Circus Trip Game 1: Bulls 101, Kings 87

The Kings entered last night’s matchup with the Bulls on fire, having won five of their last six games while averaging 111 PPG. Meanwhile, the Bulls hadn’t scored 100 points even once. Their season-high had been 94 points at home against the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night.

Yet Chicago currently ranks 6th in Opponents Points Per Game (91.8) and 4th in Defensive Rating (99.5 Point Per 100 Possessions). Sacramento, on the other hand, ranks 25th (104.6) and 24th (109.9 Points Per 100 Possessions), respectively. And history has shown that very good defensive teams tend to beat pretty good offensive teams most of the time, which is exactly what happened last night.

It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? During training camp and the preseason, Bulls coaches and players talked up the team’s newfound committment to defense. To be honest, I thought it was a lot of lip service. A lot of teams over the years have made the same “defense first” promise only to revert to form as soon as the regular season really gets going. (For further reading, see Suns, Phoenix.) But the Bulls seem to be taking it pretty seriously.

Last night, Chicago held the Sactowners to a season-low 87 points on 43.2 percent shooting. And defense led to offense, as the Bulls scored 28 points by forcing the Kings into 21 turnovers.

Four Factors:
The Bulls won Effective Field Goal Percentage (51.2 to 45.6), Turnover Percentage (15.6 to 21.8) and Free Throw Rate (25.3 to 22.2). They barely lost Offensive Rebounding Rate (30.9 to 30.0), so that was a bit of a wash. In the end, the Bulls were +11 points on field goals, +3 on free throws, and +10 on points off turnovers.

Player of the Game:
Although John Salmons broke out of his season-long slump to score a team-high 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting (including 3-for-5 from downtown), Joakim Noah was the PoG…as I will explain below.

Here we “Jo” again:
The league’s leading rebounder — which apparently isn’t good enough to get you onto the All-Star ballot these days — finished with 15 points (5-for-8 from the field, 5-for-8 from the line), 14 boards, an assist, a steal, 2 blocked shots, 47 chest thumps and countless hustle plays. When Chicago’s sloppy play and poor shooting in the fourth quarter started to let the Kings back into the game, Noah stopped the bleeding by tipping in two misses by Kirk Hinrich and then adding a couple free throws.

And forget the numbers. Noah’s energy and intensity is swinging games. It’s happening. Joakim’s transformation into a very special player began at the tail end of last season and it’s continuing now. The people who put together the All-Star ballot may not have realized it, but the people of Chicago are starting to. Noah has been the Bulls’ MVP so far this season. It may sound crazy, especially considering his limitations and the fact that Derrick Rose is the team’s franchise player, but it’s true.

Comeback watch:
Luol Deng had 16 points (8-for-14) and 10 rebounds. It was his third double-double of the season. He leads the Bulls in scoring (17.4) and is 2nd (to Joakim Noah) in both rebounding (9.3) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.3). I don’t want to make any premature statements, not until Deng stays healthy and productive for an entire season. But his play so far has been very, very encouraging. And his toughness — especially on the boards — is a sign that he may finally shed that “soft” tag that’s been dangling from his toe for the last several years.

The Franchise:
Rose had another so-so game. He dished out 7 assists while committing only 2 turnovers, but scored only 10 points on 2-for-12 shooting  (2-for-7 on layups, 0-for-6 on jumpers). Is the kid still hurting from that preseason ankle injury?

Welcome back:
Jannero Pargo, who hasn’t been playing much lately due to some lingering injuries, went 5-for-8 from the field and 2-for-2 from downtown to score 12 points off the bench. He provided a real spark off the bench, which is exactly why the Bulls signed him this summer. Let’s hope he’s healthy and ready to do this on a regular basis. The team really needs his shooting.

Former Bull Factor:
Unfortunately, Andres Nocioni missed the game with a hip pointer. Bummer. I was looking forward to seeing Noc play again.

Pain in the Paint:
I hate to throw a wet blanket on the joy of an important road win, but the Bulls were outscored 56-44 in the paint and were once again exploited by an opposing frontcourt player (Sacramento SF Donte Green scored a game-high 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting). Chicago also missed 13 layup attempts (14-for-27). This was a major thorn in the Bulls’ hoof last season, and it has been doing some damage again this season.

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

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8 Responses to Circus Trip Game 1: Bulls 101, Kings 87

    BadDave November 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    And while not to overly denigrate this win, it *was* only the Kings. But it’s a good confidence builder to face the Lakers, enver Nuggets, and Portland.

    Vic De Zen November 18, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    I really hope Rose turns it around. 2-12? Ugh. Good to see Salmons actually have a nice game, though.

    Varese November 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    Matt – this Noah All-Star situation has me completely furious, and every box score serves to underline your point: he has been the Bulls most consistent impact player all year, and the numbers back it up – as comforting as it has been to see Deng succeeding again, Noah is the best story of the season for us so far.

    My question: HOW can he get votes for the All-Star game this year? Is there any way to do it, any letters to write, etc? Will the league step in at some point?

  4. PTFC November 18, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    Doesn’t the coaches get to pick some of the players in the allstar game, like an honorable selection type thing? I thought thats how it worked. The fans vote for 10 of the 12 players per conference and then the coaches vote in another 2. If so, I hope Noah gets recongition and is one of those 2 players.

    What’s sad is Shaq will make the allstar game but Noah is a better center right now (of course thanks to a great decline Shaq’s abilities due to his age). What other center in the East is playing better then Noah right now besides Howard (though I don’t even think Howard stats so far shows this but at the end of the day we know how is a better center).

    Joe November 18, 2009 at 6:24 pm #

    At what point do the Bulls shut Rose down for a few days to let his ankle heal? When Pargo is healthy? It needs to happen at some point, better sooner than later.

    Craig November 18, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    Here are my Bulls thoughts:

    This is a better team without Ben Gordon. I know this may be very controversial, especially amongst those that I have included on this email, but I think it’s true. Defensively, they have gone from a small/undersized team, to a big starting lineup. You replace Gordon with Salmons and you gain 6 inches (at least) and a much better all-around defender. Defensively, they have been excellent through 10 games ranking 6th in Opponents Points Per Game (91.8) and 4th in Defensive Rating (99.5 Point Per 100 Possessions).

    Now Vinny would argue that the reason has more to do with him harping defense in training camp and throughout the season, but I don’t buy that. I don’t like Vinny as a coach (though really would enjoy him reviewing local Italian restaurants) and I don’t think he knows or understands how to teach defense. Therefore, I think it has more to do with the Gordon-Salmons exchange.

    I think this team has the ability to be a tremendous defensive team if Rose would improve in this area. This is a tangible spot/opportunity for Vinny to show he can coach defense and we have not seen it. Rose is still constantly running directly into screens and not able to keep his man out of the paint – Lou Williams killed him for 20.

    Offensively, obviously Ben is a better pure scorer than Salmons, but I think the dropoff on the defensive end is severe, especially if you are talking about him starting. However, I am optimistic.

    Here are Salmons current numbers:
    Year FG% 3PT% FT%
    09-10 34 30 71

    Previous years –
    08-09 47 42 83
    07-08 48 33 82
    06-07 46 36 78

    So what does this show? Well, obviously Salmons has shot way below his career numbers so far this season. If you assume his percentages will go back to the mean, or at least close, then a strong improvement over the next 72 games will occur.

    Bottom line: I think this team is definitely better defensively without Gordon, and potentially, better offensively without Gordon.

    If we can get a big second half from Rose, Noah continues to be a 10/12/3/2 guy and Taj avoids hitting a rookie wall, then I think the 4/5 seed is attainable. Unfortuantely, the 4/5 seed doesn’t get you past Cleveland, Orlando and Boston. However, maybe that type of progress gives LeBron/Bosh/DWade optimism and we get a true alpha dog to join the team in 2010. With Luol becoming you’re third best player, then you’ve got a chance to compete for what really matters.

    Kevin November 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    I’ve watched Rose since he came to the bulls and about 12 games in college, and I think he is an absolutely incredible player. However, he is also humble and unselfish and he works best when everyone around him is firing. I don’t know if he’s going to blossom into a 20 pt, 12 ast, 3 stl guy like cp3, but I do think he is a championship point guard. Calling him “the franchise” makes a lot of sense, but I think its mistaken. We need to sign Wade next year and that will make this a championship team. Rose needs to work off of someone else so that the defense is on its heels and he can get to the rim. When teams force him to shoot perimeter shots he hasn’t been able to dominate the way a “franchise player” (aka the #1 offensive weapon) normally would.


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