NEW ORLEANS — Not that they aren’t capable of these types of defeats, but in their four-loss January, the Bulls (23-23) didn’t have many outings like Saturday evening, where they dropped a 88-79 affair to the Pelicans (20-26) at the New Orleans Arena.
Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon scored the game’s first seven points, leading to an early timeout from Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. All-Star center Joakim Noah (14 points, 16 rebounds, five assists), matched up with Chicago native Anthony Davis (24 points, eight rebounds, six blocked shots), took the responsibility of getting the Bulls back on track on his shoulders and eventually his teammates, including New Orleans native D.J. Augustin (23 points, seven assists), got their own offense going, as well as buckling down on the defensive end of the floor.
Fueled by Augustin’s usual blend of playmaking and scoring, the Bulls quickly turned the contest into a close-knit affair in the opening period, but the Pelicans, thanks to a spark from reserve scorer Tyreke Evans, held a 23-21 lead after a quarter of play.
New Orleans opened the second quarter on a 10-0 run, prompting Thibodeau to once again halt the proceedings to make adjustments, as the Bulls suddenly faced a double-digit deficit. The Bulls tried to climb back into the game, as players such as Jimmy Butler (10 points) became more aggressive, but turnovers and allowing the Pelicans to shoot a gaudy 52.6 percent from the floor in the first half stymied any positive efforts, leading to a 59-50 losing margin at the intermission.
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After the break, the Bulls remained in a hole, as the Pelicans, propelled by Davis, maintained their comfortable cushion. Noah continued to be a catalyst for the Bulls, but their combination of mediocre shooting, ball-security issues and defensive lapses weren’t a recipe for success.
The center picking up his fourth foul certainly didn’t help matters — especially on an evening when the Bulls’ bench, even normally reliable sixth man Taj Gibson (17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks), was significantly outplayed — and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls trailed, 71-57.
Gibson, Noah and Butler attempted to rally the Bulls at the outset of the fourth quarter and while didn’t make much immediate headway, they played with a greater intensity. Thibodeau would leave Noah in the game even after he picked up his fifth foul — and had to have a bandage affixed to his chin, following a collision on the hardwood — and the decision was justified by the amount of rebounds he snared and hustle plays he made.
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Ditto for Gibson, who also got his scoring game in gear, but Davis refused to let his squad allow his hometown team to make things close, keeping a wide gap between the two combatants by making dynamic plays on both ends of the floor heading into the stretch run. The league’s leading shot-blocker, teamed with center Alexis Ajinca — ironically, a teammate of Noah’s on the French national team — made life difficult for the Bulls on the interior, foiling the visitors’ comeback attempt.
Thibodeau tacitly acknowledged the situation by sending in the likes of veteran center Nazr Mohammed and newcomer Toko Shengeila, essentially conceding defeat to the Pelicans, coached by Monty Williams, his fellow USA Basketball assistant.