Before Wednesday night’s contest between the Warriors and Bulls, much of the conversation was how Golden State finally had a defense that could match up with its high-octane offense.
Once the game began, however, the story quickly shifted to the Bulls’ rugged defense having an explosive offense to match, at least on this night.
Taj Gibson scored 21 points off the bench, Jimmy Butler added 16 in his return from bruised ribs and the Bulls went to the free throw line 30 times in their 103-83 blowout win at the United Center.
Both offenses struggled to open the contest against fellow top-10 defenses, each turning the ball over five times in the first quarter. And though the Bulls shot just 25 percent (5-for-20) in the opening stanza, they were able to stay with the fast-paced Warriors by hitting on 10 of 11 free throws; eight of those attempts came from Butler (16 points, two rebounds, two assists), who returned after missing two games, and Gibson, who connected on seven of them.
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Golden State, on the other end, lived in the paint, scoring 16 of their 24 first-quarter points inside. Jermaine O’Neal (nine points, five rebounds), Andrew Bogut (eight points, six rebounds) and David Lee (11 points, six rebounds) – who returned from a two-game absence (illness) – led the way with 13 of those points. Golden State’s defense, which entered Wednesday ranked third in the NBA in efficiency, also picked up midway through the quarter as the Bulls missed five straight shots, allowing the visitors to take a three-point lead after one quarter.
In the second quarter, however, the Bulls that looked anything but the one that ended the first quarter, let alone the NBA’s lowest scoring team. They opened the quarter on a 19-5 run, making 7-for-11 from the field, to take an 11-point lead.
Mike Dunleavy (15 points, four rebounds) contributed six points in the span while Gibson and Nazr Mohammed took advantage of the Warriors’ small-ball lineup, which pitted natural small forward Draymond Green on the low block.
Klay Thompson (eight points, two rebounds), who went scoreless in the first quarter, helped slow the Bulls’ run with a pair of 3-pointers. He and Lee were forced to pick up the slack in place of the ice-cold Stephen Curry. The NBA’s seventh-leading scorer was held to just three points in the first half on 1-for-4 shooting while accounting for four of the Warriors’ 12 turnovers before halftime, as the Bulls led 56-45 heading into intermission.
The turnover bug infected the Warriors offense in the third quarter, too, as Curry (five points, five assists, five turnovers) recorded his fifth giveaway on their first possession. Those struggles continued, as Golden State shot just 19 percent in the quarter and missed all five of its 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Carlos Boozer (15 points, 13 rebounds) went to work after a quiet first half, scoring 11 points in the stanza and grabbing four rebounds. Late in the quarter he scored on three straight possessions, and his personal 6-0 run extended the Bulls’ lead to a game-high 20 points, 73-53. Joakim Noah, who did a bit of everything with eight points, 17 rebounds and eight assists, then closed the quarter on his own 4-0 run to push the lead to 21 heading into the fourth.
The Bulls then scored the first seven points of the final period, including a highlight-reel dunk from Gibson and a 3-pointer from Dunleavy. Noah’s backdoor pass to DJ Augustin (five points, three assists) for a layup one possession later forced Jackson to spend a timeout with the lead up to 27, 89-61. Gibson also made Green look silly on an up-and-under move, laying the ball in with ease to put the finishing touches on perhaps the Bulls’ most impressive outing of the season. Mohammed’s (eight points, three rebounds) basket-and-foul layup put the Bulls’ over the 100-point plateau, earning free Big Macs from McDonalds in the process.