Boozer, Watson step up as Bulls cruise sans Rose


Boozer, Watson step up as Bulls cruise sans Rose

Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 10:58 p.m.

No Derrick Rose? No problem.

At least that was the case Tuesday night, as the Bulls (13-3) placed all five starters in double figures scoring and cruised to an easy 118-97 rout over the Suns (4-9) at the United Center.

For the second consecutive game, Carlos Boozer (31 points, six rebounds) came out of the gate as an assertive scorer, perhaps knowing his responsibilities were greater with the absence of Rose.

He had help, however, as C.J. Watson (23 points, five assists) filled in capably for the Bulls sidelined superstar and Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds) appeared to be breaking out of his funk, knocking down a pair of his patented Tornado jumpers.

I thought we had a lot of guys play well. I thought Joakim was great to start the game, very active, going after every ball, hustling, knocked down a couple shots. Of course, Carlos was on fire to start and to C.J.s credit, how hard he worked coming back, particularly on his conditioning, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. I loved the way the ball hopped. The ball was not sticking anywhere. Once we got into a rhythm, we were able to knock some shots down.

Phoenixs fast pace, propelled by former two-time MVP Steve Nash (25 points, nine assists) the last point guard to win the leagues MVP award before Rose, Nashs elite scoring and playmaking were on full display early on actually benefited the Bulls, who wanted to get back to running in transition after playing at a slower tempo as of late.

Phoenix plays with a pace, so the game is going to be faster. I thought Nash put incredible pressure on us early in the game. Its amazing what hes doing at his age, said Thibodeau. Our defense obviously, we need work. I loved our offense. I thought the pace was great.

Rip Hamilton (11 points, six assists), back in the lineup after missing eight consecutive games, was an important factor in the Bulls building a comfortable cushion the veteran shooting guard was a scoring presence and also a playmaker, something needed without Rose available and the Bulls held a 39-31 advantage after a high-scoring opening period.

Rip really was terrific, not so much with his shooting, as much as his playmaking, said Thibodeau. Just having Rip, it gives you another primary option.

Added Noah: Rip is huge because hes a great passer very underrated part of his game and he really demands a lot of attention offensively, just with his ability to shoot the ball, so I think the more we play together, the better well be and its good to have him out there.

Chicagos offense was clicking on all cylinders Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could take pride in his teams protection of the basketball, if not how many points it allowed as the home teams gaudy field-goal percentage reflected its efficiency.

Beyond the aggressive Watson, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor in the first quarter, the Bulls got a significant contribution from Boozer, who knocked down mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper against the porous Suns defense.

I thought we really made plays for each other. I thought we made the easy play, said Hamilton. We didnt really take any difficult shots and when youre doing that, everybody out there is having fun.

More significantly, the heavily-scrutinized post tandem of Noah and Boozer appeared to be extremely cohesive, as the charismatic centers high activity level meshed beautifully with the power forwards deft outside touch. Thibodeau was so confident in his squads first-half performance that in the waning moments of the second period, after the lead had ballooned to a 20-point gap it was 67-47 in the Bulls favor, at the break rookie swingman Jimmy Butler saw some rare early action.

We knew we had to compete better than we did against Memphis. It was an embarrassing loss. Just the way we played, it wasnt right, said Noah. Just taking my shots when they were there and Rip opens up the floor a lot, as well.

Chimed in Thibodeau, weary of questions about the big-man duo: I think they do fine. I think the record speaks for itself.

I think that they played well. I think they were high energy, the ball moved freely, they were playmaking. Jo made a lot of good plays with the ball. Theyre fine, he continued. Jos timing is coming around. Hes a lot more active.

Noahs strong play persisted after the intermission a steal and coast-to-coast push for a layup opened third-quarter scoring as his energy, relentless rebounding and unique ball skills had a major impact on the contest. A 7-0 run to start the period set the tone in the lopsided affair, as the defense-less Suns could do nothing to slow the Bulls offensive rhythm, as wings Hamilton and Luol Deng (15 points, six rebounds) also got things going for the hosts.

Crisp ball movement, which often led to wide-open jumpers while Watson played point guard and facilitated at times and Deng exhibited his typical unselfishness, Hamiltons playmaking was subtly a key to the offensive flow was a marker of Chicagos success, as the high assist totals reflected. Despite Nashs continued brilliance, the Bulls took a 96-68 lead into the games final frame.

Hamilton gave credit to his backcourt partner, Watson, saying, He was awesome, he was great. C.J. did a great job. He got guys in the spots where they needed to be, he ran the offense and when he was open, he took the shot.

Concurred Noah: C.J.s a great point guard and sometimes, its hard when you play behind the MVP, but every time he gets big minutes, he steps up and hes been huge for us. Coming back from an injury like that and being able to play at a high level, its been very impressive.

With the game no longer in doubt, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry rested Nash and his other regulars, filtering in his reserves, and Thibodeau followed suit, giving Bulls reserves like backup center Omer Asik (11 points) an opportunity to get some work, since they hadnt been needed to provide additional firepower earlier in the evening.

With two days off before for their next contest, a rarity in the condensed schedule, a much-needed period of rest and the potential of Roses return loom before Friday, when the Bulls play the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

I thought we had some spurts when we played good defense and especially too, when youre going on the road, youve got to be air-tight with your defense, so thats something that we have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Fortunately for us, we have a day of practice coming.

5 Things to watch: Bulls open season against Celtics

5 Things to watch: Bulls open season against Celtics

The Bulls kick off their 2016-17 season Thursday night against the Celtics.

We'll have end-to-end coverage all season long. Make sure you're following these accounts for all the information you'll need: @vgoodwill, @MarkSchanowski, @markstrot, @ChuckGarfien, @CSNBulls.

Here are five things to watch for tonight. And don't forget to tune in to CSN on Saturday night as the Bulls host Paul George and Indiana Pacers.

1. The Three Alphas debut

Each of the Bulls' starting guards had their moments during the preseason, but it's admittedly tough to get a read on how well they'll perform when the games mean something. While it won't be entirely fair to judge them on one game - especially against a stellar defensive team in Boston - how the three players interchange with each other will say plenty. Watch for the way they share the basketball, who initiates the offense and, when one gets hot, if the other two don't mind taking a backseat for a handful of possessions.

2. Who takes the reins at power forward?

Fred Hoiberg said that Taj Gibson will get the start against the Celtics, and it's well deserved after his impressive preseason. Gibson is as rock solid and consistent on both ends as they come, but the reality is if the Bulls are going to be successful this year one of Nikola Mirotic or Bobby Portis will need to make a jump forward. The Celtics deploy postman Amir Johnson and stretch forward Jonas Jerebko at the 4, so Brad Stevens will give the Bulls multiple looks that they'll need to counter with the combination of Gibson/Mirotic/Portis.

3. Running of the Bulls

The Bulls are naturally going to push pace with a great initiator in Rondo and two excellent finishers in Butler and Wade. The Celtics played at home against the Nets last night, and four days into the season they're already playing their first back-to-back. It will be interesting to see if Hoiberg and the Bulls put an emphasis on pushing pace against a Celtics team that played 24 hours earlier.

4. How much will Denzel Valentine play?

The Bulls' rookie really only has one real practice under his belt, but he says he feels good enough that he'll suit up Thursday night. In most situations he wouldn't expect to see much playing time, if any. But the Celtics go 10 deep - 10 players played at least 15 minutes and scored eight points - and that may cause Hoiberg to go deeper into his bench than usual.

5. Fred Hoiberg's debut: Pt. II

Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career with a victory over the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest of the season didn't go as planned, but with a fresh roster and a year of experience under his belt he'll get another chance to show what he can do. He'll have to balance the Three Alphas, figure out the power forward spot and determine how his second unit works best together. And as far as tonight goes, he'll need to do it against one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens. There's plenty of time to evaluate Hoiberg, but a victory in Game 1 would be another good start for him and the Bulls.

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

Bulls exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter

According to CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls are exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter.

The Bulls currently have one open roster spot.

Hunter, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015, appeared in 38 games as a rookie. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.

Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.

Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.

The Bulls open their 2016-17 season tomorrow night against the Celtics.

Stay with for more updates on this story.