan tonight.”
Detroit outrebounded the Magic 54-41 including 16-6 on the offensive end. Orlando’s power forward, Glen Davis, struggled from the field against Maxiell and company, going 4-16, while grabbing just three rebounds.
Chicago should fare better against Detroit’s frontline, with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah playing good basketball. Jo has been playing well all season, and although his shooting has slipped in 2013—to 37.7 percent on the month—he is still averaging 10.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks. Noah was 2-8 from the field against Dwight Howard and the Lakers scoring just six points. He brought it in other areas though, grabbing 13 boards and blocking six shots.
Boozer on the other hand is playing his best stretch of basketball in some time. He’s averaging 22.0 points on 51.9 percent shooting and grabbing 11.5 rebounds in the month of January. All of those stats are up from his season totals (16.1 points, 48.2 percent, 10.0 rebounds). Boozington had a bit of a down game against Los Angeles, with just 14 points on 7-17 shooting (41.2 percent) and six boards.
The Bulls showed that their bigs can control a game last time they faced the Pistons as both Boozer and Noah had huge days. The Bulls scored 58 points in the paint as Boozington scored 24 points on 12-19 from the field, to go with six boards and two steals.
Noah exploded for 30 points (12-19 FG) and 23 rebounds, setting career highs in both categories. Joakim out-rebounded the rest of the Bulls (23-19) and nearly out-rebounded the Pistons (28-23). He became one of four players to record 30 points, 23 rebounds and six assists, joining Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Charles Barkley.
The Bulls needed all Noah could give, as they trailed by 17 at one point in the second quarter, and ended up winning by just four. Detroit shot 51.4 percent for the game and 57.1 percent from deep. The Bulls are going to have to do better on the defensive end, which they should. Opponents are averaging 91.5 points against the Bulls in January, and that includes the three overtime games they had last week.
The Bulls have won 16 straight against the Pistons, a streak dating back to 2008, but they have had problems winning at home this season, especially against lesser opponents. I don’t need to remind everyone of the losses to Charlotte and Phoenix in the United Center, but I will anyway, and I’ll remind everyone of the early season home loss to New Orleans as well. The Bulls are 12-11 at home on the year, but the Pistons are 4-14 on the road. Detroit is 3-6 on the second night of back-to-backs.