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Bulls take it Easy and win Easily in The Big Easy.
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 5
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
So imagine you are on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and no one has actually vomited on you. Surprise, surprise. You’d gone there to listen to the greats of Jazz and Cajun, immortals like Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong and Pete Fountain and Buckwheat Zydeco and Dr. John and who shows up but K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Barry Manilow and Kool and the Gang.
It was a bit like that at the New Orleans Arena Wednesday when the Bulls defeated the Hornets 107-93.
It would have been nice to see the show of Chris Paul against Derrick Rose, the latter leading all five Bulls starters in double figures with 21 points. Three years from now the speedy, athletic pair likely will be considered the two best point guards in the NBA.
The first confirmed case of Derrick-itis?
Nah. Paul escaped with a minor groin injury earlier in the week, but is out for a few games, along with Tyson Chandler with an ankle sprain and shooter Mo Peterson.
It would have been entertaining to see the can-you-block-this match and dunkoff between former Bull Chandler and Tyrus Thomas, the latter whose dominant first quarter set up the rout as you began to think that if David West was an All-Star, then Thomas must be a Hall of Famer.
“We were fortunate (they were) without Chris,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “But our demeanor and our approach to the game was very positive, and it was another good road win for us. Obviously they are depleted because of Chris, but they’re still a quality team. They got David West and Peja (Stojakovic) out there, and other guys that can hurt you.”
This time, unlike, say, against Oklahoma City, Toronto and Minnesota at home and New York, Charlotte and Memphis on the road—yes, this Bulls group proved itself capable of losing to anyone—the Bulls were in charge throughout in a continuation of their spirited and hustling play of the past few weeks.
“We were just running and playing our type of game,” said Rose. “We were pushing it and playing defense. We have to do that more often. We were just playing. We needed this win. We were out there to compete and play our best.”
And it was a complete performance, a season high 56.2 percent shooting, a 22-11 margin on fast break points that was 20-5 before the Bulls fell into some bad long shooting habits in the fourth quarter in letting the Hornets get within 10 points on two occasions, a 40-34 margin on points in the paint and a fancy 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
And even though the Hornets didn’t have the personnel to put on a show, the Bulls did, and it was a party-like time for the visitors with perhaps the highlight play of the season.
It came late in the second quarter with the Bulls having played a dominant 62-44 first half.
Joakim Noah, with 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks and finally showing consistent signs of being who Dennis Green thought he was, blocked an Antonio Daniels shot as Daniels was forcing the ball up at the expiration of the shot clock. The Bulls defense was sharper and more active in this game as the Hornets shot 36.3 percent, though not having Paul left the Hornets without a playmaker and really no one to create his own shot.
But the Bulls were making plays, and after the block Noah took off running the court as if a barber were chasing him, actually as he’s been doing consistently on this road trip, both full court and slipping screens and going to the basket to dunks.
Rose got the ball in the middle in the classic fast break position, and it’s a delight how Rose just always seems to know where to be. It’s not something many notice, but his passes routinely hit the shooter where he requires the least effort to get the shot off, even the subtle short passes across court generally find teammates in shooting position.
Rose drove hard and without looking back simply seemed to sense Noah behind him. So Rose flipped the ball backward over his right shoulder as he was coming down the left side and Noah—right in stride—got the ball and wrapped a pass around his back to Rose, who put in a reverse along the baseline.
It had everything but the confetti coming out of the bucket into the stands.
“It was a lucky play,” said Noah. “I’m happy it turned out all right. It made me look good.”
The Bulls did a lot of things to make themselves look good, and it was especially encouraging to see both Noah and Thomas again hustling and making plays, looking for scoring opportunities going to the basket instead of wandering the perimeter aimlessly.
“I think Tyrus set the tone with the dunks and the lobs,” said Del Negro.
Thomas ended with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, his fourth double/double in the last five games.
“It’s been good to win,” said Thomas. “We’re trying to get this thing back right and get home. We’re in the right direction. We’ve got one more game. We can finish out here, take care of home and head into the break. We’re a couple of games out of .500. (I) just have to play. You’ve got to play every minute and every possession the same like it’s your last.”
Forget the caveat of no Paul and Chandler. This was simply a brilliant opening to the game for the Bulls, who hit 12 of their first 15 shots and led 29-13.
“Guys getting to the paint for layups and dunks. I don’t think that has a lot to do with Chris Paul,” said Hornets coach Byron Scott. “It has more to do with us and toughness and pride.”
With the Hornets looking to find a scorer, Thomas got a two hand slam on and offensive rebound, then stole a lazy Rasual Butler pass and loped in for another slam, then took a nice lob pass from Ben Gordon for still another slam dunk over West and shortly thereafter a nice roll to the basket and a foul on a pass from Gordon.
Gordon had 19 points and seven assists with some of the sharper passing we’ve seen from him of late, though he apparently was benched midway through the third quarter for trotting back on defense after a Rose turnover that led to a fast break. Thomas, to his credit and likely the astonishment of Scott Skiles, who famously said Thomas never ran the court once, hustled back to try to break up the play, though unsuccessfully, while Gordon was a curious spectator.
You won’t hear Del Negro say anything in public, but he has been sending messages to players as he seemingly feels more confident, and the players seem to be responding for now.
A word about Gordon, meanwhile.
He really got cheated by not being invited to the three-point shooting contest at All-Star weekend.
Daequan Cook? C’mon. Get serious! Roger Mason Jr? There also was Danny Granger, Mike Bibby and Rashard Lewis challenging defending champion Jason Kapono. If I needed a three, I’d pick Gordon over any of them, especially a clutch three. Plus Gordon is perfect for that contest given how strong he is and how much he shoots in practice. He’s a veteran in the NBA now, an established scorer and former Sixth Man winner. He’s never been in trouble and never caused anyone problems, except perhaps the occasional defensive coach and ball handling instructor. But not getting into that pathetic field was more than a slap in the face. Maybe a kick in the rear for no good reason.
By the end of the first quarter, the Bulls had cooled off to 65 percent shooting and led 31-20. They were up 18 at the half on 63 percent shooting and 16-0 on fast break points and 80-61 after three quarter. They led 86-64 with 9:32 left when Kirk Hinrich found Thomas for another two hand jam, after which Thomas, the Louisiana native from LSU, got a bit vocal with the referees and was called for a technical foul.
Though it was the onetime Bulls nemesis James Posey who probably was crying as the Hornets finally woke up in the fourth quarter with a small lineup without a center. West and Stojakovic both would end with 24, though neither was a major factor as Thomas earlier took it to West and later to Posey, who was mostly run out of the game. The Bulls, especially Andres Nocioni, did get a little three point happy midway through the fourth quarter, which enabled the Hornets smaller lineup to fight back within 10 after a pair of Stojakovic threes. Though no closer.
The Bulls came out with a nice game plan that did a good job recognizing the Hornets’ weaknesses without Paul.
The Hornets opened with Hilton Armstrong at center and then brought in Melvin Ely. Butler and Daniels started in the backcourt, so basically there was virtually no one who could score but West and Stojakovic.
The Bulls got off to that big lead bringing a quick double to West whenever he put the ball on the floor, coming off one of the non shooting guards or someone like Julian Wright. They stayed up close to Stojakovic, especially in transition where he likes to walk into the three, though they lost him late on a pair of threes that enabled the Hornets to get back within 10 with four minutes left.
Though that was as close as the Hornets would get as Thomas—of all players—swished a jumper from the left elbow after the Hornets finally shut off Rose and Noah on a pick and roll. With Posey closing from the weak side to stop Noah as Rose always drew the double, Thomas slipped outside for the open shot and 97-85 lead with 3:47 left.
The other big shot came from Luol Deng, whose run of four 20-point games stopped as he got just nine shots. But with New Orleans back within 10 with three minutes left, Hinrich probed the middle and passed back to Deng for a sweet 22 footer and a 99-87 lead with 2:41 left.
Without Paul there was no way the Hornets were going to score 12 more points. Still, the Hornets tried the first recorded Nudge-a-Noah when they purposely fouled the sideways rotation shooting Noah and he made one of two. But Devin Brown missed a wild three and Rose eased into the open court and then turned on his after burners and blew by four Hornets for a layup to make it 102-87 with two minutes left.
Everyone! Dinner at Arnaud’s and Dixieland.
That’s the one nice thing for fans of New Orleans teams. There’s always a party going on somewhere. And this time it was the Bulls maybe doing a little bit of that Kool and the Gang celebrating.