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…
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.”