Game Recap: Bulls 96, Hornets 87

The Good:
The Bulls returned from the All-Star break to break their two-game losing streak with a good win over the Hornets. In doing so, they pushed their Eastern Conference-leading road record to 16-10 and moved to within one game of the Indiana Pacers for the Central Division lead.

The Better:
Seeing the team’s point guard return from injury. Ha, not Derrick Rose, but Captain Kirk Hinrich. The Captain didn’t shoot particularly well (2-for-7), but he did a solid job directing the offense with a team-best 10 assists. He also played his typical strong defense (even if he did get beaten off the dribble now and again) and generated three steals…including one off an inbound pass after he hitting his only three-pointer of the game.

Said Carlos Boozer: “He played great tonight, man. For being out as long as he was out he came back in and it was almost seamless, man. He did a great job of getting everybody involved, made some big plays, hit a couple of big shots for us, played great defense, got a tough whistle tonight, but he still played great.”

Hinrich finished with a co-game-high plus-minus score of +11 and Chicago’s offense was much steadier when he was running the point. Statistically, Nate Robinson is much better than Hinrich. Robinson leads the team in Player Efficiency Rating (18.2), Effective Field Goal Percentage (.508) and Assist Percentage (31.9), and he’s second in Offensive Rating (110 points per 100 possessions) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.161). Meanwhile, Hinrich has a PER of 10.8 — which is well below league average — and he’s shooting a miserable 37.8 percent from the field.

And yet, according to Basketball-Reference, Hinrich is in the team’s top two lineups and four of the top seven overall.

Hinrich is obviously the better defender. He can’t score with Nate, but he gives the ball up much more readily and quickly. This is most evident on fast breaks. Robinson usually holds the ball until the last second and he’s looking to attack the basket. Hinrich gets the ball to the open man immediately, often before he even passes halfcourt.

Said Joakim Noah: “Kirk played huge for us today. He does a lot of things that you don’t see in the stat sheet that really help our club. … He just brings a whole different dimension, his defensive intensity, his feel for the game when he calls plays, ball movement, everything. He’s a great player.”

Key Stats:
Chicago won the rebounding battle 47-39. That included a 33.3% to 25% advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, which in turn led to a 15-6 advantage in second-chance points.

The Bulls also did a good job protecting the basket. According to Hoopdata, the Hornets converted only 48 percent of their shots at the rim (12-for-25). And New Orleans didn’t make up for that deficit with outside shooting, as Chicago held the home team to 4-for-17 shooting from downtown.

Here’s my favorite stat of the night: The Bulls had 30 assists on 39 made field goals. The ball was really moving.

Now here’s my least favorite stat of the night (per ESPNChicago): The Bulls didn’t shoot a single free throw in the first half. Crazy.

Dominating Frontcourt:
The Bulls starting frontcourt combined for 52 points on 21-for-40 shooting to go with 32 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots. Luol Deng lead the team in scoring with 20 points while the Bulls got double-doubles from both Boozer (17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals) and Noah (17 rebounds, 15 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks).

Speaking of which…

Player of the Game:
It was Noah. Maybe his foot is feeling better after the platelet-rich plasma treatment he had last week. Maybe he was pumped up from his first All-Star appearance. But Jo dominated the boards, scored efficiently, moved the ball well (5 assists) and with care (only 1 turnover). He did a little of everything.

Coach Thibs says:
“I thought the level of intensity was very good. I loved the pace to start the game. I thought our defense was solid. The ball was hoppin’, making quick decisions, not shortcutting things, making the extra pass, setting good screens, I thought overall it was very good. Joakim [Noah] was everywhere, multiple effort plays and that was probably one of his best screening games since I’ve been here.”

Point of Concern:
So Chicago’s frontcourt was dominant. Kirk Hinrich played the good floor general. The Bulls controlled the backboards both defensively and offensively. The defense held New Orleans to 41 percent shooting and a scoring rate of only 94.7 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). Even Thibs seemed happy with the effort and intensity of his team’s play…and Thibs is almost never happy.

But the Hornets hung around. They got to within a point in the fourth quarter. This is a 19-35 team that ranks 15th in Offensive Efficiency and 27th in Defensive Efficiency. They are the league’s 18th-best team according to John Hollinger’s stats-based power rankings and 24th in Marc Stein’s weekly power rankings. It just felt like the win should have been a little more overpowering, if not a blowout, but the Bulls could never quite pull away.

I may be picking nits here.

Quote of the Night:
Boozer on having Hinrich back: “It’s huge, man. That’s why our chemistry is so good. You look at our team over the course of these two and a half years we’ve been together, the more we play together we get better and better, man. I think our chemistry continues to grow, which is a big deal. As you guys know, having chemistry gets you through some of those tough moments you have in a season. You go through ups and downs, whatever. But the tough, tough, moments that are coming, the playoffs what have you, that chemistry, sometimes can carry you over the hump.”

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

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