You know the story by now: the Bulls play terribly for most of the game, yet somehow find themselves in a close one, and this time they were able to hold on for a 98-94 victory. This against a Pelicans team that has not won on the second night of a back-to-back this season and are now 1-11 away from New Orleans. Once again, what should have been a relatively easy victory was a grind-it-out game. Attending this game in person at the UC left me feeling detached for three quarters, as the Bulls maintained their habit of giving a low energy performance (see: Exhibit A), looking clueless on offense, settling for bad shots, hanging out around the three point line with bad spacing (see: Exhibit B), and clearly having no understanding of, nor buy-in for, the Hoiberg offense.
But the fourth quarter looked and felt different (read: good):
- The Bulls started with a lineup of Brooks, Hinrich, Mirotic, Noah, McDermott, who actually looked like they were having fun, and gave the Bulls their first lead of the game at 73-70 since the first quarter with a combination of good ball movement, spacing, and energy.
- Rose was out from mid-way through the third until 4:28 to go in the game, which was probably a good thing. On defense, he’s able to lock down his defender in one-on-one situations, but lacks a team defense concept which leaves the defense vulnerable, he goes through screens lazily and nonchalantly, and offensively he is extremely predictable. Even his step-back over the outstretched monster hands of Anthony Davis to ice the game was totally unsurprising. But it did give me chills.
- In perhaps his best performance of the season, both statistically and visually, Joakim Noah turned back the clock. Although he *only* posted ten points and nine rebounds in just under 30 minutes, he had four blocks, was 4/4 from the line, and had an incredible unmatched energy that undoubtedly kept Chicago in the game and sparked a comeback. Compared to last year, he looks so much healthier, is much better at finishing around the rim, and can actually jump more than two inches off the ground. It felt so good seeing him do this:
- Hoiberg finished the game with Rose, Brooks, Butler, Noah, Gasol, and although I don’t like Noah and Gasol on the floor at the same time, which was way overused last year, Noah is more mobile than before and was able to make this work, despite Anthony Davis having his way down low. This was the right lineup to end the game, and I’ll be looking for Hoiberg to utilize Noah more down the stretch and start to play him more than the typical 20 minutes per game.
- The bench play was outstanding with 52 points, and Brooks put up 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter. Doug McDermott added 12 points on 5/10 shooting, and Nikola Mirotic finished with 10 points on 3/6.
- Overall, the Bulls did a better job attacking, going 24/29 from the free throw line, whereas the Pelicans were just 8/11. Of the few things Derrick Rose did well in this game, this was one of them – he was in attack mode all night with a combination of layups and floaters, keeping the defense on their heels, even though he did not convert on many of them, which may have kept Davis at bay just enough to hit the step-back.
- Hoiberg on the fourth quarter: “The second unit’s movement, pace, that’s how we want to play…. This is what happens when we play the right way.”
- Hoiberg on Noah after the dunk over Davis: “I thought he was going to run into the crowd and start chest bumping people.”
- Noah, when asked about the Davis dunk; is being aggressive something he would like to do more of: “Yes, dunking is something I want to do as much as possible.”
- Rose on the mask: “It might be over with.”
- Coming up: the Bulls host the hapless 76ers on Monday. Philadelphia will likely be hunting its second victory of the entire season.