NEW ORLEANS — Chicago native Anthony Davis wasn’t the only reason the Bulls couldn’t get back in the game Saturday night at New Orleans Arena, though his 24-point, eight-rebound, six-blocked shot performance was certainly a big reason for the 88-79 Pelicans’ win.
“Their rim protection was good,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau acknowledged. “[But] we had 11 missed free throws; I thought that hurt us. I thought they beat us to loose balls; that hurt us more. Down two at the end of the first and I believe they went 14-3 at the beginning of the second quarter, so played from behind most of the game, didn’t shoot the three well. You’ve got to make some shots to pull them away basket. There were missed free throws and we turned the ball over. So played a low-energy game, played from behind.
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“The challenge is we’ve had a couple days off, they had a couple days off. Davis didn’t play in the last game; he had good energy. He made his shots; he made his jump shot. I thought we did a pretty good job with [Eric] Gordon; he puts a lot of pressure on you, as does [Tyreke] Evans. But I think the biggest thing is they beat us to loose balls. We outrebounded them, but we fumbled a lot of rebounds that they ended up laying right back in. So I think it’s important to play with the lead; we didn’t do that. We’ve got to regroup, get ready for the next one,” he continued. “We’re disappointed. We’re capable of playing a lot better than we did and we have to do it on the road, and being short-handed, we can never lose sight of how hard we have to play. And there’s a fine line. We were reacting to them and when you do that, you’re at a disadvantage.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah, who had 14 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, echoed his coach’s general sentiments.
“Our edge wasn’t as good as it was in the San Antonio game, that’s for sure. Got to give them credit. They played well. We didn’t play well. We didn’t hit shots. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to defensively. The team with the better edge,” he said. “It was them. We have to play with a great edge to be competitive.
“All it takes is one quick spurt. We didn’t start off the game with any energy. Just a bad first half.”
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Taj Gibson, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks after a slow start, concurred: “They just played a good game. They came out with a lot of energy early and it’s kind of tough to get hit in the mouth first quarter, and we’re trying to play catch-up the rest of the game. They got a lot of confidence early. The one thing about this league, you’ve got to be aggressive on the road. You’ve got to hit the other team in the mouth early. They played a lot of heart and a lot of speed. The whole game, we’re trying to fight from behind and right when we’re trying to shut them down, they got too much confidence. That’s what happens. It’s another learning situation. I think we played a lot better in the third and fourth, but just couldn’t get over that hump.
“They’ve got some good shot-blockers in there,” he went on to say. “Right when we tried to shut them down, they got guys that got hot and get going. Every time we tried to push back, we get a stop and we’re right there, they would hit a big-time shot and make an effort play.”
Davis was chief among the Pelicans’ shot-blockers, which isn’t surprising since he leads the league in that category. But Perspectives Charter School product and 2012 NBA Draft top overall pick’s offensive game was also impressive.
“Well, it opens things up for them,” Thibodeau said. “It sets up their cutting, then you’ve got to get up on him and then he’s got great quickness to go by you and their penetration could lead to the second shot.
Gibson, who matched up with him when Noah didn’t, chimed in: “I thought he let the game come to him. I thought he took his shots at the right time. His teammates dished it to him a lot, especially on the drive-and-kick side and it’s really tough. They had that little speedy point guard [Brian Roberts] out there, [Tyreke] Evans is driving. Whenever it’s drive-and-kick, it’s tough. Plus, their shot-blocking. He runs the floor real well, like a deer. So I thought he played extremely well.”
Noah, who had to get stitches after the contest, added: “He’s a good player. He blocks a lot of shots, very active defensively. Good player.”
The center had to get stitches after the contest after falling when pursuing a rebound.
The Bulls are off to Sacramento, licking their wounds on Super Bowl Sunday before Monday night’s game. Not only this loss in the “Big Easy,” but their embarrassing road loss at the hands of the Kings last season will loom large in Gibson’s mind.
“It was rough. I remember last year, I was hurt and in the back of the locker room, it was just frustrating to watch. They were dominating us. We’ve got to take the intensity we had in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, and use that in the first quarter [Monday]. The first quarter’s big for us. That’s the first thing I see, the first quarter because that’s another West Coast team looking to get more wins and I think they’re playing well. They’ve been dropping a couple games by one or two possessions. I just think we’ve got to learn from this and be ready when we get to Sacramento.”