After watching the Indiana Pacers celebrate on their home court when they faced off earlier this season, the Chicago Bulls came into Monday night's game looking for blood and revenge. They got it quite handily. After a first half that featured poor offense and strong defense from both sides, the Bulls got into a huge offensive rhythm and didn't let the Pacer defense bother them one bit in a third quarter Chicago won 33-13. The Bulls would never relinquish the lead and coasted to an easy victory. To finish the game, Chicago walked off calmly and with class, showing the Pacers that this game was nothing more than a regular season game to them.
As I've said, the first half featured some pretty shaky offense for Chicago. Rose was getting trapped on every screen, the defense would cause quite a few turnovers, and no one was hitting their shots, especially Rose, Deng, and Boozer. Given the fact that it was Chicago's second straight night of shaky offense, I was left wondering what has changed? I've come to the conclusion it all lies with Noah and Boozer. For some reason, it seems like Chicago's two starting bigs have switched roles: Noah sets all the screens while Boozer tries to get things going inside. Just about every time, the Bulls failed on offense, as we saw in the first half. However, at some point in the third quarter, Noah started going back inside and Boozer, or Gibson depending on who was on the floor, started playing back in the mid-range area setting screens. It was at this point that the Bulls exploded offensively and took complete grasp of the game. As for the performance of Boozer, Rose, and Deng in the second half, I'll get into that in the chart below.
And lastly before I move onto grades, every Bulls fan saw what happened with Richard Hamilton in the opening minutes: he sustained a shoulder injury. At the moment, we aren't entirely sure what the injury is or how long he may be out. As someone who continues to defend the Hamilton signing, I have to say that despite this potential injury, I still believe Hamilton's signing gives a huge benefit to the Bulls on offense and defense as a lockdown defender who can create spacing problems for opposing defenses. So I ask that Bulls fans continue to be patient. I know it's frustrating, but bear with it a little while longer.
But enough of my ranting, let's move onto the grades:
Noah has been a beast on the boards as of late. This I can't deny. However, I have to point out that his rebound numbers could skyrocket if he went back to playing inside more. For the second straight game, Noah has been a little timid and passive with his game. For the first half, he hovered around the free throw line setting screens and then retreating to the free throw line when Rose was trapped. When he did get the ball, he would hesitate on a wide open jump shot that we all know that he can make a fairly decent amount of the time. In the second half, he began to go inside more and become significantly more productive for the team. For Noah to earn the "As" in my grade book, he needs to show more aggressiveness on offense as he has in the past. Doing so will only help his numbers and better the flow of the team's offense. Defensively, Noah had his usual night of solid play.
This was a relatively quite night for Boozer. Many people are going to say that this is typical of Boozer to whither away in the big games. I disagree with that notion for tonight. As stated multiple times already, Boozer was playing the inside game while Noah played outside a bit. This, I believe, hurt Boozer significantly. Boozer's strength comes off of pick and rolls that free him up for a jump shot or a cut down the lane for a layup. Tonight, he wasn't able to do that as he was constantly having to post up against a man and try to force shots up against a couple of big guys that collapsed on him. Most of his nine shot attempts came in the first half in this circumstance. Unfortunately for Boozer, when he and Noah switched back to their original roles, he wasn't exactly needed on offense during that offensive explosion. For tonight's grade, I'm going to penalize Boozer for poor inside play, however, not as much as I normally would since I feel he wasn't able to get into the flow of the offense the way he normally does.
For the first time in several games, Deng came into this game blazing, kind of. Deng did hit several shots, including a three-pointer in the first quarter, however, he went cold after that for the rest of the half scoring the rest of his points from the free throw line. However, during the huge run during the third quarter, Deng pulled out a couple of three-pointers, including a long range Jimmer-esque one that was a back-breaker for Indiana. On the defensive side of things, Deng was solid when it came to limiting the damage Danny Granger could do. Deng's defense seemed to completely throw off Granger and thus, the entire Pacers offense. Solid night for Deng. One thing I'd like to note is that Deng did seem to land on his injured left wrist during the beginning of the third quarter when he was called for an offensive foul. It's something to keep an eye on, however, I believe he should be fine since it didn't affect his play during that third quarter explosion.
Hamilton left the game in the opening minutes after taking a very hard screen to his right shoulder from Roy Hibbert. No word on what the injury is nor how long he'll be out for just yet. Stay tuned as we'll keep you posted.
Rose said he'd remember the Pacers celebrating the way they did after the last game. Apparently the Pacers remembered his words and became very frightened. The entire first half, Rose was completely surrounded on defense and heavily limited in what he could do on offense. There would be times when all five Pacer players would collapse on Rose and force him to make an errant pass. However, this didn't stop Rose on the offensive side of things in the second half. To get things going for him, Rose stepped in to three three-pointers that got the Pacers worried about what he'd start doing on the perimeter. Rose took advantage of this and began to drive. However, given the number of people collapsing on Rose, he would smartly dish it out after driving for a good mid-range jumper or long ball in some cases. Rose showed that he doesn't always have to score and that he can also be the playmaker for the Bulls. Defensively, Rose completely shut down Darren Collison.
The bench was very solid tonight and was the main reason the Bulls even stayed alive in the first half of the game after the starters struggled. Overall though, Kyle Korver drained both of his attempted three-pointers, Taj Gibson grabbed nine boards while dropping 10 points, Omer Asik had his standard good rebounding and defense and Ronnie Brewer provided great minutes tonight filling in for Hamilton, dropping 12 points and grabbing seven boards. John Lucas III filled in for C.J. Watson tonight and was surprisingly effective. Lucas scored in double figures and passed the ball from time to time (a vast improvement and surprise).
As I've said throughout, I didn't like the offensive sets where Noah would hover around the free throw line and set screens while Boozer would play down low, especially because it proved ineffective. I'm chalking that up to Thibs since he was probably trying to pull Hibbert out from underneath the basket. However, Thibs abandoned this game plan and went back to the usual offense. This, I believe, led to greater success for the Bulls. I could be giving Thibs more credit than he deserves, but given his history with this team, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The game required a team effort to pull it out tonight and that's what they did. Relatively solid play from most everyone tonight. It was disjointed a bit (great play in the first half from the bench players and great play from the starters in the second half), but it got the job done.
What I Expect For Next Time:
- I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this, but better ball movement and less turnovers. Chicago had 16 turnovers tonight. That's not going to fly against a team like Miami. Thibs has to figure out what's going on with these passes and clean it up. If I had to start somewhere, I'd go with movement without the ball.
- Continued rebounding excellence. Chicago out-rebounded the Pacers 60 to 32. That's flat out domination. What's more is that 18 of those were offensive rebounds. If Chicago can use their size to their advantage like they did tonight, it'll be tough to stop them. That is, if the offense is working well.
- I've said it all night, stick to what works. Keep Noah playing down low and keep Boozer up top to set screens for Rose. Noah's shown that he doesn't have confidence in his jumper as of late, so why keep putting him in situations where he may have to take one. Put him down low where he'd like to be and let Boozer take the mid-range jumpers (he's at least shown confidence with it).
This was the tail end of a back-to-back for Chicago and it was a big statement win. Indiana barely pulled the last game out when Chicago was without Deng and Taj. By winning, and winning big, with those two back, it just reminds everyone in the league that Chicago is not a team to mess with.
Chicago's next game is going to be on Wednesday against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Hope you're all looking forward to it.
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