By Seth Lakso
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was back to business as usual for two of the top defenses in the National Basketball Association on Saturday night.
After uncharacteristically poor performances from each team in losses on Friday, both the Bulls (who rank second in the league in points allowed per game) and the Bobcats (who rank sixth) came out with extra motivation on the defensive end.
And it showed in the final score; as Chicago — thanks to a 15-point fourth quarter by D.J. Augustin — picked up its third win of the season over the Bobcats, 89-87, in front of 18,252 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It was tough,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team won for the fourth time in five games and moved to a game above .500 on the season. “We had a tough time getting off the ground (traveling here) and got in late, but the guys were ready. This game tonight, for both teams, was about will. They played very hard, and I thought our guys responded to the challenge.”
The Bulls (22-21), who surrendered 112 points in a 17-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, rallied to hold to Bobcats to 42-percent shooting from the floor, while the Bobcats (19-27), who must have had nightmares about the 62 points Carmelo Anthony dropped on them on Friday, held the Bulls to 40.3-percent from the floor in the first.
“We talked about what happened (Friday) night and what we had to do today,” said Thibodeau. “That’s the best part about this team. They’ve got great pride, and they’re gong to bounce back and give you everything they have. For us, we’ve just got to keep scratching out wins, and we can never lose sight of how hard we have to win to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Augustin led the way for the Bulls with a season-high 28 points, while Mike Dunleavy (12 points, season-high-tying eight rebounds), Carlos Boozer (10 points, four rebounds) Taj Gibson (13 points, seven rebounds) and Joakin Noah (11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) all finished in double figures.
The double-figure scoring night was Augustin’s sixth in his last seven games (he had just seven points in Friday’s loss) and Boozer’s ninth straight. The double-double was Noah’s 18th this season.
“(Augustin hit some) big shots,” said Thibodeau. “I thought he played well. It was a good bounce-back game for him. He got himself ready to play and was aggressive right from the start.”
Charlotte’s Al Jefferson led all scorers with 32 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
The home team, which was without its leading-scorer Kemba Walker (18.7 points per game) due to a lingering ankle sprain, relied heavily upon Jefferson (15-for-26 from the field) throughout the game.
There were a few individual matchups that made for an entertaining side notes to the game, namely, those between Noah and Jefferson, as well as Jimmy Butler’s work on Gerald Henderson.
After finishing Friday night’s game just 3-for-15 from the floor, Butler (four points on 2-of-7 shooting) didn’t look for much on the offensive end (his first points came on a drive to the basket in the final minute of the third period).
However, defensively, the third-year swingman out of Marquette held Henderson to just 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
Though Noah finished the night just 4-of-14 from the floor, he managed to stay out of foul trouble and wear the 6-foot-10, 289-pound Jefferson out down the stretch.
The Bulls outscored the Bobcats, 18-16, in the third quarter to take a 57-55 lead into the final quarter.
There they built up a lead as large as 12 points when Augustin hit two free throws to make it 78-66 with 3:29 to play, but a late rally by Charlotte cut the lead to just three before two more Augustin free-throws with 2.7 seconds remaining put the Bulls up five and the game away.
The foul shots wound up mattering when Jefferson knocked down a 3-pointer from half court as time expired.
After being lit up by the Clippers for 13 3-pointers on 21 attempts on Friday, the Bulls' perimeter defense held the Bobcats to just six triples despite 19 attempts on Saturday.
“They hit three 3-pointers (late) that I thought were all defended well,” said Thibodeau. “I think (Jannero) Pargo hit a tough one, (Josh) McRoberts had a trail one and Jefferson’s at the end. It just shows you, like you always think the game is over, but the game is never over, not in the NBA.
“The thing is, you have to look at it both ways,” continued Thibodeau. “We missed free throws, so when you miss free throws, you know, our cushion would have remained if we had hit our free throws.”