Chicago Bulls 96, San Antonio Spurs 86: What Did We Learn?

Maybe we shouldn’t get excited about a win over a team missing four of its best six players, as the San Antonio Spurs were last night, especially with the Chicago Bulls operating at what passes for full strength with Derrick Rose out of action. But then again, the Spurs are notorious — not unlike the Bulls, really — for soldiering on regardless of how many guys are out. Besides, they’re the defending Western Conference champions and came within 28 seconds of winning the title (sorry) and the game was in San Antonio, so whatever.

Anyway, let’s get to what we learned:

1. Joakim Noah makes everything better.

The difference between a Bulls team sans Noah and a Bulls team with Noah is striking and more than a bit concerning. For all that Noah was a game-time decision last night, he sure played like his usual self, slapping up 10/10/8 with 4 blocks in 39 minutes. If you really want to get upset about his minutes total, I won’t stop you, but the fact is that Noah sat down to close the first quarter and to start the second, and the Bulls’ offense essentially died. They went from up 9 late in the first to down 7 in the second after the Spurs rolled off a 19-3 run over 8 minutes.

But then Kirk Hinrich sat down and Noah came back, and suddenly the Bulls ripped off a 12-0 run of their own to close the first half. (More on Captain Kirk in a minute.) Noah is the hub of the Bulls’ offense these days, and the stark contrast between the effectiveness of the offense from Monday, sans Noah, to last night with him is hard to overstate.

2. Let’s make Kirk’s status as DJ Augustin’s backup permanent.

I’m honestly not sure whether DJ started last night because Tom Thibodeau wanted to ease Kirk back in after he missed the past several games, but this should continue to be a thing. Augustin has earned his spot as a starter, and even with a rough shooting night — just 6/17 from the field — DJ still posted the highest +/- of anyone on the team at +22. Kirk was -14, even with a strong performance in the fourth quarter. Single-game, individual +/- isn’t generally the most reliable statistic around, but in this case it backs up the eye test pretty well. As I sort of mentioned above, the tragic death of the Bulls’ offense late in the first quarter and early in the second coincided with Noah’s absence as well as Kirk’s presence.

Speaking of Kirk…

3. Kirk Hinrich >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Mike James

I’m not a big Kirk fan, as you probably know, but Mike James is awful while Kirk is below average. As long as DJ’s the starter, I will be more than content with Kirk as the backup. Though it would be nice if Thibs would stop playing Kirk at the two so much.

4. 2012-13 Jimmy Butler is back!

Jimmy had his best game in quite a while last night, once again flashing the efficient offensive game that made me fall in love with him last season. He scored 19 points on 7/11 from the field and 4/5 from the free throw line, adding 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks for good measure. He also had to check Tony Parker for most of the game, making him work for his 20 points and 6 assists.

My speculation has been that Jimmy’s horrific shooting of late has stemmed from continued discomfort from his turf toe. To me, it stands to reason that a toe injury would make jumping more difficult, which would make it hard to keep one’s jump shot consistent. Furthermore, Jimmy’s lift had seemed lacking, which would help explain why he’s had trouble finishing at the rim. But last night, the jumper was there, and the lift was back, as evidenced by this dunk, which would fit in perfectly with any 2012-13 highlight reel.

That’s all I got. The Bulls have tonight off, then they’ll take on the New Orleans Pelicans in the second of a six-game western road trip on Saturday.

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