Two days after blowing a 27-point lead against the Bucks, the Bulls hosted the slumping, Dirk Nowitzki-less Dallas Mavericks.
And it was just what they needed.
Return of the Bench:
Strong games from Luol Deng (game-high 22 points) and Joakim Noah (13 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks) were offset by the subdued performances of fellow starters Carlos Boozer (6 points, 3-for-7, 6 boards), Kirk Hinrich (6 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds) and Rip Hamilton (4 points, 4 assists, 1 steal).
No worries. The bench came to the rescue. No really.
The reserves have taken some heavy criticism this season. Some of that criticism has been deserved — Chicago’s bench production ranks poorly in almost every category — but it has also been somewhat unfair due to comparisons to the Bench Mob of the previous two seasons.
That said, this was the first game this season in which the reserves really and truly came through. And they did it big time, contributing 50 points, 19 rebounds, 11 assists, 6 steals and 2 blocked shots.
Key contributors included Taj Gibson (8 points, 8 rebounds, +35), Jimmy Butler (13 points, 9-for-10 from the line, +34), and Nate Robinson (14 points, 6 assists, +26). And — believe it or not — Marco Belinelli (11 points, 2-for-3 on threes, +18) and Nazr Mohammed (5 boards, 2 blocked shots, +14) even got into the act.
Mind you, there was extensive garbage time, which always leads to inflated stats. But the plus-minus scores provide a good indicator of the kind of energy the bench brought to last night’s game.
They were also playing with an edge after the meltdown against Milwaukee.
Said Gibson: “We were angry. Because I felt that we should have won that game. We should be on a two-game winning streak. We understand that every game in this league is hard to win. Especially being on the other side of this; having a tough go-round so far early in the season. Every game is tough to win … and we’ve got a lot of guys that take a lot of pride in wearing the Bulls logo across their jersey so getting this win tonight, it was real special.”
Return of the Defense Too:
According to John Hollinger’s latest team stats, Chicago currently ranks third overall in Defensive Efficiency. That said, the Bulls haven’t been as consistently dominant on defense this season, whether it was that string of 100-point games they recently surrendered or that 30-point fourth quarter scorching put on them by Milwaukee’s bench.
Last night, however, was a classic defensive smackdown. The Bulls held the Mavs to 34.6 percent shooting (including 4-for-18 on threes) and a miserable Offensive Efficiency rating of 83.9 points per 100 possessions. And that was despite Shawn Marion’s dead-eye shooting (7-for-11).
Dallas followed up a 19-point second quarter with a 16-point third quarter and simply looked dazed and confused on offense. If you subtract Shawn Marion from the mix, their starters combined to shoot 11-for-39 from the field (28.2 percent) and 0-for-8 on three-pointers. Then Elton Brand and Vince Carter came off the bench to shoot 4-for-14 between them.
The Bull came up with 8 steals and blocked six shots, but the glory of their defense wasn’t in in the highlights, it was in the all-around effort. They were physical, rotated well, and contested everything.
An Offensive Mini-Explosion:
The Bulls rank 20th in Offensive Efficiency. In other words, they have some work ahead of them just to reach offensive mediocrity.
That wasn’t the case last night.
The Bulls went 6-for-10 from downtown, got to the line 33 times and compiles an Offensive Efficiency rating of 108.6 points per 100 possessions. Of course…the Mavericks rank 25th in Defensive Efficiency and have given up 100+ points in seven of their last eight games. So there you have it.
If you’re looking for a critique of last night’s blowout win, it might be that the Bulls turned the ball over 21 times. And that wasn’t an anomaly. The Bulls rank 20th in Turnover Ratio. Simply put, they give the ball up too much, usually because they either force difficult passes or throw passes too casually.
Player of the Game:
It was Deng, whose 12-point first quarter set the tone for the Bulls.
Said coach Tom Thibodeau: “You can’t say enough about this guy. I mean, he’s tough. He’s physically tough. He’s mentally tough. He’s a winner. Does whatever you ask, never complains. Puts the team first, and you need that. That’s the best type of leadership you can have. This is not something that’s new. That’s something he’s done the three years I’ve been here. He’s just a winning player. He’s played very well with the starting unit, played very well with the bench.”
Added Gibson: “Luol is our leader. He understands what we have to do. He understands he’s going to play a lot minutes. What we’re trying to do is try to give him a little support, especially with Jimmy (Butler), Marco (Belinelli) and guys who can come in and give him some help because he’s guarding the best player night in and night out, playing a lot of minutes, running a good offense for us. We’re just trying to help him the best we can.”
Goat of the Night:
Hamilton, who finished with more turnovers (5) than points (4) and a co-team-worst plus-minus score of -11 in a 23-point win.
Not Born to Run:
Remember all that preseason talk about how the Bulls wanted to run more this season? Last night they managed only 7 points in transition and currently rank 21st in fast break points.
Something Everybody Should Know:
Butler is currently rocking a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.04. For the sake of comparison, Memphis’ Rudy Gay has a PER of 17.97. This is my way of saying Jimmy is playing pretty well this season.