The Chicago Bulls were left with a bad taste in their mouths on Saturday night in Atlanta, as the Hawks played from ahead by double-digits for much of the game en route to a 109-94 win. The team laid an egg on the defensive end and failed to move the ball well on the offensive end. Derrick Rose was held to single-digit points for the first time since 2010, and the team was thoroughly embarrassed. “In this league, you usually get what you deserve,” lamented Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau afterwards. “This is the NBA. You’ve got to come every night.” Just two nights later, the Bulls got a perfect opportunity to cleanse their palate with the offensively challenged Detroit Pistons coming to the United Center, and they took advantage of it. The Bulls came out of the gate red hot, and then used a dominant final frame to put the Pistons away, 92-68. Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose tallied 23 and 22 points respectively, with Rose chipping in 8 assists and Boozer 8 rebounds to go along with them. Ronnie Brewer also had a nice game, adding 12 points and 4 assists while continuing to fill in for injured starter Rip Hamilton. For the Pistons, only second-year center Greg Monroe really stood out with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. He didn’t get much help up front as starting power forward Jonas Jerebko and backup center/power forward Jason Maxiell combined to shoot just 3-for-20.
For the Bulls it was all about ratcheting up the effort on the defensive end. “We just keyed in on defense,” mentioned Taj Gibson after the game. “That’s a tough, running team. [Our] guys made plays late.” The Bulls didn’t effectively close out on perimeter shooters against the Hawks, but they made sure that wasn’t a problem again on Monday. On the offensive end, the Bulls came out red hot to start the game. D-Rose scored or assisted on all of the Bulls first 15 points, and the team knocked down their first 7 shots from the field while running out to a 17-8 lead. Chicago cooled just as quickly as they heated up, however, shooting just 1-for-12 for the rest of the quarter, including missing the final 9 shots of the period as the Pistons battled back to a 21-all tie. That was the last time the game would be tied. The ‘Bench Mob’ came in and rolled to a 9-0 run to open the second frame, and it was elementary from there. The Pistons stayed within striking distance for a while, but it was all Bulls in the 4th. A nine point lead ballooned into a 24-point victory as they held the Pistons to just 9 points in the 4th quarter, and the Bulls’ starters got some much needed rest in the first game of their only back-to-back-to-back of the season. It’s always a successful game when the team gets up enough that Brian Scalabrine sees some minutes.
Chicago got a couple of scintillating shooting performances out of Boozer (9-for-13) and Brewer (6-for-9), which made up for an off night for Luol Deng, who scored just 4 points on 2-of-11 shooting. Even after a night like that, Coach Thibs always has good things to say about his small forward. “The big thing about Luol is when he is not shooting well or scoring, he still helps you in so many ways because of his defense, the way he moves the ball, his hustle and activity. I’m not worried about Luol.” When a team plays as well as the Bulls did on Monday night, it’s hard to find things to be unhappy about, even for Tom Thibodeau. The only critique that Thibs offered is that he would have liked to see the team run more, despite outscoring Detroit 18-6 on the fast break. He did really like some of the things his stars did in the half court, however, as he commented, “Carlos and Derrick in the pick and roll, they are tough to stop. They put a lot of pressure on people. Tonight I thought they made real good decisions.”
Despite the dominating performance the Bulls threw at the Pistons on Monday, you won’t find the squad standing around, patting themselves on the back. No one would call a win against Detroit overly impressive, and the Bulls simply don’t have any time to savor the victory. This was just game one of three games in three nights for Chicago, the first such stretch for the organization in 30 years. They travel to Minnesota on Tuesday and return home to square off with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. The shortened season has certainly taken some players out of their comfort zone with the compressed schedule, but the Bulls don’t seem to bothered by it. Carlos Boozer said the 3-game swing would be a “flashback” to his days playing AAU ball, and Derrick Rose simply said that playing three games in three days is fun. In the bigger picture, the current stretch the Bulls are in includes 9 games in 12 days, but the Bulls certainly qualify as a team with young enough legs to handle the schedule.
As for the Pistons, Monday night was just one rough loss of many they will likely suffer as the season wears on. The roster is fairly young, with 3 starters that are 25 or younger and rookie Brandon Knight and 3rd year pro Austin Daye playing significant minutes off the bench, but with that youth comes inconsistency. Former Bull Ben Gordon summed it up after the game by saying, “We have to be more consistent throughout, and play all 48 minutes. I guess if we could bottle what we did in the 3rd quarter and spread it out over 48 minutes.” That consistency will come with time as these youngsters grow together as a team. Brandon Knight looks like he will become a very solid scorer in the league, but may need to become a better distributor to continue to play point guard, and Greg Monroe absolutely seems to be developing into a star for the Pistons. He is a solid rebounder with good low post moves offensively, and he is a fantastic passer for a big man. There are better days ahead for Detroit, but the transformation will take time. For now, the growing pains will continue.
Growing pains are not a problem for the Bulls this season. This is a team that has one goal: to win a championship one game at a time. All of the early season returns seem to put the Bulls on the road to a rematch with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago hit a bit of a speed bump on that road against Atlanta on Saturday, but they got the bounce-back game they needed on Monday. If Carlos Boozer continues to be an aggressive scorer alongside Derrick Rose, and the Bulls continue to play Bulls’ defense all year, there won’t be many more speed bumps along the way, just smooth sailing.