The Chicago Bulls improved to 2-0 against the team that eliminated them last year on Wednesday night.
This was a competitive if uneventful game, with neither team ever having a double digit lead (by my count). The Bulls were at their most sluggish in the first quarter, where Luol Deng and Joakim Noah seemed to be the only players that had successfully made the trip from Chicago on time. Jrue Holiday was up to his old tricks right from the get go, doing whatever he wanted against starter Nate Robinson, who filled in for the injured Kirk Hinrich. Holiday had a good game overall (26 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists), but whenever Robinson was guarding him, he looked like a superstar.
What changed that particular facet of the game for the Bulls was the extended play of Marquis Teague, who played what was by far his best game as a pro, finishing with a career high in points (6), assists (4) and playing time (20 minutes). His defense on Holiday was more than satisfactory, and his point guard play was encouraging. He also had a huge defensive rebound in the final minute, sinking both free throws to essentially ice the win for the Bulls. He and the also-green Jimmy Butler (9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) combined to form the team's most effective defensive backcourt of the season, and both played the majority of the fourth quarter despite being outscored by their veteran counterparts (Belinelli had 16 points on 13 shots, and Robinson had 14 points on 12 shots).
Coach Tom Thibodeau again went with his new 8-man rotation, with all eight players lodging at least 20 minutes of play. Carlos Boozer (5 points, 6 rebounds) was the low man for the night, missing five of the six shots he took and playing worse defense than usual. Thankfully the Bulls were able to survive without his contribution, but having a bad game like this after a good game like last night's is quickly becoming Boozer's trademark in his tenure with Chicago.
On the flip side, the 76ers got good contributions from Evan Turner (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Thaddeus Young (13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks), who took advantage of the severe defensive deficiencies of Belinelli and Boozer.
Player(s) O' the Game: Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. (19 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists for Deng, 21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks for Noah)
The Bulls' two best players played like it tonight, stepping up when Boozer stepped down and carrying the team for long stretches during the 1st and 3rd quarters. The Bulls were outrebounded as a team and only shot 44% from the field, but Deng and Noah had their personal two-man game working tonight, and combined with Teague, Butler and Taj Gibson (6 points, 7 rebounds) to form the most formidable defensive unit the team has seen since the dissolution of the Bench Mob.
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