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.
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.
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.
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?
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.