BULLet Points: Bulls grind out win against the Spurs

  • Monday night at the United Center was a great all around performance from the Bulls, who clawed their way to a 92-89 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. No singular performance had an overwhelming influence on the outcome of this game, with no Bull scoring more than 18 points. But with five players in double figures, a balanced offensive attack did the trick against the NBA’s best defense on a per possession basis.
  • The story of the game was the great play off the Chicago bench. All four Bulls to enter the game after the opening tip finished with a positive plus/minus rating, with Joakim Noah and Doug McDermott leading the way at +10 each. This was especially impressive considering the skill of San Antonio’s bench, shouted out Tuesday morning by Zach Lowe as one of the best in the league.
  • Noah, in just 23 minutes of action, had himself a throwback performance that makes me wonder if he’s finally trusting himself again on the offensive end. Noah scored eight points on 4/6 shooting. This game marked only the fifth time this season Joakim attempted six or more shots, and the first time he hit more than half of them. All of Noah’s shots were through traffic deep in the paint, a place he has struggled to find his touch lately. Hopefully this performance, coupled with the brief spurt of offense in the win over the Trail Blazers, is a sign of good things to come.
  • Noah dished out seven assists Monday night, tying his season high. And according to NBA.com, he was also responsible for three additional secondary assists. While Noah is never going to be a polished scorer in the NBA, the mere willingness to look for his own shot has a tremendous impact on his teammates. When defenses know that Joakim is not even thinking of shooting, his man sags off him, clogging passing and driving lanes for everybody else. But when Joakim shows he’s not afraid to take it to the hoop, the Bulls spacing is much improved. Noah has dished out five or more dimes in five games this season, with each game featuring at least five field goal attempts from the big man.
  • The Bulls were severely shorthanded at guard with Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich both nursing injuries that sidelined them Monday. Thankfully, E’Twaun Moore was able to contribute 17 solid minutes behind Derrick Rose. Moore is a chunky defender who smartly uses his body to contain point guards and wings. He lacks the ability to facilitate the offense, but he managed to shoot 3/6 from the field and only turned the ball over once. Why it took injuries to two inferior players for Moore to be dubbed the backup is a mystery, and I hope his role remains in tact even when the Bulls return to full health.
  • Doug McDermott’s +10 was very exciting, considering his on/off numbers have been abysmal a month into the season. McDermott did most of his damage during a hot run in the second quarter where he scored ten of his twelve points. Doug was 1/2 from three, and knocked down a couple of tough runners in the lane, a shot he has consistently hit all season. More impressive than the offense was Doug’s solid defensive performance. McDermott did not do his typical “chicken with its head cut off” routine off the ball on defense. Instead, he operated within the scheme and managed to do the small things that were required of him.
  • Pau Gasol’s 18 points and 13 rebounds earned him player of the game honors, but his 18 points came on an inefficient 24 shooting possessions. While he wasn’t victimized horribly by guards racing by him to the rim, he was mostly unable to recover to Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge, sacrificing quite a few wide open jump shots. Aldridge was 10/18 from the field and was able to get off open shots seemingly whenever he wanted.
  • Derrick Rose had another disappointing game, shooting 5/17 and only getting to the free throw line twice. Several times he was able to get to the basket off the dribble, but lacked the explosion to elevate and cleanly finish his layups. (Rose has not dunked yet this season, according to Basketball Reference). Rose had some success with his mid-range bank shot in this game and will hopefully go to it more and more as the season progresses. It has been his only reliable way of scoring so far.
  • I attended Monday’s game in person, and the thing that left the biggest impression on me was Kawhi Leonard. He’s already taken home a Finals MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, but seeing him up close truly made me a believer. His combination of strength, size and instincts make him very difficult to guard inside of 18 feet. At one point, Leonard was backing down Jimmy Butler on the baseline about ten feet from the hoop. Just when it seemed like he had dribbled himself into a bad spot, Kawhi spun around Butler and soared to the rim off two feet for a dunk, all in one clean motion. The speed at which he elevated from the floor to the hoop seemed non-human. It was like a glitch in a video game where a character transports through space without taking any steps in the middle. When San Antonio’s big three finally call it quits, the organization will be left in good (and gigantic) hands.
  • Coming up: the Bulls host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
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