With Derrick Rose (foot) returning from a three-game absence, the Chicago Bulls pulled out a hard-fought 93-83 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 48-16 this season, which remained the best record in the NBA.
The Bulls placed five players in double figures against the Mavs (36-29), who were without guards Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Luol Deng dropped a game-high 22 points and six assists while shooting 8-for-15 from the field in 43 minutes of action. Rip Hamilton poured in 19 points – all of which in the first and third quarters – on 9-for-16 shooting in 28 minutes. Joakim Noah exhibited a ton of energy all night and was just shy of a triple-double, with eight points, 14 rebounds (five offensive) and eight assists. Carlos Boozer had a double-double of 12 points and 10 boards in just 28 minutes, while Kyle Korver added 11 points on 3 three-pointers.
Behind strong ball movement and defense, the Bulls were sharp right out of the gate and had a sense of urgency while the Mavs appeared to be going through the motions. The Bulls held the Mavs to a season-low eight first-quarter points to take a 21-8 lead through one period of play. Rose was back on the floor, Hamilton and Boozer were making an impact and the team looked crisp – all appeared right in the Bulls’ world. But then, in the second quarter, the Bulls’ offense became stagnant and the Mavs finally found their groove. The Mavs hung 30 second-quarter points to get within 44-38 at halftime. After shooting 9-for-19 from the field in the opening frame, the Bulls went just 8-for-23 in the second.
Although the Bulls were not able to find their touch to start the third quarter, Hamilton maintained a hot hand. The Mavs took their first lead of the night, 56-55, at the three-minute mark of the third, as both teams looked stagnant but the Bulls just a bit more than the visitors. But Chicago closed the frame on an 11-0 run, capped off by a Deng three-pointer, to take a 66-56 lead into the fourth quarter. Rose checked back into the game with 7 minutes, 1 second left, and the Bulls were up just 78-76 about three minutes later. That’s when they went on the game’s most critical run – a 12-3 stretch that included hustle plays by Noah and a pair of three-pointers by Kover and the dagger one by Deng to put the Bulls ahead 90-79 with just under two minutes left.
Once again, the Bulls didn’t shoot well but made up for it on the defensive end of the court. They held the Mavs – who were led by Dirk Nowitzki’s 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting – to a paltry 39.2 percent from the field and they outrebounded the road team 46-43. The Bulls’ ball movement was crisp throughout the night as well, as they dished out 29 assists.
However, all eyes were on Rose. The star guard had 11 points and eight assists in 31 minutes, 40 seconds. While he didn’t move around as explosively as fans have come to know, he picked his spots and eased into the game in hopes of gradually finding his timing. Rose appeared to have a limp at times but had his moments, including a hot scoring stretch to close the first half and a good passing stretch to finish the game.
With the win and the Miami Heat’s loss to the Washington Wizards Saturday, the Bulls have to win one of their two remaining games to wrap up this season’s top seed in the Eastern Conference. Tom Thibodeau has talked about the importance of homecourt advantage during the playoffs, but he knows it’s important for his team to end the season on a high note. They had plenty of lulls on Saturday night that need to be corrected before the postseason, which is right around the corner.
Next up, the Bulls have three days off before playing their final road game of the season on Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers (41-23) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.