Bulls do some partying in New Orleans


Feb 8

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The Bulls Saturday certainly made the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce proud. Their stay in New Orleans was the most fun, perhaps the only real fun, the team has had in weeks.

“I’m just happy that we won the game,” said Derrick Rose.

A game. For the Bulls, just like the definition for a change, an activity providing amusement and pleasure. The Bulls charged to their biggest margin win in more than two years and limited the Pelicans to their fewest points in more than two years in a 107-72 domination.

“We played with a great effort on the defensive side,” noted Rose, whose 20 points led the Bulls along with Pau Gasol adding 20. “We made sure we talked (on defense) throughout the entire game. It’s (important) going out in the next game and playing with a lead. I think that when we play with a lead it is a different game. It’s just that we have to come out and attack instead of being on our heels the entire game.”

The Bulls did that, though it was made much less complicated for them when Pelicans star Anthony Davis hurt his shoulder in a hard fall after a lob dunk with 5:27 left in the second quarter. It was 32-30 New Orleans at the time in what was another somewhat somnambulant effort from the Bulls until that point. Davis stayed in the game after the sort of fall from hanging on the rim that makes you gasp with concern. But Davis left shortly thereafter as the Bulls took a 36-35 lead on a Rose full court drive and foul.

The Bulls then closed the half with a 12-4 run from there. Without Davis (hey, the Bulls did lose Kirk Hinrich with a turf toe after the first half), the Bulls opened the second half with a 20-3 run to effectively end the game.

But given the Bulls’ injury history the last three years and the way they’d played in losing 10 of the last 15 and three straight, they weren’t looking at any games as easy.

The Bulls went to 31-20 and end their two-week road trip in Orlando Sunday.

“Anthony’s a player that makes a big difference, so it was a tough hit for them to take,” agreed Gasol, who had his 11th consecutive double/double and league leading 32nd of the season as he added 15 rebounds. “We knew that we just had to stay at it and be aggressive on both ends of the floor and that’s what we did.”

Tony Snell had easily his best game of the season with 19 points and five of six three pointers. He started the season half for the injured Hinrich. Jimmy Butler added 16 points, and it was laugh out loud relief in the fourth quarter with Doug McDermott getting nine points in four minutes in his first scoring in more than two months and Nikola Mirotic playing power point guard finding McDermott for a backdoor cut layup and E’Twaun Moore for a one handed alley oop dunk.

Gasol made a three and at five for 12 on the season is tied for the second best three point shooter on the team. Rose was the bright light for a dull Bulls beginning with 16 first half points and the only player to shoot 50 percent in the first quarter as the Bulls did fall behind to start 20-18. But there were highlights to come from everywhere and everyone as Snell opened the second and third quarters with a pair of three pointers in each quarter. Rose threw an 80 foot pass to Butler for a fast break layup as the Bulls had 15 fast break points. Rose and Butler made jumpers that bounced on the rim multiple times and went in. They were like Mardi Gras beads flying though the air with smiles all around.

“I thought the tone of the game was set at the beginning,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, referring more to the defense, which has been shaky of late. “I thought Kirk was terrific. I thought Joakim was a real active power protecting the rim and Jimmy. That got us going. We were able to get the ball up quickly and I thought our guys played very unselfishly. I thought Pau was really strong and very unselfish. Jimmy started slowly (shooting zero for six in the first half). But his defense was terrific and he got going as the game went along. So that was huge for us.”

Missing Davis left the Pelicans a fish out of water. But the Bulls were cooking on defense, closing out on three-point shooters as the Pelicans were four of 17, and shooting below 40 percent overall before Davis was hurt. The Bulls’ guards were getting over the screens well. The rebounding was strong, as usual, with Noah adding seven and hustle. And though there was the occasional lack of weak side help, it was less often and less obvious as the Pelicans shot 37 percent.

The Bulls’ defense—or relative lack of it—has been a topic of wide discussion this season. It’s perhaps somewhat unfair given the injuries with Mike Dunleavy missing a 19th game, Defensive Player of the Year Noah limited after offseason knee surgery and Gasol, an offensive specialist, replacing Noah at center. Plus, Taj Gibson appeared to sprain his ankle again late in the game. It’s been an issue all season even though it’s not something he discusses.

But Thibodeau, with a reputation as a defensive guru, was a bit defensive himself about the questions about his defense even if it would seem impossible to play the same level of defense with this season’s team.

“You (media) guys keep harping on (defense),” said Thibodeau before the game. “I’m checking today, points per possession defensively, we’re sixth. I guess you guys see something I don’t. You look at rebounding, second; covering the line first, three-pointers made second, three pointers allowed second.”

That’s also the great thing about all the statistics today as you can come up with your own. Thibodeau is excellent with analytics, and it’s not like the Bulls are awful defensively; it’s just that they are not near where they’ve been. That’s OK. You win by scoring more than you allow and the Bulls overall are 11th in point differential. Point differential is one of the better indicators of wins over a season and at plus-2.6 the Bulls are tracking close to a 50-win season. The Bulls are No. 1 in blocks, but they are last in turnovers forced, which suggests a lack of aggression. They are ninth in opponent field goal percentage, which is good, and ninth in defending opponent threes. But those are categories in which they’ve generally been top three under Thibodeau.

They can play good defense and have played better than advertised, which is Thibodeau’s point. Though they’re not nearly as good as they’ve been and not likely to be. It’s OK. You can win other ways. Change isn’t a weakness.

So, no, Davis doesn’t average 60 points. It’s not all him. There are a lot of scorers on that New Orleans team, which was coming off a terrific win Friday in Oklahoma City on Davis’s winner at the buzzer. Forget the excuses of a back to back. The Bulls’ hotel was near Bourbon Street, which can be a lot more tiring than a basketball game.

Perhaps it wasn’t the ultimate victory, but it was a nice streak stopper and enabled Snell to come out of his shell.

The laconic small forward didn’t play Wednesday in Houston; coaching DNP, they call it. But Saturday you could tell he was on the court for a change. Thibodeau probably benched Snell Wednesday because Snell has taken to basically passing the ball and not registering much when he plays. So to his credit, Snell Saturday took his open shots, which he often does not. To Thibodeau’s relief, Snell made them. Which made starting Snell for Hinrich (turf toe) in the second half much easier.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Snell’s contribution. “I think that Tony can really play. It’s up to Thibs to play him. I really believe in Tony. He’s a hard worker. He comes in the gym early before everyone. He does everything right. It shows in his game. He just needs experience.”

Added Snell: “I sat out the Houston game, but I used that as motivation. I got in the weight room the next day, I got some shots up and just tried to stay ready. Just keep working hard and stay ready. Just keep putting the work in and it will come. I felt like (I needed to) keep shooting; it felt really good.”

It was for the Bulls a feel good night in New Orleans, as sweet as a beignet and as rich as a gumbo.

Rose was the Bulls’ fleur de lis to start. He scored the team’s first five points and kept their shield competitive despite the other starters shooting three of 16 in the first quarter. Rose was three of five. Noah was excellent against Davis until the Pelicans went smaller, forcing Gasol onto Davis with Ryan Anderson in the game. Gibson had to play the long distance shooting Anderson, and did well. But it’s been a major defensive weakness of the Bulls. When teams go small, Thibodeau has been reluctant to remove Gasol. If Gasol isn’t able to dominate inside, the opposition “big” man can beat Gasol off the dribble or force a double team and pass to open shooters. Davis scored twice as soon as Noah was substituted in the first quarter as Noah always goes out then to limit his playing time. So the Pelicans led 20-18 after one quarter.

Snell hit those pair of threes to start the second quarter while the Bulls defenders remained active. It was fortunate as the Pelicans were beating the Bulls to the offensive boards for second and third shots. Thibodeau started the second quarter with Noah and Butler to aid the reserves, who have been outplayed of late. But it was Snell with the offense this time and then Rose pushing the pace. Then after Davis went out, Rose made a three, Butler began getting to the free throw line, Rose found Gasol for a jumper and Gibson put back a Rose miss for a slam dunk and 48-39 Bulls halftime lead.

The Bulls opened the third quarter making 11 of 13 while the Pelicans couldn’t catch a bluegill in a barrel.

Snell even put in a driving scoop, Rose had that football connection with Butler for an 81-56 lead after three, and then it was tricks for kids with the reserves enjoying an evening near the French Quarter.

Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Bulls?

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