The Bulls are entering one of the toughest stretches of games that they will see all year, so Monday’s matinee win over the Detroit Pistons was vital to preserving their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference as the season nears its halfway point. The Bulls move to 24-16 on this victory, and maintain their spot just a game behind Toronto for the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Monday’s 111-101 win raised some questions about the Bulls and their need for Joakim Noah following his season ending injury on Friday night, but much of this is too early to tell. Here’s a look at how the Bulls held off a very strong Detroit team on Monday.
- Bench play. The Bulls bench players scored a combined 33 points on Monday to just 18 from the Pistons. Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott combined for 17 of those points, and Nikola Mirotic, though he didn’t get the start tonight even in Noah’s absence, added 10 points of his own. Otherwise, E’Twuan Moore added six to round out the bench scoring. With the exception of Bobby Portis, the bench had a +/- that averaged over +11 collectively. Brooks had a ridiculous 10 assists as well.
- Pau Gasol. I can’t get too far into this without mentioning Gasol and the work that he did against Detroit. He played nearly the most minutes of the afternoon, second only to Jimmy Butler and his 13/18 from the field was instrumental for a team that was down by six points when the first quarter ended. Gasol also led the team with 31 points on offense to go with 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on defense.
- Detroit’s collapse. The Pistons shot an insane 68% in the first quarter to take a six point lead as the quarter ended, but they folded as the game progressed. The third quarter was their roughest patch, as they were called for three technical fouls, two of which were against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was ejected. Detroit had led by as much as 13 at one point in the third quarter, and coming off of their 18 point victory over the seemingly untouchable Golden State Warriors on Saturday, this was a matchup that I was a little concerned about, especially since it was a road game for the Bulls.
- Better off without Jo? This is a question that I hate to even ask on the heels of his very devastating injury on Friday night that has effectively ended his season, and it is obviously one that cannot be answered after just one game without him, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on. Fred Hoiberg and Derrick Rose had a few things to say about the question today:
“I don’t think you could find one guy in that locker room that would say we’re a better team,” Hoiberg said. “He does so many things.”
“I’m not going to say that we’re over him or we don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “But we’re professionals. We know that once someone goes out, somebody has to step in and do that job, and we believe in everybody on this team.”
- I don’t want to read too much into this, but I would probably have said that the Bulls were better off, if even slightly, before he was injured. Noah turns 31 in February, so he has been in the league for a considerable amount of time, so his decline as a player is inevitable. Noah has posted a 14.3 PER so far this year, which is lower than even his rookie year nine seasons ago.
- Where’s Bobby Portis? On Monday, Portis played for just over three minutes and did not score at all. He has not hit double digits in minutes in about a week, and Portis has not shown the flashes of brilliance that drew us to him a couple of weeks ago, and consequentially he has been seeing a diminished role off of the bench since then. Monday would have been a good opportunity to capitalize on the minutes that he was getting, but he did not score and he had just two rebounds.
- Jimmy Butler, All Star? The voting ended on Monday night, and Butler stands a chance to be voted in as a starter. He has certainly earned a spot and probably deserves to start, but it’s more likely he is selected as a reserve behind Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry, likely vote winners.
- Coming up, the Bulls will test their mettle at the United Center on Wednesday night against the 38-4 Golden State Warriors.
After six consecutive wins leading up to the weekend, the Bulls were starting to look like they were going to put together a very nice roll. Of course, two straight losses on Saturday and Monday night put a damper on those positive vibes that were starting to surround this team. That’s why Tuesday’s road game was especially important. Unfortunately, the Bulls lost 106-101 in a game that ultimately ended with a score that belies how overmatched the Bulls looked through much of the second half especially. These three losses in a row have left that six game winning streak feeling like a distant memory, and the Bulls move to 22-15 after this loss, a half game behind Atlanta in the Eastern Conference.
- The Bulls came out hot in the first quarter, looking almost like they were going to put their two game mini-losing streak to an end, going up by nine as the quarter ended. The starting five of Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler, and Derrick Rose shot well and often, and at least started the night off on a good note.
- Tony Snell provided some much needed spark in the second quarter, at the point in the game when it felt very much like the Bulls were actively working to give it away. His seven points in that quarter helped to propel them from squandering a nine point lead that they had built in the first quarter. Snell had a string of solid games at the end of December, but he had not been having much of an impact since the new year. Though he is not likely to serve as the catalyst much of the time and can be maddeningly inconsistent, he was the man for the job tonight.
- Shooting from inside. Most notably, the Bulls were 4/17 from the paint in the second quarter, and if you compare that to their 5/9 in the first, you can see a big part of what caused them to go from leading by nine to getting outscored by five a quarter later. They were 3/9 in the third quarter and just 1/5 in the fourth.
- In the third quarter, the Bucks came out with considerably more energy, moving past the Bulls with relative ease. In fact, the Bulls looked flat, especially on defense, often just standing completely still. Some of this lack of energy could come of course from the fact that the Bulls were on their third game in four days, including these back to back nights, but Milwaukee really ran the floor with them as the second half started. Really, the third quarter was looking like just bad upon bad, at least until about the 4:00 mark, when they had finally whittled what had been an eight point Bucks lead back down to a tie.
- The turning point during the third quarter run came from the work of Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, and a timely three pointer from Aaron Brooks that forced a Milwaukee time out. This 8-0 run came on the heels of two missed free throws from Jabari Parker that could have put Milwaukee up by double digits.
- Derrick Rose went to the bench almost as immediately as the third quarter started to have his knee checked. He continued to get worked on as the quarter progressed. As the fourth quarter started, Rose was on a stationary bike and he eventually returned about halfway through the quarter, but it was short lived. He returned to the bench after just a couple of minutes of play, and then went into the locker room with left patella tendinitis. In hindsight, having him work so hard to return in the second half doesn’t seem worth it. Rose has been on a nice stretch of games lately, shooting just under 45% in his last 17 games and almost 50% in his last four.
- I would be remiss to fail to mention the night that Jimmy Butler had, even if the final outcome was not the desired one. He came pretty close to a double-double, with 30 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. His night was perhaps a bit soured by four turnovers. He ended up shooting 42.8% from the field, and 83% at the free throw line.
- Given the recent success that he has experienced, it was a bit surprising to see Bobby Portis log such a small number of minutes. He saw just four minutes off of the bench, and he did not see any action in the second half at all, at a time when it seemed the most like the Bulls could have used some fresh legs. This may have been in part beacuse of an especially poor outing against the Wizards on Saturday, but also possibly because Portis was so in over his head when attempting to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even then, with as gassed as the Bulls looked, I expected to see more of him in the second half. Definitely something to monitor now that all the Bulls’ bigs are healthy again.
- This game seemed to come down largely to energy, and it was very apparent in the second half. The Bulls managed to bring the game within two points on a pair of Jimmy Butler free throws, but that was followed by six straight points from Milwaukee for the final dagger. Like I mentioned earlier, the Bulls were playing on their second night in a row, and although the travel from the United Center on Monday night to Milwaukee tonight isn’t exactly strenuous, this kind of scheduling rarely favors the road team.
- Coming up: the Bulls will thankfully get two nights off in a row, as they’ll play the hapless 76ers on Thursday night in Philadelphia.