Everything about tonight's game was just about ugly. The stats especially. But the Chicago Bulls, as they have several times the past few weeks, found a way to win an ugly one over the Dallas Mavericks at the United Center.
The Bulls, improving to 29-14, got solid performances from several players, but besides star guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls only had one player in double figures.
Rose had 26 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks tonight. An MVP-type performance, right? Wrong. Rose took 28 shots tonight and turned the ball over 4 times. He's been great finishing around the basket all season, but today had a few shots right near the basket that he missed. He certainly didn't have as good a game as his stats show, but it's a testament to how good he is; Rose can play below his standards yet still put up stats other guards would die for.
The Bulls, as I mentioned earlier, got solid, but not impressive, performances from the supporting cast tonight. The bench scored 30 points, but in such a low-scoring game, that's plentiful.
Kyle Korver and Kurt Thomas each had 9 points, while Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson both had 8 points. Thomas also had 11 rebounds tonight.
Luol Deng was horrid on the offensive end tonight, as he shot 3-for-13 from the field and 0-of-3 from the three-point line, but he grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. The Bulls need Deng to provide an offensive punch with Carlos Boozer out, but on a night where he can't get it going offensively, it's good to see he's still providing in other areas of the game.
Let's take a closer look at tonight's win over the Mavericks:
What led to the Bulls win
What has become a reoccurring theme, the Bulls played lockdown defense tonight. They held the Mavericks to 36% from the field tonight and outrebounded them 51-41.
Meanwhile the Bulls were also very putrid offensively, shooting just 37% from the field. Both teams struggled to get consistent points, and also found the ball sticking a bit more than usual.
Coming in, I expected a high-paced game, but it was anything but that. There weren't many running opportunities for either team, so it came down to a halfcourt, grind-it-out, vintage Eastern Conference style basketball game.
Neither team played well offensively, but the Bulls played just a bit better defense and it led them to the victory tonight.
What does it signify
As if we already didn't know: this Bulls team has struggled offensively in the three games Boozer has missed.
Since scoring 96 points against the Memphis Grizzlies the first game Boozer was out, the Bulls have scored 83 and 82 since, against the Charlotte Bobcats and tonight against the Mavericks. That's not going to get it done; the only thing that's keeping them in these games is their stellar defense, Boozer or no Boozer.
I didn't think the Bulls would struggle this much without Boozer, as they played without him for the first month. But it's clear Taj Gibson has lost much of the offensive rhythm he had earlier this season; his mid-range jumper doesn't look nearly as consistent, although he still has moments where he'll make an outstanding low-post move.
Tonight, the Bulls only had one player in double-digits, Rose. And even he struggled somewhat offensively.
This team certainly misses Boozer's offensive presence -- especially with Noah out -- but it'd be smart for Boozer to remain sidelined until he feels 100%. The Bulls play the Cleveland Cavaliers and and Milwaukee Bucks the next two games, the latter team might give them trouble, but the Cavs should be an easy win, with or without Boozer.
Nevertheless, it's clear the Bulls miss Boozer's 20/10. Not like most teams wouldn't, but the Bulls struggle to score points without Boozer. Thank god the defense is superb.
The Bulls got a solid night from their supporting cast. Korver and Thomas each had 9 points, with Brewer and Watson with 8 points.
Korver came in the game earlier than usual tonight, as coach Tom Thibodeau searched for offensive options. He came through with a couple shots in the 2nd quarter, but he didn't get the open looks he usually does. Most of that has to do with the ball sticking with Rose, and when the Mavericks collapsed on him, they did a good job of getting back out to the shooters.
Thomas, I thought, was the key of the 4th quarter. He grabbed several clutch rebounds, hit a few shots, and does a great job of "drawing" loose ball fouls. I don't know what it is, but I've never seen a big-man draw so many loose ball fouls when trying to rebound. He has great instincts, and without Thomas coming up with huge rebounds, the Bulls likely wouldn't have won.
Brewer and Watson each had spurts of the game where they played well -- Brewer late in the first half and Watson for a short 4th quarter stretch. Watson's been playing well of late, and Brewer continues to show his solid mid-range jumper.
Even Keith Bogans got in on the action, scoring 6 points on 2-of-3 from three-point land. Here's an interesting stat: the Bulls are 10-0 when Bogans scores 6 or more points. Yes, he's that valuable.
Overall, it was a good night for the supporting cast. Although it might look sub-par on the stat sheet, remember, offense was tough to come by tonight. The supporting cast brought a lot of energy in a grind-it-out game.
It's always fun watching the Bulls on national TV -- tonight on TNT -- especially when they win. It was a good win, but you've got to cut the Mavericks some slack; this was the back end of a tough, grueling back-to-back. They played last night against the L.A. Lakers; the Lakers and Bulls on back-to-back nights, not easy matchups for any team.
Also, how many times this season have we said that Rose played much worse than his stats indicated? Many times this season. Is it because he's a chucker or he's just that good? Tonight, Rose missed a lot of close range shots he normally makes. He also struggled a bit with his usual knock-down mid-range jumper, yet he still nearly had a triple-double. Just another indication that this is his season. MVP season to be exact.
1/22: Cavaliers (8-33) @ Bulls (29-14). 7:00pm C.S.T. WGN/WGN America/ESPN 1000
Point blank: this is a game the Bulls should dominate. The Cavaliers have completely stunk the past month and a half, and have plummeted to the worst record in the NBA.
Boozer or no Boozer, I expect a big win for the Bulls on Saturday night. The Cavaliers simply don't have the talent or defense to hang with the Bulls.
What a difference a season makes, most Cavs fans are saying right now.