Game Recap: Bulls 95, Cavaliers 85

The Bulls climbed a game over .500 with a solid win over a woeful team. Here’s how it happened.

Marco Belinelli Blew Up:
Given his 39 percent shooting and Player Efficiency Rating of 9.9 — both career-lows if you toss out his rookie season — it’s reasonable to say that Belinelli has had a difficult and disappointing season. Especially considering he was supposed to replace Kyle Korver as the team’s designated shooter. And everybody who follows the Bulls knows how well Korver played for the team.

Thrust into the role of starting shooting guard due to an injury to Rip Hamilton, Belinelli finally exploded out of his season-long slump with 23 critical points for a Bulls team that has been struggling mightily to score. The only blights on his performance were several late (and insignificant) misses that marred his shooting percentage.

Most importantly, Marco was at his best in the first quarter, scoring 10 of Chicago’s 27 points as the Bulls took a 16-point lead after 12 minutes.

Said Belinelli: “It was good tonight. My teammates, they were ready to find me, so that was good. Just continuing this way, that’s important for us to play together like tonight: run the fast break, try to score easy baskets and play good defense.”

Added Luol Deng: “Marco played great tonight. First quarter, came out and was aggressive, stayed aggressive and made some big plays. But we knew Marco could play; it’s just he’s been struggling a little bit finding his rhythm, and hopefully this will help him. It will help find his rhythm. When Rip [Hamilton] comes back and he comes off the bench [again], he’ll be comfortable with what he’s doing now that he’s getting more minutes.”

My favorite part of Marco’s stat line: His game-high eight free throw attempts. A sure sign that he was being aggressive. He knocked down seven of them, by the way.

I also liked the diversity in his scoring. He hit spot up jumpers. He hit a step-back jumper in the post. He hit a layup while switching from the right hand to the left while getting fouled. He wasn’t just chucking up jumpers. That’s a good sign.

Now for the reality check: I don’t expect Belinelli to score 20 points again any time soon. In fact, I’d say it’s probably a stretch to expect regular doses of double-figure scoring. But Marco needed this game for his confidence. Now maybe he’ll find his groove.

A Little Offensive Rhythm:
Speaking of finding a groove, the Bulls bounced back from a terrible offensive outing Indiana to compile a solid Offensive Rating of 105.6 points per 100 possessions. And after managing only one 20-point quarter in that home loss to the Pacers, they did it three times last night, scoring 27 in the first quarter, 27 in the third and 23 in the fourth.

They also passed with greater precision and purpose than they had the night before, compiling 22 assists on 34 made field goals. They also limited their turnovers (16), and more importantly the points they surrendered off turnovers (11).

Good Stuff from Jo and Lu:
Deng had an efficient night, scoring 22 points on only 13 shots while hitting all five of his free throw attempts and grabbing 7 rebounds. Even more amazing is that he did his damage almost imperceptibly. Deng was playing fully within the flow of the game for the first three quarters, then picked his game up in the fourth, scoring 11 points in the final 12 minutes to stave off any thought of a Cleveland rally.

And Joakim Noah had a classic Joakim Noah game: 15 rebounds, 13 points, 5 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal. Noah was everywhere doing a little bit of everything all night, and if you think he wasn’t a) angry at how he played against the Pacers the night before and b) inspired by his match-up with Anderson Varejao, then you don’t Noah anything.

Please excuse the terrible pun. Sometimes I can’t help myself.

Speaking of Sideshow Bob, Andy is Cleveland’s leading scorer (15 points on 50 percent shooting), but Noah (with help) held him to 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting and a game-worst plus-minus score of -15.

Said Noah: “I don’t like playing against him. Every time the ball goes up, he’s always going to the glass. He never takes a play off. He’s just a hard-playing dude. Good dude, too. I really respect him on and off the court. His brother is a friend of mine. Brazilians are usually pretty cool people, but he’s a hard-playing dude and I respect him.”

Good Stuff from Captain Kirk Too:
With all the hoopla surrounding the great games Belinelli, Deng and Noah had, it’s also worth mentioning that Kirk Hinrich had a throwback game himself: 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting, 8 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. Not only did he shoot well — for a change — he hit timely shots to help stymie some of Cleveland’s mini-runs.

This was only the fourth time in 17 games that Kirk shot 50 percent or better.

Of course, after all the praise I’m heaping on these better-than-average statistical outputs by Bulls players, I should probably note that the Cavs are 4-15 and rank 27th in the league in Defensive Rating (surrendering 108.6 points per 100 possessions).

Defense Again:
The Bulls rank first in Opponents PPG (90.9) and third in Defensive Rating (99.7) for a reason: They play great defense. The Cavaliers got a taste of that last night, as the Bulls held them to 85 points on 36.5 percent shooting. Their Effective Field Goal Percentage was 39.4.

The Bulls harassed the Cavs everywhere, forcing them to miss 18 of 32 shot attempts at the rim and 14 of 16  from 16-23 feet. Cleveland also went only 5-for-16 from downtown.

If it hadn’t been for their 14 offensive rebounds and 22-13 advantage in second chance points, they probably would have been hopelessly blown out.

As it were, they were hopefully blown out. Speaking of which…

Pulling Back on the Throttle:
The game felt like it should have been over after the first quarter, but Cleveland outscored Chicago 24-18 in the second quarter and 28-27 in the third. Surrendering 52 points over two quarters to a bad team isn’t very Bulls-like. I would have preferred to see them really put the hammer down on the Cavaliers. They either didn’t or couldn’t. With this “new” Bulls team, it’s hard to tell which was the case.

The Bulls “controlled” their turnovers last night, committing “only” 16.

That’s still too many.

I have to confess, I’m growing increasingly concerned about the turnover problem. And yes, it absolutely is a problem. The Bulls rank 28th in the league in Turnover Percentage.

To be fair, they are a pass-happy team, and that will lead to turnovers. After all, the Thunder rank 30th in Turnover Percentage.

But the Bulls are not the Thunder. Those Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to bail them out of trouble when need be. The Bulls don’t have Derrick Rose at the moment, and their margin of error is very small. Hence the collection of close losses to teams like the Hornets, Trail Blazers, Bucks and Pacers. All games the Bulls could have won but didn’t because…without Rose and the old Bench Mob…they don’t have “more than enough to win” anymore. They need to play smart and careful every night.

A Quiet Double-Double:
Carlos Boozer chipped in with 12 rebounds, 10 points and 4 assists. And an emphatic left-handed slam dunk in which Booz got nearly six inches off the ground. Might be a season-high in vertical leap for Carlos.

Bench Production:
The starters were efficient and productive, so the bench wasn’t needed as much as they have been in previous games. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Bulls once again didn’t get much of a contribution from the reserves.

Chicago’s bench was outscored 36-16 by their Cleveland counterparts, not to mention outrebounded 15-7.

This could refer to the Bulls scoring 20 fast break points or getting their 10th straight win over the Cavaliers.

Minutes Piling Up:
Despite what was a fairly comfy-cozy win, Noah played 44:18 and Deng logged 42:23. To day, Deng ranks first in the league in MPG (40.8) and Noah ranks second (39.4). Deng has logged 40 or more minutes in 13 of 17 games, while Noah has put in 40 or more minutes in 10 out of 17 games.

Something to think about. And worry about.

Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.


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