OAKLAND—It was a microcosm of one of Tom Thibodeau’s go-to phrases—“As soon as you start feeling good about yourself, that’s when you get knocked down”—Thursday night at Oracle Arena, as the coach’s Bulls (24-25) fell to the Warriors (30-20), 102-87, surrendering a sizeable first-half lead after All-Star point guard Stephen Curry’s second-half shooting onslaught and never recovering in the second-to-last contest of their six-game Western Conference road swing.
With injuries on both sides—Carlos Boozer was a late scratch for the Bulls due to a strained left calf, giving way to sixth man Taj Gibson (26 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots); ditto for the Warriors duo of power forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who were replaced in Golden State’s starting lineup by veteran Jermaine O’Neal and second-year player Draymond Green—the prime-time matchup didn’t feature all of the expected participants, a development that one would have to say benefited the visitors, with their vast experience being short-handed.
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Kirk Hinrich (15 points, three steals) surprisingly got off to a quick start as a scorer and with the big-man tandem of Gibson, who tied his career-high in scoring, and All-Star center Joakim Noah (seven points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) hitting early jumpers against the Warriors’ zone—Noah broke out his “finger guns” celebration—the Bulls built a comfortable cushion, prompting a Golden State timeout. Whatever adjustments Warriors head coach Mark Jackson made didn’t immediately take as the Bulls extended their advantage to double digits, as Gibson’s post game became a focal point of their offense, while limiting the home team’s explosive scoring attack.
The Warriors did show signs of life toward the end of the first quarter, as the starting backcourt of All-Star point guard Stephen Curry (34 points, nine assists) and sharpshooter Klay Thompson (22 points) started to assert themselves, but a spark off the bench from D.J. Augustin (10 points) helped the Bulls secure a 29-16 lead at the conclusion of the opening period.
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Augustin’s ability to penetrate and either finish at the rim against the Warriors’ porous defense, which was sorely missing Bogut’s presence on the interior, or find open teammates set the tone at the outset of the second frame. But Golden State pushed back and brought the game back into single digits midway through the period behind Curry and Thompson’s outside marksmanship, and the likes of scoring combo guard Jordan Crawford and big man Marreese Speights providing a boost off the bench.
The Bulls would try to slow the game’s tempo, rather than continue to match the high-scoring pace of their hosts. It wouldn’t work, as the Warriors seized the contest’s momentum, as Curry’s scoring and transition opportunities created by sloppy Bulls’ ball security enabled them to close the gap.
Curry’s virtuoso performance, a 16-point quarter, eventually permitted Golden State to take their first lead of the evening and courtesy of a 20-6 Warriors extended run and, the Bulls went into the intermission trailing, 50-46, after having led by as many as 16 points.
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After the break, the game briefly evolved into a close-knit affair, as the speed of the contest was played much more to the Bulls’ liking, but it wouldn’t last long, as Curry found his rhythm and the notoriously raucous crowd, which was raised its decibel level before halftime, once again was a factor, especially after a Green dunk over Noah, giving Golden State some breathing room.
Noah, who had a solid all-around floor game was a presence on the offensive glass for the Bulls, but their persistent problems with turnovers and a general inability to score efficiently was a deterrent to narrowing the separation between the two teams, particularly when the Warriors got scoring from Thompson, and intangibles and hustle plays from Green and veteran swingman Andre Iguodala throughout the third quarter. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls faced a 76-68 deficit, with the strong play of Gibson keeping them afloat.
The Bulls briefly closed on the Warriors early in the fourth quarter, but with Golden State getting contributions from reserves like Crawford and versatile second-year forward Harrison Barnes, they were able to keep their guests at bay and once again build a double-digit advantage. The tables were turned entering the game’s stretch run, as the Bulls were forced to push the pace in order to play catch-up, while the clock was on the side of the Warriors, who utilized a smaller lineup to spread out the visitors.
The long-distance shooting of Jimmy Butler (14 points, nine rebounds) and his fellow wing, rookie Tony Snell, via Noah’s uncanny playmaking ability—the center had a career-high assist total, notching a double-double in that category and rebounds—helped the Bulls make it a single-digit game, 91-83, with just over three minutes to play. Butler scored the Bulls’ next four points, but a Curry floater with 1:28 remaining proved to be the symbolic end to the contest, as fans began filing out, apparently believing that Golden State had the game in the bag.
An interminable delay to determine possession only delayed the inevitable, as the Bulls left Oakland with a loss and one game left on their nearly two-week trip, Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles against the Lakers, and a chance to salvage a .500 mark for both the journey and the season as a whole.