The Chicago Bulls are trying to improve on both ends of the floor under their new head coach, but the 92-89 win over the San Antonio Spurs showed once again this team is at its best when they have to shuffle through injuries and grinding out games instead of trying to go head to head with “pretty”, slick basketball.
Playing without Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich left the Bulls really exposed when it comes to giving their backcourt and especially Derrick Rose some rest. He had a rough shooting night with 5-of-17 from the field, good enough for 11 points and six assists, playing 34 minutes. That’s nothing for Jimmy Butler with 40 minutes, taking only nine shots to score 14 points but playing some great defense down the stretch to help hold the Spurs to just 41.1% from the field during the game.
Gregg Popovich talked later about how offense is the most difficult thing to teach and get a team with changes used to. He talked about the offense not being where it’s supposed to be until March. The Bulls haven’t made that many changes to their roster. In fact, they haven’t made any except a rookie that’s hardly getting any playing time. But Fred Hoiberg isn’t Tom Thibodeau, and while the Bulls would obviously love being to look a lot smoother offensively, it’s going to take time. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with winning through less attractive styles.
Pau Gasol led the team with 18 points and 13 rebounds but needed 18 field goal attempts to get there. No, he’s not imitating former teammate Kobe Bryant. He simply had a rough night in the paint against LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan, but he had a lot of help from Joakim Noah, giving one of his best performance of the season. He finished with 11 rebounds and 8 points but more importantly 7 assists. When Noah is at his finest point-center mode, the Bulls are at their best, even if he’s no longer a lineup player.
The Bulls held the Spurs to just 16 points in the fourth quarter. This team is capable of remarkable defense during some stretches in games. The point is from here to make things more consistent and less difficult to execute, on both ends of the floor. It would help if they wouldn’t be changing small forwards all of the time while waiting for Mike Dunleavy to come back (not getting better for now) but there’s greatness in this team. It’s only a matter of finding it.