There will be nights like the previous evening, when seemingly every shot goes in for the Bulls (2-1), who shot nearly 64 percent from the field against the Cavaliers, and there will be games like Saturdays 89-82 loss to the Hornets (2-1) at the United Center. The teams offense-by-committee approach, which looks like a model of team basketball when executed to perfection, has its downside when the Bulls miss approximately two-thirds of their shot attempts, which occurred against New Orleans.
Coming off Fridays wire-to-wire dominance in Cleveland, it was surprising to see the Bulls come out lackadaisical against the undermanned HornetsChicago native and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis didnt make the trip after suffering a concussion and Eric Gordon, who was present following a trip to a Windy City knee specialist, but on the bench, as he will be for another four to six weeks reportedlyin the back-to-back affair. Al-Farouq Aminu and Austin Rivers, son of the Celtics coachin addition to being Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus former boss, Doc is a Chicago nativesparked the visitors with transition scoring and slashing half-court drives, respectively.
The hosts eventually woke up, by virtue of the fast-break play theyve emphasized since the preseason, and began to narrow the gap. An unexpected source, backup shooting Marco Belinelli (13 points), then became the catalyst, having his best stretch since he arrived in Chicagothe Italian sharpshooter knocked down a trey and a high-flying fast-break dunk against his former team, among other positive playsto help the Bulls pull to within 21-18 at the conclusion of the opening period.
Using the momentum from the end of the first quarter, the Bulls continued to make strides, with All-Star Luol Deng (19 points, eight rebounds, four assists) led the second unit as a go-to scorer. Taj Gibson (12 points, five rebounds, three blocked shots) was also a contributor in the home teams comeback effort, which was ultimately successful, as the Bulls seized the lead, as well as control of the game.
Joakim Noah (11 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two blocks) started to pick up his play, as well, but the New Orleans inside tandem of Robin Lopez (16 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots) and Ryan Anderson (12 points, 13 rebounds) both got it going, along with veteran reserve Roger Mason, making the contest a close-knit affair. Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez (18 points, six assists) sparked the guests late in the half and after draining a pair of triples, the Bulls trailed, 46-44, at the intermission.
After the break, Vasquezs solid play continued, as did Lopez in the pivot and with the home team having ball-security issues and lapses on defense, the Hornets gradually acquired some breathing room. Lopezs offensive improvement was noticeable, but his interior presence, along with that of his teammates, were major deterrents at the rim for the hosts.
Deng tried to keep the Bulls in the game with his scoring, but couldnt do it alone and attempts to chip away at the deficit were negligible. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were still down. 66-60.
Gibson battled inside and Deng continued to manufacture offense, but timely scoring from various Hornets, particularly Vasquez and reserve big man Jason Smith (16 points), kept the Bullswhich rode a lineup of starters Deng and Noah for extended minutes, alongside backups Belinelli, Gibson and point guard Nate Robinson (15 points) to close out the gameat bay. To the call the contest a defensive struggle would be false, as the Bulls simply missed shots, but managed stay within contact due to hustle plays, getting to the foul line and their defense, though their play on that side of the ball wasnt up to their usual stellar standards.
Down the stretch, the Bulls stayed within striking distance and with under a minute to go, Belinelli had a chance to make it a one-point game, but he missed a three-pointer under duress and to compound the issue, Gibson was called for pushing off while trying to corral the offensive rebound, leading to Smith knocking down a pair of free throws to make it 83-77 with 53.5 seconds to go. The hosts kept fighting, but even with Thibodeau coaching until the final buzzer, the defense forcing turnovers and Robinson hitting long-range bombs, it was too late to make a difference.