Bulls open the season with a sweet win over the Spurs

I don’t want to make too much out of the Bulls’ season-opening win over the Spurs. After all, it’s only the first of 82 regular season games, and the Bulls had a built-in advantage: they were well-rested whereas the Spurs had to play the night before and then travel to Chicago for the second game of back-to-backs.

That said, it was still a pretty gratifying victory. Here’s why:

1. The Bulls withstood adversity:
In the first half, they couldn’t have lobbed a beach ball into the ocean. Meanwhile, the Spurs were shooting lights out and Tim Duncan (28 points, 13-for-18, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks) was blistering any Bull who dared to guard him. But Chicago did what teams have to do on bad shooting nights: they crashed the boards. For the half, the Bulls had 10 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points…not to mention a 47-46 lead going into the break.

Joakim Noah was Chicago’s best player in the first half. He grabbed four offensive rebounds. He blocked two of Tim Duncan’s shots. He hit one of his patented ugly-as-hell jumpers from 17 feet out. He played with the kind of energy and intensity you won’t see in a box score. Trust me, his final stats (10 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks) may not knock your socks off, but the Bulls would have gotten blown out in that first half without Joakim.

2. Tyrus Thomas came alive:
Let me put this bluntly: Tyrus sucked in the first half. After two quarters, Ty’s line was: 11 minutes, zero points on 0-for-3 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 fouls. He was outplayed by his potential replacement, Taj Gibson, whose shooting was off but who grabbed three offensive rebounds and was aggressive enough to earn some free throws during the Bulls’ frigid first half. Heck, little Jannero Pargo finished those first 24 minutes with more blocks (1) than Thomas (0).

But T-Rise was the player of the second half. He led the charge coming out of the break, hitting back-to-back jumpers from 17 and 16 feet out. He blocked a Tony Parker layup. He blocked anotherParker layup. He swooped to the basket on a fast break and drew the foul from Matt Bonner. He grabbed some rebounds. He drilled another 17-footer. He blocked a Duncan layup. He threw down a vicious dunk (off a sweet assist from Brad Miller) and drew the “And one!” from Richard Jefferson. Chicago’s first two scores of the fourth quarter were a Thomas free throw (Antonio McDyess fouled him on a drive) and 17-footer.

Like Noah, Thomas’ final line (13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) doesn’t leap out of the box score, but he lit a fire under the Bulls in the second half. No question about it.

3. Luol Deng looked pretty good:
Deng shot so poorly in the preseason that I was starting to sweat. Fortunately, he didn’t stop believing in himself. He was never spectacular last night — not the way Jo and Ty were, anyway — but he was solid throughout, finishing with a team-high 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Those aren’t All-Star numbers, perhaps, but would Bulls fans be happy if Deng played like that all season? Abso-freaking-lutely.

4. Derrick Rose’s ankle injury was a non-issue:
Rose still played a little tentatively at times — or maybe the Spurs defense just made it seem that way — but he was still dynamic. Derrick scored 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, which included three jumpers from 20 feet. But his best contributions came from creating shots for his teammates (7 assists) and — believe it or not — on the boards (7 rebounds). He also had a spectacular block of a Richard Jefferson layup in the first quarter. In fact, his defense wasn’t too shabby. You’ll notice his Spurs counterpart, former Finals MVP Tony Parker, finished with only 8 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

5. It was a total team effort:
This was definitely one of those “The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of the Parts” wins for Chicago. This team doesn’t have a LeBron James, so don’t expect many 40-point explosions or out-of-this-world triple-doubles. But six Bulls scored in double figures (all five starters and Kirk Hinrich). Chicago’s reserves outscored the San Antonio bench 29-27, but the disparity was actually greater than that during the meaningful parts of the game (Gregg Popovich cleared his bench in the final minutes while Vinny De Negro mysteriously left most of his starters in until the final buzzer). The Bulls out-rebounded the Spurs 52-44 (including a 15-8 edge on the offensive glass) and had a 22-13 advantage in second-chance points.

Everybody chipped in. Everybody played their role. Guys were slappng palms and rooting for each other. The chemistry looked great. There was just good stuff all around.

6. The Bulls…played defense:
How ’bout that defense, huh? Holding the new-look (and supposedly super-deep) Spurs to only 85 points on 42 percent shooting was pretty sweet (even if Chicago’s 41 percent shooting was pretty sour). Sure, the Bulls had no answer whatsoever for Duncan, but Parker and Manu Ginobili combined to shoot 7-for-22 from the field, and Parker earned only one free throw attempt.

7. They also took care of the ball:
Last season and even during this year’s preseason, the Bulls were sometimes guilty of careless ball-handling. Not last night. Chicago committed only nine turnovers — four fewer than the ball-control Spurs — and surrendered only nine points off those turnovers. Two major keys to winning are rebounding and ball control (just ask the Spurs). The Bulls won both of those battles last night…and the game. Go figure.

Reasons for concern:
There were a few. Like how the Bulls were (just like last year) badly exploited by an opposing big man. Like John Salmons’ misguided shooting (3-for-15 overall, 1-for-9 from downtown). Like the terrible three-point shooting (3-for-16). Like the nine missed free throws. Like the fact that the Bulls have to face the Celtics in Boston tonight after beating the Spurs in Chicago last night, a game that threatens to kill all the good mojo created by their game-opening win…

TrueHoop Network:
Graydon Gordion of 48 Minutes of Hell: “First and foremost, games that look something along the lines of tonight’s are gonna happen and they are gonna happen on the second night of back-to-backs when we’re on the road against young, athletic teams like the Bulls. I can only assume Vinny Del Negro happily handed the game ball to Joakim Noah, whose six offensive rebounds are one of the game’s most telling statistics.”

Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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13 Responses to Bulls open the season with a sweet win over the Spurs

  1. PTFC October 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    The fact that the Bulls showed their ability to hang with (and in this case defeat) an elite team is what mattered most to me. That let’s me know they can atleast compete (and not get their butts completely handed to them) by teams like the Celtics (we will see tonight), magic or cavs. And maybe even steal some wins if they can stay in those games until the end. But more importantly this lets me know the Bulls can take care of business against teams they are “supposed” to beat and possibly win more then lose against teams of equal caliber. It’s all about getting the best possible reg season record, we need that 4 or 5th seed.

  2. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad S. October 30, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    I was paying particular attention to the Noah/Duncan match-up. I was looking for evidence of his off-season training and the bulk he put on. And while he certainly did get torched by Duncan last night, I struggled to find times when I thought he was out of position or played poor defense. Noah didn’t foul out, and Duncan didn’t seem to be shooting alot of free-throws. I think that Duncan was just on fire last night, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. But we already knew that Noah was never going to be another Tim Duncan. I will be interested to see Noah match-up against lesser opponents.

  3. Raybay@yahoo.com'
    Ray October 30, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    I hope that this shuts up the luol haters. Lu played with heart the entire game. One thing people forget is how good of a rebounder he is at small forward. He was able to get that rebound at the end of the half while being sandwiched between duncan and another spur. Also Hinrich was awesome off the bench. He doesnt turn the ball over, he moves the ball, knocked down two threes and helped to shut down manu and parker. This Bulls team actually looks like a TEAM, not the joke excuse we saw the last few years with Gordon turning it over and firing from all over the court while being excused not to play D. Anyone who would rather have Gordon at this point over hinrich OR deng is an idiot. And Im sure those people still exist. I know in the next week Im gonna read, “Man da bullz wont do nothin in da playoffs without ben garden, that kid can straight score da ball.” Lets get one of the next two and start this season of right.

  4. njcamporese@yahoo.com'
    Nicky C October 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Agreed, Brad. Noah DID look fantastic last night due to his hustle and energy, but we can’t overlook the fact that Duncan simply owned him all game long; however, we also can’t overlook the fact that we are talking about TIM DUNCAN, the undisputed greatest power forward of all time. If last night was any indication, Noah is going to be studly all season.

    On another note, can we really expect to see Virus make 3-5 jump shots on a nightly basis? I have a bad feeling we are going to see a lot more 1st half Tyrus than we are 2nd half Tyrus throughout the season.

    Also, I love the balanced attack and the extra passing that was going on all last night, but Mr. Salmons did not look worthy of donning Ben Gordon’s superman cape last night. His shot looked flat and he looked creaky. That worries me.

    And I still can’t get over this fact – we have Derrick Freaking Rose on our team. Holy crap. I can’t stress how excited we should be. We get to claim DRose as our own for a long, long time, and when it is all said and done, he will crack that elite level of PG’s – Stockton, Magic, Cousy, Loser (I mean Thomas), etc. There is no doubt about it, Derrick Rose is headed for greatness.

  5. usmcroc22@msn.com'
    rocky October 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm #

    Stop hating on Tyrus. He was taking jumpers on designed plays for him to take those jumpers, because VDN has confidence in his shot that he’s worked extremely hard on. Other than that he played aggressive driving it and getting to the line. Salmons isn’t going to go 1-9 from three point range on many nights and most of those shots he missed were wide open. So if we continue to have great ball movement and he continues to get wide open shots then he’ll start knocking them down. As for Noah. Although Duncan had an outstanding game, he was still shooting 15-18 foot bank shots. He was man handling noah down low like he would of last year. Duncan just had a hell of a game shooting. Hinrich is definitely looking like he’s going to make a run for the sixth man award. I definitely a little suprised that James Johnson didn’t get a little burn given his versatility.

  6. Colin October 30, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    I was extremely impressed with how cool Rose was, he took Parker off the dribble like it was nobodies business and found wide open players for jumpers on almost every possession (Tyrus can thank Derrick for all his points). Salmons did look a little weary, but he’s not going to shoot that bad, and I think if he does again, VDN will have no trouble moving Deng or Hinrich to the 2 for extended periods. I’m very excited for this season, let’s keep it up.

  7. bscholtens@hotmail.com'
    Brad S. October 30, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    Ha ha ha! Ray, I love the Ben Garden quip!

    As for Noah, where is the reasonable ceiling that we can expect for this guy? I think we can all concur that he will never be Tim Duncan, or Dwight Howard. It’s not in his nature. But he was a high draft pick so I don’t want to see him under-acheive either. If he turns into DeSagana Diop or Micheal Olowokandi, then Paxson completely wasted the pick and Noah is a disappointment. So what is the hope here? Is a 10 and 10 guy good enough of a ceiling for Noah?

  8. Lord Henry October 30, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    Great victory. Normally this is the kind of game early in the season we lose. We didn’t, and we may not beat Boston tonight, but I think the bulls got a shot at a close one they might be able to steal. The Celts aren’t gonna be any happier to see the bulls than the bulls are to see them. Like that Gibson dude, a lot.

  9. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale October 30, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Brad S. — I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: My hope is that Jo can become a sort of Ben Wallace 2.0. If he consistently played 35-38 minutes per game (assuming he can stay out of foul trouble of course) I don’t see why he couldn’t give us 10 points, 13-14 rebounds, 3-4 blocked shots, and countless deflections, dives and hustle plays you won’t ever see in the box scores.

    I genuinely believe he could be one of the NBA’s best roleplayers, indispensible to a team that doesn’t need him to score.

  10. noah fan October 30, 2009 at 11:11 pm #

    noah is just what the bulls need. an energetic rebounding, good defending player who is only in his third year in the league. Believe me there are a lot of teams in the nba that wish that had noah right now. At least 20. Name 10 centers in the league you would rather have than noah right now. Legitimate ones. The way he is playing so far this year he will be in the top 10 centers this year. so dont worry about noah growing, as far as im concerned he is exactly what the bulls need.

  11. kris_marinescu@yahoo.com'
    RPK October 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Too bad the Bulls crapped the bed the very next night.

    It’s difficult to judge players when you get so completely destroyed. I hate to think that the Bulls are this far away from competing from a championship. I’ll give them a pass for tonight, but Vinny has to have his guys better prepared for road games than this. It’s frighteningly similar to how they started last year on the road, and we haven’t even started the circus trip yet! Although one could argue what happened out there tonight was very similar to a bunch of clowns running around.

    Bulls All Day


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