Prior to the game, if you had been told that Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol would combine for 29 points on 35 shots against the league-best defense the San Antonio Spurs currently boast, you would have taken the odds on a convincing loss.
That's why, folks, gambling is fraught with danger.
Picking which Bulls team will show up game-to-game can prove to be a difficult task, but against a premier team that commands respect and full engagement, Chicago have always found a way to compete with the game's best.
Withstanding dominant periods from both LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, the Bulls were able to out-hustle the Spurs with another dominant defensive showing, winning 92-89 at the United Center.
The Defense Was Brilliant
Holding San Antonio to 41.1 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three, the well-oiled Spurs machine appeared momentarily weakened and limited. Despite 25 points and 8 rebounds and 21 points and 12 rebounds from Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge respectively, San Antonio's vaunted offense couldn't find a way to consistently score.
Inspired by a throwback performance by Joakim Noah, the Bulls' defense suffocated the Spurs all night. Looking like their 2013-14 selves, the bench unit of Noah and Gibson dominated defensively in the paint, whilst E'Twaun Moore was very good in his pursuits of denying easy catches, playing in the passing lanes and challenging shots.
Even Doug McDermott, who provided the scoring punch for the reserve collective with an efficient 12 points, had himself one of his best defensive performances of his young career. Staying in front of Manu Ginobili and running Danny Green off his three-point attempts, the sophomore forward was able to give Hoiberg 30 minutes of solid play on both ends of the floor.
As they've done all season, Chicago would find a way to come up with clutch defensive stops in critical moments. Pau Gasol came up big again in the dying stages of the game, swatting away a late LaMarcus Aldrige attempt in similar fashion to the terrific block he had on opening night against Lebron James and the Cavalier. Jimmy Butler, too, would again crush his direct opponent, forcing Kawhi Leonard into a tough three-point attempt, one which he would airball. Even Derrick Rose would get in on the act, blocking Tony Parker's last second three-pointer.
We're still waiting to see what this team can do offensively, but in the interim, we must consider how crucial the Bulls' defense has been early in the season. The offense has slumped to the depths of league's rankings, but somehow, the defense has improved significantly from Tom Thibodeau's final season.
Would we be 10-5 without it?
Bulls' Bench Key
Unlike the Spurs, Chicago's depth gave the team everything, proving to be the key to their impressive win.
Outscoring the San Antonio bench 30-15, pulling down 15 more rebounds and handing out 5 more assists, the Bulls' reserves got them this win.
Led by an reinvigorated Joakim Noah, who flirted with a triple-double in only 23 minutes, his energy from the bench would prove to be critical, and ultimately, it was the single most complete performance from any player on the floor. In easily his best game of the season, Noah would tie his season-high of eight points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 7 assists.
With the stars of the team struggling to make an impact, Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson and E'Twaun Moore followed the lead of Noah, with all of Chicago's bench unit finishing the game with a positive plus-minus. The second unit were astounding all night, particularly in the fourth quarter where they built an important six point lead for the starting unit to maintain.
Rose And Gasol Still An Issue
It was a tough night for both Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol, and it was always going to be.
As expected, Gregg Popovich would send multiple defenders to Derrick Rose, with Danny Green matching up on the Bulls' point guard, allowing Tony Parker to rest on the catch and shoot focused, Tony Snell. Struggling with his shot from all areas of the floor, Rose continued his horror shooting stretch, finishing the night with 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting.
Facing off against Tim Duncan is never an easy task, even if he is 39. Pau looked lively early, but would struggle offensively for the majority of the night, ending the game with 18 points on 6-for-18 shooting.
Though neither shot the ball efficiently, they found other ways to contribute.
Rose's floor game was decent, dishing out 6 assists and only committing 1 turnover. His defense, for the most part, was also solid. Gasol couldn't buy a shot, but his rebounding (13) was huge, as were his 4 assists and 3 blocks.
15 games into the season, two of the integral pieces within the Bulls' offense have struggled mightily. We wait for them to turn it around, assuming that it's not possible to regress any further, but at some point, expectations will need to match production. The Bulls' defense has been surprisingly brilliant, but it can only hold up for so long without a genuine scoring revival from Rose and Gasol.
Should that happen, the fortunes of this team change greatly.
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