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Bulls sink the Warriors by 20
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 27
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If Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, like Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson likes to say, then the Bulls Wednesday produced one of the great defensive games of all time.
Except the Bulls’ 103-83 victory over the Warriors in which Curry was held to five points and no Warriors starter scored in double figures for the first time in 15 years was business as usual for the East’s winningest team this calendar year.
Yes, someone threw cold water on the Splash Brothers.
“We’re a confident group,” said Joakim Noah, who toyed with a triple-double as usual of late with eight points, 17 rebounds and seven assists. “Today was a big win for us. Played against a team with great offensive firepower, definitely one of the best teams in the West. To come out there and kick their (butts) like that feels great.
“There’s no better feeling,” Noah added with a smile. “I’m going to drive home really happy tonight.”
And slowly but surely the Bulls are making an impressive drive on the rest of the NBA. OK, nobody’s planning parade routes yet; certainly not after the loss in Miami Sunday. But the Bulls, now 31-26 and five over .500 for the first time this season, won for the seventh time in the last eight games. It also was the third game in the last four the Bulls’ new offensive juggernaut scored at least 100 points after reaching 100 points 10 times in the first 53 games.
And this win coming in the second of a back to back set against one of the hottest teams in the league, the Warriors with four straight wins who fell to 35-23.
“They had an all around team performance,” acknowledged Warriors forward David Lee. “It was just one of those nights. We got outplayed at all five positions.”
But no more so than at point guard, where Kirk Hinrich absolutely dominated starting All-Star Curry with as brilliant a defensive game as perhaps anyone can and has played against the remarkable Curry.
“Kirk was on top of him all game,” said Taj Gibson, who led the Bulls with 21 points. “He was frustrating him. In and out running around screens. Kirk is relentless, relentless.”
And then he was relentless again and again.
It’s the sort of redundancy Curry will be having Kirkmares about.
And then by the time reporters got to the Bulls locker room, Hinrich had packed up and left for home. It’s not about what you say; it’s about what you do.
“Kirkie set the tone for the game with his pressure, his tenacity,” said Noah. “There was a good mentality from the start of the game.”
“You’ve got to give Kirk a lot of credit,” chimed in Carlos Boozer, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. “He set the tone with us for Curry, picked him up full court. I thought we did a good job of blitzing and trapping and being there for support. And Jimmy (Butler back from a rib injury with 16 points) did a good job on Thompson, their two top scorers. Our guards took on the challenge and did a great job setting the tone defensively. That was the key to the game.”
Yes, the two greatest guards were a combined five of 18 for 13 points with six assists and five turnovers. While the two other guards were a combined eight of 18 for 25 points with five assists and two turnovers. Plus, yeah, five blocked shots for Hinrich and Butler to drown out Curry and Thompson.
“He gives you that all the time,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of Hinrich. “I always say with Kirk you never can measure his true value if you go by statistics. If you go by what he is doing for our team, setting the tone for defense, his ball pressure, hustle plays, first to the floor, running your team. The things he does, it really ignites and inspires your team. He plays to win. It’s never lost on his teammates. It’s not lost on the coaches or the organization. We know how important he is. He has been playing at a very high level. He is a huge key to our team.”
You don’t generally haul away awards or get on All-Star teams or collect accolades for the stuff guys like Hinrich and Butler and the Bulls do. They pressure and bump and get over screens and harass and close on your shot and basically do all the things you don’t see so much of in the Western Conference. It’s very pretty to watch out there. The weather is beautiful in most places and it’s just nice to come to the arena. You don’t feel so angry like you do stepping through snow every day and dragging through the cold and then you get to the arena and all these fancy guys are there with their between the legs dribbles and leaning shots and you ask them if they want to bang a little bit.
Ok, maybe it’s not because of the cold. It doesn’t seem to work in Minneapolis or Cleveland. But the Bulls have stitched together a group that can simply blanket the opposition. Some weak spots? Sure. Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell and D.J. Augustin aren’t supposed to be such great defenders? OK, then how come the Bulls basically have been in the top five defensively since Boozer arrived and second this season barely behind the Indiana Pacers?
It’s about team first, and even if you are not so great individually, you can play smart and aggressively and be prepared, guide your man toward help, close out, go to the boards and continue to compete. The Bulls get that as often or more so than perhaps any team in the NBA; so despite their overall lack of talent they can make a strong Golden State team look so vulnerable.
Better than last season, which isn’t the goal, but perhaps something without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng?
“I think so,” said Gibson, “especially with the amount of depth we have, a lot of hard workers and it shows on the court.”
It showed Wednesday after a bit of a shaky start as the Warriors led 24-21 after one quarter. The Bulls were 0-10 this season at home when trailing after the first quarter. So ended that streak.
Though the Warriors were getting a bit from Jermaine O’Neal and Andrew Bogut, those two don’t beat you. It’s Curry and Thompson, who average more than 42 combined. But like the championship Bulls of the 1990’s, whose “secret” was to deny the main scorer/ballhandler and force someone else to make plays and scores, the Bulls behind Hinrich smothered Curry.
Hinrich remains one of the game’s best at that, pressing and fighting over screens and not letting you get set or comfortable. It’s driven better players like Dwyane Wade to distraction. Richard Hamilton when he was with Detroit used to have near breakdowns against Hinrich. Hinrich is no great athlete and not so strong. But he has attitude and a pride of task to not back off. Hinrich’s offense and shooting was erratic the first half of the season. It’s improved of late, though it’s his effort at the point of the defense that’s remained so impressive and important. He’s flummoxed young stars like Kyrie Irving, and Wednesday against Curry.
“He always seems to keep a hand on you and never really gives a beat when his help isn’t there,” Curry said. “He’s very consistent at funneling you where they want you to go. Tonight it was even difficult to get him off balance and going the opposite way. They just outplayed us from start to finish.”
With a Snell three to end the first quarter, the Bulls with their second unit playing well again started the second quarter with a 9-0 run to take a lead they’d never lose.
Nazr Mohammed had a post up score, Dunleavy and Snell had three-point plays on drives and with Hinrich and Butler taking turns on Curry, the Warriors couldn’t get anything going to match the Bulls.
Dunleavy, by the way, drew yet two more charging calls as he’s become the best the Bulls have had at that in years, continually doing a little bit of everything with rebounding, passing and excellent position defense to make him one of the highlight acquisitions of the year. He had 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal a day after playing 47 minutes and 51 seconds in the win in Atlanta.
The Bulls closed the second quarter with a Gibson run out on a Curry turnover among his five, Hinrich finding Dunleavy for a three and then Hinrich breaking out after forcing Curry into another miss and being fouled. Hinrich’s two free throws gave the Bulls a 56-45 halftime lead.
The Bulls then hustled the Warriors out of the game, Noah on the floor first beating Lee to the ball for a foul and free throws, Dunleavy blocking the super athletic Andre Iguodala on a drive, Hinrich firing over screen after screen to run Curry off his shot, Noah blocking Lee, Hinrich fronting and denying when Golden State tried to get Curry the ball inside, Noah switching onto Curry and forcing him into a long miss. The frustrated Warriors constantly were screaming at the officials for help and even Warriors assistant and former Bull Pete Myers drew a technical foul trying to protect his exasperated players.
“That’s the way we like it, taking players out of their game,” said Butler. “It is frustrating for them.”
While all that was going on, the Bulls were gliding to the basket behind a big third quarter from Boozer to take a dominating 80-59 lead after three quarters.
“He’s playing well and we need it,” Thibodeau said of Boozer. “He, Joakim and Taj, to me, are three starters. I look at their production every night and it’s very, very good. That’s been a huge key for our team. The rebounding is huge for us (56-41). The fact we can throw the ball in to Taj on one side and Carlos on the other is another weapon we can go to.”
Thibodeau wouldn’t say it was over. But fans after a Noah “MVP” chant were calling for Brian Scalabrine, now a Warriors assistant, to come into the game late as it often happened the last few seasons when it was no contest.
Welcome to the Eastern Conference, fellows. It looks nice out West, but that’s not the way it works in the playoffs.
“As a group we know it is the time to step on the gas pedal and get ready for the playoffs,” said Boozer.
Something about never underestimating the heart of a competitor.