Following an improbable come-from-behind victory against the L.A. Lakers on Christmas Day, the Bulls played lethargic throughout in their 99-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena -- which has been unkind to Chicago, which has lost nine of its last 11 games in the building -- on Monday night.
Coach Tom Thibodeau's team had five players in double figures, led by Luol Deng's 22 points. Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson scored 13 points a piece, but shot a combined 7-for-27 from the field. Free-agent addition Rip Hamilton, whom the Bulls signed two weeks ago in hopes of supplying Rose with a shooting guard who can shoulder some of the offensive burden, posted 10 points, all of which coming in the first half. The Warriors, in contrast, received 26 and 21 points, respectively, on 17-of-29 shooting from their high-scoring backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry.
Meanwhile, the Bulls didn't help their cause by piling up eight first-quarter turnovers, allowing the Warriors to play the helter-skelter, "freestyle" basketball rookie coach Mark Jackson has preached. The Bulls finished with 20 turnovers and allowed the home team to score 20 fast-break points. Both teams were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, although the Warriors clearly played like the much fresher team and took a 30-22 lead through one quarter of play.
"We kind of struggled all game keeping them out of the paint," Bulls forward Luol Deng told reporters afterwards. "From the start of the game, our defense just wasn't there. And a team like that, after the first quarter, they got confidence and played with the lead the whole game."
As the Bulls' defense continued to get broken down, Thibodeau called a pair of timeouts in a span of two minutes and 32 seconds early in the second frame. It was that type of frustrating, lackluster night for the Bulls, who allowed the Warriors to score 42 points in the paint. During the contest, Bulls announcer Stacey King illustrated defensive sequences in which the Bulls' big men failed to communicate and that led to plenty of dribble penetration and easy layups.
"They scored a lot of points off our turnovers in transition," said Joakim Noah, who dropped seven points and 10 rebounds but sat out the entire fourth quarter. "Bad pick-and-roll defense; bad post defense; lack of communication. Everything. Our defense was just bad."
After giving up 57 points in the first half, the Bulls did a better job of clamping down defensively in the third quarter, when the Warriors scored 21 points. But the visitors poured in only six points in the final half-dozen minutes of the third stanza. With Carlos Boozer having his struggles defensively -- counterpart David Lee had 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting -- and failing to completely seal off his low-post defender, which led to several unforced turnovers, Thibodeau went with Taj Gibson for the final 16 minutes and 31 seconds of the game. Following a 15-point, seven-rebound performance against the Lakers, Boozer put up just six points and three rebounds against the Warriors.
The Bulls were able to mount a ferocious comeback in the fourth quarter, thanks largely to six three-pointers, cutting the Warriors' lead to 97-91 with 36 seconds left. But it was too late by then. Hamilton also watched the fourth quarter from the sideline.
"He just said it was bull---- and he's right," Noah told the assembled media when asked about Thiboeau's post-game message in the locker room. "We're not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that. It's frustrating. We have to improve; there's a lot of areas we have to improve. Even though we won against the Lakers yesterday, we played well in lapses but there's definitely areas that we need to get better at to get where we want to get to."
Rose, the reigning NBA MVP, shot just 4-for-17, including 1-of-8 from three-point range. He went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter and knows he must improve his play from start to finish if the Bulls want better results.
"I think I had three or four turnovers I shouldn't have had," he said. "Guys trying to make an extra pass when the [player they were passing to] was covered pretty well. All these things we can learn from. If anything, it's just going to make us a better team, and we know that. Without us playing defense tonight, it was going to be a hard game, especially with the scorers that they have on their team. And we let them get some easy looks.
"We just got to look at film and try to go through everything, get all the kinks and everything out of our offensive sets."