A wild game of electric and awful for the Bulls in the home opener that takes them to 1-1 against Detroit.
In the off-season, Derrick Rose remarked, "Why can't I be MVP?"
The fans at the United Center, Saturday evening, for the Bulls' (1-1) home opener against the Detroit Pistons (0-3) made their sentiments known, chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P!" as Rose shot free throws in the fourth quarter. A quarter where the Bulls began down by 15 and ended on top, 101-91, for their first win of the 2010-11 season.
A disastrous second quarter, led by Pistons sixth man Ben Gordon's 5-for-5 shooting and 8-for-8 from the FT line for 21 points in the first half, put the Bulls behind 63-44 at halftime. Back and forth rallies by the two squads cut the lead in half until five late points in the final minute of the third quarter kept Detroit ahead 82-67 going into the fourth.
Then, it was all Bulls. High energy, hustle, and efficiency from James Johnson and Omer Asik off the bench and starting PF Taj Gibson in the low post sparked the Bulls to dominate the fourth 34-9. The first three quarters showed that Rose could play excellent basketball without the team taking over, but there should be no doubt his relentlessness kept morale high enough for the Bulls potential to not diminish.
Rose tied a career high with 39 points, shooting 13-27 from the field -- including 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. His hustle included two steals and five rebounds in a game where he never quit pushing the ball out to teammates in the effort to stretch the floor and disrupt the Pistons' defense. He was credited with seven assists, but he carried the ball down the floor on every possession, had secondary "hockey assists" and fed the ball down low for his big men to make moves and beat the horrendous Detroit post defense.
Though the energy rose in the third quarter, the Bulls again struggled on almost every possession to effectively run plays, create space, set effective picks and screens, use picks and screens, as well as roll off them in sync with their teammates.
Though the Bulls offensive pacing switched from quick and electric to sluggish and confused, the defense was incredibly physical down low and everyone was aggressive in creating and attacking loose balls. A large reason for the Pistons' 24-5 FT disparity in the first half was the Bulls' aggressively setting up to take charges, but they never got the whistles, as they were consistently mugged under the rim on the other end of the floor.
To the Bulls' credit, Rose and the frontcourt personnel never quit attacking the basket on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, it was the one aspect of Luol Deng's game that was clicking and he quit on it. On the flip side, Taj was consistently gauging his defender, thinking offense, every time he handled the ball in the low post and Kyle Korver was aggressive in two of his limited possessions along the baseline and post.
Rose displayed more versatility, going 5-for-7 from 16-23 feet out along with the three-point shooting, mostly coming off the pick n' pop when he recognized his defender going under his screen to commit to penetration prevention. He was only 5-for-11 within ten feet, but got to the line 13 times in the game, hitting ten of them.
Rose's game stretched the floor and his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor was controlled enough to confuse the Pistons into sloppy fouls. When Rose didn't concede to fouling on the other end, he exploited his quick feet to disrupt his opponents and channeled his aggressiveness toward the loose balls. Only three fouls allowed him to play 36+ minutes.
Joakim Noah dominated the paint again and compensated for the anemic Bulls' offense, outside of Rose, with eight of his 17 rebounds grabbed on the offensive end of the floor that contributed largely to him creating a 15-point evening from himself. Noah looked like the second-best center in the East, if not the NBA, adding three blocks to his line and highly instinctual pick setting.
Noah never conceded the paint to Detroit's one-man paint game, dominated the baseline and the glass, finished hard under the basket and stayed light on his feet for all of his 40 minutes.
It's becoming clear in the first two games of the season that Taj is opening up his game to use his basketball I.Q., hustle, quickness, and controlled aggressiveness to be a low post force for the Bulls. The offense is written for Carlos Boozer down there and when that spacing is available, Taj isn't hesitating to incorporate himself into the offense at the low and high posts, going 3-for-5 at the rim and 2-for-3 from around the circle for 11 points. No rebounds, but this was largely because of his roles defending the post-allergic Charlie Villanueva and setting picks and screens on the perimeter while gathering position in the low post to create offense, as Noah was the second chance ninja of the game.
The two-guards were completely inefficient for the Bulls. Keith Bogans' 1-for-5 night where he hit none of his four three-point attempts was the chucking displaying of which I've warned. Head coach Tom Thibodeau did a good job of pulling him before this go out of hand, but Ronnie Brewer wasn't much better, logging six rather anemic minutes.
Brewer's one asset on the offensive end came out in two possessions where he cut to the basket without the ball, caught the ball near the rim and shot quick, hitting one of those shots. Unfortunately, Brewer just couldn't keep up with the game and quickly logged two fouls as well. C.J. Watson was completely blind to some great cuts by Brewer, but that was the least of Watson's awful game.
The strongest bench relief for the Bulls came from James Johnson and Brian Scalabrine. JJ never conceded loose balls, attacked the basket, finished strong, but didn't dribble too much when he had good looks. His two field goals were timely, but it was his nine rebounds, three blocks, two steals, and four assists in his 19 that gave him the bulk of the fourth quarter minutes. All after being told he would not be in Coach Thibs' regular rotation and not playing in the opener against Oklahoma City.
Scal was very impressive defensively, but was still painful to watch on the move offensively. That said, when the Bulls were most anemic, he was confident to pick his spots and go 3-for-4 for six points when the Bulls were struggling the keep the Pistons lead under 15.
Omer Asik played only 15 minutes after it was clear the Pistons were outrunning the Bulls. His aggressiveness didn't amount for much outside of an incredibly heads-up play to penetrate a 3-2 zone from post-to-post to get a quick pass from Noah at the elbow and finish very strong under the rim. It was his unwillingness to concede loose balls that led to five rebounds -- for 26.1 defensive rebounding rate.
Deng's awful offensive game after the strong start was partially redeemed by his defense in the third, when no Bull seemed capable of disrupting Gordon's hot hand. Though the Bulls were still down by 15 after the quarter, Deng's defense provided the opening for the Bulls to cut the halftime lead in half with a high-intensity run that electrified the crowd again.
After the game, Coach Thibs emphasized that the Bulls' most crucial improvement necessary is to become a 48-minute team. I can't agree more and that's going to require a better offensive structure of playcalling, screen setting, and quick post setups. Not to mention the better gelling emphasized by Rose in his post-game interview on the floor.
The Bulls' next game will be against the undefeated Portland Trail Blazers (3-0), who possibly a top four team in the West, Monday at the United Center.
Advanced Box Score: Hoopdata
EDIT: Be proud of me that I avoided a Knee-Mac joke this entire post, but I would like to know what made Anthony Mason decide to come out of retirement to suit up and wear #1 for the Pistons. Feel free to e-mail me with any leads.