Well, that was a tale of two halves.
The Bulls came out flat as all hell against the Wizards on Saturday, which wouldn’t be the most reprehensible thing in the world on any other night. But this was not any other night, and the Wizards were severely undermanned in the absence of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Bulls went down 21-9 in the first quarter to a lineup fielding two dudes named Tomas Satoransky and Sheldon McClellan, and all I could do was roll my eyes. Luckily, the Bulls had a secret weapon. A weapon the Wizards could acknowledge and even prepare for, but not stop. That weapon’s name was Jimmy Butler, and the Bulls rode on his back all the way to a 106-95 win.
So yeah, back to that first quarter. The Bulls went down double digits early again, and looked positively awful doing it. Marcin Gortat cut through the defense like a hot knife through butter, scoring 10 of the Wizards’ first 19 points. His running mate, the rookie Satoransky, looked like the Point God, taking no more than 5 minutes to rack up 6 assists. Markieff Morris scored at will, connecting on 6 of his first 7 field goal attempts. Everything was ugly and everything was bad.
Then, Fred Hoiberg yanked Rajon Rondo in favor of Isaiah Canaan, and the Bulls ripped off a 13-0 run to take a lead into the 2nd quarter. Now I’m not quite trying to say there’s something to this, but it keeps happening, so maybe there is. After a solid enough outing against Miami on Thursday, Rondo had another poor showing against Washington, putting up a goose egg in the scoring column, collecting just 5 assists and committing as many fouls. Canaan just looks like a much better fit alongside the starters with his shooting ability, and despite his diminutive stature, he gives impressive defensive effort night in and night out. In comparison, Rondo was putting layups off the glass that didn’t even touch the rim. He’s a mess right now, and it’s unclear what the Bulls will have to do to avoid digging themselves huge holes with him starting.
After that burst to take the lead, the Bulls played another underwhelming quarter of ball. The Nikola Mirotic-Bobby Portis lineup that fans have come to loathe was unable to get stops on Washington to open the frame. Speaking of Bobby Portis, we gotta talk about him; he just doesn’t look like an NBA player right now. Guys like Marcus Thornton scored over the top of him at the basket with ease, and Portis has trouble finishing at the rim on the other end with his subpar explosiveness and vertical leap. It’s hard to justify playing him right now, and the Bulls should be looking elsewhere to fill out those backup center minutes *cough* Cristiano Felicio *cough*.
The Bulls looked confused on both ends for most of the first half. Undrafted rookie Sheldon McClellan, who you’ve assuredly never heard of, looked like Derrick Rose with the way he split double teams and took off down the floor in transition. The Bulls could only force two first half turnovers, and committed several unforced errors of their own on the other end. Still, they trailed by just 3 at the half due to Jimmy Butler’s heroics, as he scored or assisted on 29 of the Bulls’ first 53 points.
The second half saw Jimmy saying “enough of this," and the Wizards never stood a chance. He played the whole quarter, scoring 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He was everywhere, locking down Otto Porter on defense (who has had an impressive year thus far) and looking utterly dominant on offense. He finished with an absurd line of 37 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes, including going a ridiculous 14-of-14 from the free throw line.
The Bulls also just generally played a much better half defensively, and the Wizards could only muster 12 second half points in the paint after 36 in the first half. Robin Lopez played 38 minutes, and Hoiberg elected not to use Bobby Portis until the waning seconds after his subpar half, which surely contributed to the defensive improvement. In the fourth, the Bulls kept distance with the help of Niko Mirotic, who put together a very tidy 17 and 11 game on 6-of-7 shooting, including some very deep threes late. The Wizards cut a 15 point lead to 7 at one point, but Hoiberg re-inserted Jimmy Butler and he immediately created a three-point play, putting an end to the threat before it began.
The only other thing of note that happened was Markieff Morris plucking Doug McDermott out of the air on a dunk attempt early in the fourth. Morris was assessed a flagrant foul, and the recently concussed McDermott came up woozy, so it’s reasonable to assume he’s going to miss some more time moving forward. The Bulls will need to make up his shooting in some way, so maybe look for Denzel Valentine to finally get some meaningful tick.
The Bulls now head West for the circus road trip, and will do battle with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The Bulls have had some traumatic injury experiences there in the past, so they might be lucky to make it out with Damian Lillard roasting Rajon Rondo to the tune of 60 points or something. Go Bulls!