The Bulls got off to a fantastic start in this one, at one point going up nearly 20 in the first half. Eric Bledsoe and the Suns made things interesting, but the Bulls led virtually the entire game en route to a 103-97 victory.
Jimmy Butler had a season-high 32 points and really took over late. He played the entire fourth quarter and a Thibs-ian 43 minutes. He finished with six rebounds, two assists and a steal on 11/23 shooting. He’s now averaging 20.4 points on the season with extremely similar shooting splits to last season’s breakout campaign.
With Derrick Rose out due to an ankle injury, Fred Hoiberg went with Kirk Hinrich as a starter. Captain Kirk (the #gritgod) came up big, scoring 14 points on absurd 6/7 shooting with six assists in 24 minutes. In classic Kirk fashion, though, this was his only missed shot:
Aaron Brooks had a solid 12 points and five dimes in 20 minutes off the bench, but he pulled his hamstring pretty badly and eventually had to leave the game. I don’t love that the Bulls brought Brooks back after he clearly suffered a fairly serious muscle pull; he had to leave the game again for good and is now out for tomorrow’s matchup with Golden State. The Bulls deserve credit for safely handling Rose’s ankle injury in game, but this was a mistake.
Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson both had good nights and once again closed the game together. Gasol scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 28 minutes while Gibson had six points and seven boards in 27 minutes. If Gibson is going to continue seeing crunchtime minutes over Niko Mirotic, you have to wonder if we’ll see another shake-up to the starting lineup soon. Seemingly everyone outside the Bulls organization is clamoring for Niko and Joakim Noah to play together, which could be easily managed by moving Gibson into the starting group.
Speaking of Mirotic, he continues to badly struggle on the offensive end. He went 4/12 with 10 points in 21 minutes, though he did knock down 2/5 from long range. His presence is still providing the Bulls with acres of floor space–most noticeable in his +6.9 on floor net rating. Opponents are struggling to figure out his game, falling for pump fakes and committing too many fouls. Soon, though, teams will figure his shtick out if the shots aren’t falling consistently. Mirotic’s value is derived from his ability to stretch the floor from a frontcourt position; I’m starting to worry that his highly unconventional shot mechanics may never yield a consistent shooter.
Doug McDermott had a pretty solid game off the bench, adding eight points and a +5 in 25 minutes. He also provided the funniest highlight of the game:
While Tony Snell has struggled to make any impact on the offensive end this season, the Bulls have played far better with him on the court. He led the team with a +9 despite missing all three of his shots. Now in his third season, Snell has gotten better at using his length to disrupt opponents defensively. The Butler-Snell combination could yield Chicago its strongest defensive wing pairing since Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer were at their peaks.
Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe combined for 44 points and 11 assists. They’re an entertaining backcourt pairing, and the Suns look like a solid threat for the bottom of the West playoff bracket. PJ Tucker annoyingly had his best game of the season, scoring 20 points with seven boards. A lot of fun bench guys got run, including Mirza Teletovic, Alex Len, Devin Booker, and Archie Goodwin.
Coming up: the Bulls continue the circus road trip on Friday night as big underdogs in Golden State against the defending champions, who are 12-0. If you recall, the Bulls handed the Warriors one of their two home losses last season. Quick note: Golden State is insanely, mind-bogglingly good on both ends of the floor. Steph Curry is one of the most unique players in NBA history and a joy to watch. Do yourself a favor and watch this next game, even if the Warriors win big. They could win 73 games.