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).