Every game it’s a different roster and lineup for the Chicago Bulls, rarely completely healthy this season. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol were back in action, and with the help of Jimmy Butler came away with a narrow 97-95 win over the Utah Jazz.
Gordon Hayward had a chance to tie or win the game with one final possession. He went for a 3-pointer while in motion, something he’s pulled off before, but his shot was short and the Bulls escaped Salt Lake City with a nice little win that stopped their losing streak, managing to pull off a mini come back in the final 3:30 of the game after the Jazz took a 91-87 lead and looked ready to finish off the game and move a bit closer towards that .500 record.
Instead, the Bulls clamped up on defense and one basket from Mike Dunleavy, his first and only of the game, picking up an offensive rebound off a Jimmy Butler miss and netting the easy layup, put them up by one point and in the lead for good. Pau Gasol added one more point from the line after a miss from Derrick Favors and a rebound from Tony Snell, who came in for Dunleavy to bring in a bit more defense to the closing moments.
Derrick Rose hasn’t played since November 13, missing four games. He had an excellent start with 13 points in the first half, finishing the game with 18 points on 25 minutes. This isn’t last year, when he looked rusty from start to finish before tearing his meniscus. He’s averaging 18 points per game while shooting 44.2% from the field. If the Bulls can have him healthy for a bit more, they’re truly a force to be reckoned with, and not a good team that knows it can’t do much.
Pau Gasol was another player who has been absent for a long time, missing three games. He scored 23 points on his return to the lineup to go with a nice stat line of 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals. As good as he’s been offensively, which means taking away touches from Joakim Noah, Noah has been the more vital presence on the floor, especially when it comes to defense. The Bulls were winning by 19 points during his 30 minutes of basketball, despite scoring only 4 points.
But if there’s a go-to-guy and MVP for the Bulls so far this season it’s Jimmy Butler. Aggressive, confident, slightly arrogant, irritated. Butler led the team with 25 points, including 16 in the first half. He’s averaging 20.8 points per game so far this season, and finally coming through with the promise of becoming one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. He did a very good job on defense as well. Alec Burks was only 3-of-11 from the field, Gordon Hayward just 2-of-11. The Jazz got a great game from everyone else, including 21-15 from Derrick Favors, but their two best scorers from the outside were limited, and that’s being gentle with them.
While the Bulls didn’t play very well during Nikola Mirotic’s moments on the floor, the Croatian rookie did score 10 points including a nice double pump fake move to feed Pau Gasol. Consistency is what’s needed from the big man, who has suddenly found it over the last few games, scoring 24 with 11 rebounds in the loss to the Blazers (thanks to garbage time) and in general has looked much better over the last four outings, averaging 14.3 points per game.
Consistency is what the Bulls need in general to fulfill their potential in the East and show that they’re the best team around. The talent and depth on both sides of the ball are there. Now all that they need is for the rookies to stop having 0 point games like the one Doug McDermott had, and for guys like Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol to be more of a guarantee when it comes time for Thibs to pick his lineup. Once that happens, they’ll be very difficult to handle.