Derrick Rose had 32 points and nine assists, and his jumper with under a minute to play gave the Bulls the lead for good in a 99-95 win over New Orleans on Tuesday night in the United Center.
The Bulls were glad to welcome Rip Hamilton back to the starting lineup, and his presence showed immediately. The Bulls had 22 points in Rip's 8:13 stint in the first quarter, and 19 in 8:28 of the third. That's 118 points per 48 minutes, as the Bulls offense always looks better than Hamilton's individual stats would seem to make it look.
Rip had five points and five rebounds last night, and hopefully the Bulls can ease him back into the lineup slowly and keep him healthy until the Miami series rolls around sometime in late May.
Joakim Noah and Luol Deng also played very well last night, but Jo especailly was outstanding as he put up 15 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists plus two steals and two blocked shots. Deng's shot wasn't falling very well, but he still contributed a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Deng, Rose and Korver each went 1/5 behind the arc, and the Bulls almost let this one get away. Bad ballhandling early and bad shooting late nearly combined to allow the Bulls to lose to a team they had no business losing to.
The Hornets have been playing better as of late, in fact they had won 4 or 6 games coming into the United Center, there is usually no way Coach Thibodeau allows his team to take any opponent for granted.
The Bulls got off to a great start, shooting 56% in the first quarter and leading by as many as 10 points. But five turnovers kept them from getting a really comfortable lead, and they were only up by four heading into the second quarter.
Neither team could shoot straight in the second, in fact each of them was well under 40%. But the Hornets outworked the Bulls to a 16-8 rebounding edge that allowed them to lead by as much as four before settling into a three point halftime lead.
The Bulls starting the second half strong, and they regained the lead on a Deng layup 1:12 in. They pushed the lead to as high as 7 before four different Hornets score in an 8-0 run that gave New Orleans the lead near the end of the third period. But the Bulls went on a quick 8-1 run to lead by six heading to the final period.
But after going up by nine with five minutes to play, the Bulls went ice-cold from the field, going over four minutes without scoring. This allowed the Hornets to go on a 13-0 run and take a 95-91 lead with 1:26 to play. But the Bulls then clamped down on defense, and Rose hit a pair of free throws before Noah followed a Rose miss with a tip-in that tied the game at 95.
After Gustavo Ayon missed a short jumper, Rose calmly sank a 19-footer to put the Bulls ahead. Rose then sank two more free throws after a Jarrett Jack miss for the final margin.
It was good to get out of this one alive and with a win, but Coach Thibs can't be happy with the effort. Too many turnovers committed and two many offensive rebounds allowed almost allowed the Bulls to lose a game to a team they shouldn't be losing to. They will need a much better effort tonight to beat the Spurs, who were playing as well as any team in the league heading into the All-Star break.