Maybe all the Bulls needed was Tyrus Thomas.
Okay, I’m kidding. Kind of. But Chicago is now 4-2 with Tyrus in the lineup, as opposed to 7-15 without him. Some of the difference can be attributed to the added depth. For all his faults, Thomas has the potential to explode for 20 points, 10 rebounds and several game-changing defensive plays on any given night. Of course, he’s never done that consistently for any significant length of time…but he can do it. Clearly it’s better to have a player like that available for active duty than watching games from the bench in street clothes.
And it’s a lot better when said player returns from forearm surgery to drop a team-high 21 points to go along with 9 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks and some serious energy off the bench.
Of course, Tyrus being Tyrus, his performance always kind of makes me wonder. On the surface, his stats were terrific, but his plus minus score of zero tells me that the Bulls merely played the Hornets even when he was in the game. So while it’s tempting to bestow “Player of the Game” honors on Thomas, I can’t help but wonder whether this win wasn’t more the product of guys like Derrick Rose (14 points, 9 assists, 2 steals, +21), Joakim Noah (17 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks, +18) and Luol Deng (12 points, 8 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks, +17). They have been the Bulls “Medium-sized Three” this season, and Chicago played its best ball last night when they were on the floor.
That’s not to demean Ty’s effort (which was considerable), nor his results (which were fantastic all things considered). He missed 22 games only to return and play great in an important win. The Bulls really needed that lift off the bench. They sure didn’t get it from Brad Miller (5 minutes, 2 points, zero rebounds, 1 assist, -4), John Salmons (2 points, 1-for-5, 1 assist, -7), Jannero Pargo (2 minutes, 2 points, 1 rebound, -2) or James Johnson (6 points, 1 rebound, -11). In many ways, Thomas didn’t just anchor Chicago’s bench. He was the bench. And he almost matched the point/rebound total of New Orleans’ reserves (24/12) all by himself.
While we’re talking about Tyrus, le’s talk about his shot selection. Ty finished 10-for-17 for an exemplary 58 percent shooting night. Per usual, he killed inside (5-for-7 on layups, 3-for-3 on dunks) but stunk it up from the outside (2-for-8 on jumpers). Thomas almost always does his best work close to the basket, and for the most part, that’s where he needs to remain. I understand that the threat of his jumper can open things up for drives…but he really doesn’t need to take eight jump shots. Ever.
Pain-free in the Paint:
Ty’s work inside helped Chicago outrebound New Orleans 51-34 (including 10-3 on the offensive glass) and outscore them by an astounding 54-16 in the paint. The Bulls are usually in the red in both categories. Being +17 on the boards and +38 in the painted rectangle will usually lead to victory.
Unless something changes, this Bulls squad is not going to score a lot of points. Therefore, if they’re going to make something happen, it’s going to be with defense. Their D was spotty (at best) for much of the first half, mostly because Devin Brown went berserk on them. Brown scored all 22 of his points while going 6-for-6 from downtown in the first 24 minutes, during which Chicago trailed by as many as 11.
Once the Bulls clamped down on defense — which included some tough pressure on Chris Paul — they ripped off a crazy 42-13 run that spanned the second and third quarters. That run included holding the Hornets to only 9 third-quarter points. It’s amazing what putting hands in faces will do for a team.
(Of course, it’s also clear that New Orleans is 2-12 on the road for a reason…)
D-Rose versus CP3:
Let’s be honest: Derrick Rose has had a disappointing season so far. However, he has been picking it up lately. Rose has scored 20 or more points in four of the last five games, including a regular season career-high 32 in a recent home win over the Atlanta Hawks. So far this month, Derrick has averaged 19.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists. He’s also had 6 or more assists in nine of the 13 games the Bulls have played in December. The numbers aren’t great, but they’re a definite improvement.
Likewise, Rose wasn’t great last night — he went 2-for-5 on layups and (gulp) 5-for-14 on jumpers. However, with a little help from his friends (see below), he held his own against Paul (15 points, 7 assists, 3 steals), and the Bulls played much better when he was running the show. Rose also had a couple great plays. During the third quarter, the ball was almost stolen from him, but he ripped it back and converted a tough floating jumper. Then, in the fourth, Rose nearly lost the ball again before regaining possession and finding Kirk Hinrich for an open three-pointer (go here and fast forward to the 1:45 mark).
Great players can play great without having great stats. That’s kind of what D-Rose did last night.
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: “Give credit to the Bulls. In the third, they stuck Hinrich on Paul, and as soon as Paul crossed the three point line, sent a big man out to meet him. Their bigs were aggressive, but also recovered quickly when he passed to the Hornets big, almost always getting back into position to contest attempts by West or Songaila. A solid, determined defensive effort.”