The Bulls are entering one of the toughest stretches of games that they will see all year, so Monday’s matinee win over the Detroit Pistons was vital to preserving their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference as the season nears its halfway point. The Bulls move to 24-16 on this victory, and maintain their spot just a game behind Toronto for the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Monday’s 111-101 win raised some questions about the Bulls and their need for Joakim Noah following his season ending injury on Friday night, but much of this is too early to tell. Here’s a look at how the Bulls held off a very strong Detroit team on Monday.
- Bench play. The Bulls bench players scored a combined 33 points on Monday to just 18 from the Pistons. Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott combined for 17 of those points, and Nikola Mirotic, though he didn’t get the start tonight even in Noah’s absence, added 10 points of his own. Otherwise, E’Twuan Moore added six to round out the bench scoring. With the exception of Bobby Portis, the bench had a +/- that averaged over +11 collectively. Brooks had a ridiculous 10 assists as well.
- Pau Gasol. I can’t get too far into this without mentioning Gasol and the work that he did against Detroit. He played nearly the most minutes of the afternoon, second only to Jimmy Butler and his 13/18 from the field was instrumental for a team that was down by six points when the first quarter ended. Gasol also led the team with 31 points on offense to go with 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on defense.
- Detroit’s collapse. The Pistons shot an insane 68% in the first quarter to take a six point lead as the quarter ended, but they folded as the game progressed. The third quarter was their roughest patch, as they were called for three technical fouls, two of which were against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was ejected. Detroit had led by as much as 13 at one point in the third quarter, and coming off of their 18 point victory over the seemingly untouchable Golden State Warriors on Saturday, this was a matchup that I was a little concerned about, especially since it was a road game for the Bulls.
- Better off without Jo? This is a question that I hate to even ask on the heels of his very devastating injury on Friday night that has effectively ended his season, and it is obviously one that cannot be answered after just one game without him, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on. Fred Hoiberg and Derrick Rose had a few things to say about the question today:
“I don’t think you could find one guy in that locker room that would say we’re a better team,” Hoiberg said. “He does so many things.”
“I’m not going to say that we’re over him or we don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “But we’re professionals. We know that once someone goes out, somebody has to step in and do that job, and we believe in everybody on this team.”
- I don’t want to read too much into this, but I would probably have said that the Bulls were better off, if even slightly, before he was injured. Noah turns 31 in February, so he has been in the league for a considerable amount of time, so his decline as a player is inevitable. Noah has posted a 14.3 PER so far this year, which is lower than even his rookie year nine seasons ago.
- Where’s Bobby Portis? On Monday, Portis played for just over three minutes and did not score at all. He has not hit double digits in minutes in about a week, and Portis has not shown the flashes of brilliance that drew us to him a couple of weeks ago, and consequentially he has been seeing a diminished role off of the bench since then. Monday would have been a good opportunity to capitalize on the minutes that he was getting, but he did not score and he had just two rebounds.
- Jimmy Butler, All Star? The voting ended on Monday night, and Butler stands a chance to be voted in as a starter. He has certainly earned a spot and probably deserves to start, but it’s more likely he is selected as a reserve behind Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry, likely vote winners.
- Coming up, the Bulls will test their mettle at the United Center on Wednesday night against the 38-4 Golden State Warriors.