TORONTO—From the “game-time decision” declaration about the injured Derrick Rose before the team even left Chicago to Kirk Hinrich starting at point guard and the Bulls cruising to a defensive-oriented, offensively-balanced 96-80 win over the Raptors, Friday night’s game was almost a case of déjà vu.
“A little bit,” acknowledged Hinrich, who played just shy of 40 minutes, when asked if it was reminiscent of last season’s injury-riddled campaign. “I feel comfortable playing with that starting unit. I did it a lot last year. We got off to a good start. They were able to creep back in it but we held them off.”
Hinrich scored 12 points and dished out four assists, but as always, his impact on the contest, particularly on the defensive end and in ensuring the Bulls’ offensive flow was solid, went far beyond the box score. Nobody is suggesting that the veteran is a superior player to Rose, but perhaps a textbook win, with everybody contributing, is exactly what’s needed while the starting point guard nurses a right-hamstring injury.
“[Rose is] a leader of our team. He runs the offense, we expect him to play good defense. But Kirk proved last year that he’s more than capable of running the team and so, I like the rhythm that we had. With Derrick out, we know that we have to play a certain way and we need everybody, and so, that’s why it’s a team,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. “Guys like Marquis [Teague] did a good job of preparing himself to play and when the opportunity came, he got in there and he did a good job. Taj [Gibson] has been terrific all season long and now [Joakim Noah is] starting to come around. That’s a big plus for us.”
Carlos Boozer, who was used as more of a facilitator with Rose sitting, concurred with his coach’s opinion.
“We have the same philosophy, but our transition is a little slower. It’s different with [Rose] out there. But we use each other. We set screens. We pass the ball. We move around. We do a couple of things differently. But for the most part, we still hang our hat on defense and rebounding, try to cut our turnovers down and take good shots,” explained the power forward, who had a nice all-around evening, with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “Kirk is a great player, totally underrated. He does a great job of running our team, gets us in our sets. Obviously he’s been a great defender his whole career. He hit some big shots in the third and fourth quarter for us. We have ultimate confidence in him.”
[RELATED: Rose misses Friday's game with hamstring injury]
The Bulls utilized their trademark physical style on the interior, running much of the offense through Boozer and All-Star center Joakim Noah, while playing smothering defense on the other end of the floor. It wasn’t pretty, but it was certainly effective, as they held the Raptors to 35.4 percent shooting for the contest and if it wasn’t for Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan getting hot in the second half to score a career-high 37 points, it would have been an even easier victory.
“Yeah, they got established in the paint early. Carlos was terrific. I thought Jo was very, very active everywhere,” Thibodeau said of his big men. “Kirk did a great job of running the team, had a very balanced scoring attack, and I thought the defense, overall, was excellent.”
Boozer chimed in: “We did a good job of being efficient in the paint early. They started coming with double-teams and we did a good job of moving the ball to our shooters. They hit big shots. We had a good cushion at the end.
“Our defense was great. I thought we were active,” he continued. “I thought it was a good road win for us.”
That last point is probably the most important, as it was the Bulls’ first road win of the regular season. With that under their belt, they’ll have to make a quick turnaround and take on the league’s lone final unbeaten team, Central Division opponent Indiana, Saturday night at the United Center.
Whether or not Rose plays, executing in the exact same manner, in typical Bulls fashion under Thibodeau, will be the key component to a potential victory.