NEW ORLEANS—Kirk Hinrich was nowhere to be found in the visiting locker room at New Orleans Arena after the Bulls’ 96-87 victory Tuesday night over the Hornets.
That’s just the way that he likes it.
The veteran point guard prefers to fly under the radar, epitomizing his coach’s manta of “do your job,” while allowing his teammates to receive the fanfare afterwards.
In his first game back in the lineup after missing seven consecutive outings with an infection in his right elbow, Hinrich notched only six points on 2-for-7 shooting, but his 10 assists, three steals and more importantly, the sense of order he brought to the team was invaluable.
“I said that all along. Sometimes it gets overlooked,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you look at Luol, [he] gets 13, 14 shots, Carlos gets his shots, Marco and Rip get their shots. It was very well-balanced.”
Indeed, Hinrich’s floor generalship on offense, not to mention his ball pressure on the defensive end of the floor, was a missing ingredient for the Bulls in their uneven performance heading into the All-Star break.
With Hinrich back in the lineup, Deng seemed to be back in rhythm en route to a team-high 20-point night, starting backcourt mate Hamilton was again a factor to be accounted for on offense and Boozer got touches in his comfort zone.
“He played great tonight, man. For being out as long as he was out, he came back in and it was almost seamless,” Boozer said. “He did a great job of getting everybody involved, made some big plays, hit a couple of big shots for us, played great defense. He got a tough whistle tonight, but he still played great.
Hamilton added: “He’s great, man. He just knows how to run the team. He knows how to get everybody involved and sacrifices his own to put the ball in guys’ hands where they’re comfortable.”
Deng chimed in: “It’s huge. Not only setting guys up, knowing the strengths and what guys can do, but running the team and he does little things that you don’t see in the stat sheet.”
Besides his playmaking, one of those intangible plays Hinrich made was taking a charge on Hornets forward Al-Farouq Aminu with 1:59 left.
The play was initially ruled a blocking foul on Hinrich—who wandered over to the scorer’s table to inquire about the replay during the subsequent timeout—but was changed after the officials used the monitor to make a video review, something that’s permissible with under two minutes left in each half.
“Kirk stepped up and that was a big charge play,” said Thibodeau, who was burned in a similar late-game situation in a recent loss at Indiana. “It’s reviewable under two minutes and the thing is, that’s good officiating because for them, that told you they wanted to get it right.
“We’ve had—I’ll leave it at that,” he continued, stopping short before risking a fine for complaining about the referees, “very good timing.”
That play demonstrated Hinrich’s value to the blue-collar Bulls, a team that prides itself on both mental and physical toughness.
“Kirk played huge for us today. He does a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet that really help us,” Joakim Noah, who had a 15-point, 17-rebound evening, explained. “He just brings a whole different dimension with his defensive intensity and his feel for the game, the way he calls plays.”
“We feel like we need everybody healthy to get to where we want to get to,” he continued, alluding to both Hinrich’s return and the absence of the injured Derrick Rose. “Guys who aren’t going right now are working as hard as they can to get back on the court and the guys who came back, we’re really happy to have them back.”