Placing six players in double figures and shooting 58.3 percent from 3-point range, the Bulls (36-29) looked like the offensive juggernaut and the Rockets (44-21) like the scoring-challenged team in Thursday night’s 111-87 rout at the United Center, a dramatic departure from Tuesday’s lethargic loss to San Antonio.
Carlos Boozer (18 points, seven rebounds), the object of significant attention as of late — albeit for the wrong reasons — got off to a quick start, reaching double figures midway through the opening period. Boozer’s strong play helped stake the Bulls to an early lead, though the Rockets managed to stay within striking distance.
In a duel of shooting guards, Jimmy Butler (11 points) and Houston All Star James Harden each excelled for their respective squads for the remainder of the first quarter. At the conclusion of the frame, the Bulls held a 25-20 advantage.
Rockets sixth man Jeremy Lin (21 points) was effective for the guests at the outset of the second quarter, but the Bulls’ bench staved off the visitors, despite top reserve Taj Gibson picking up three quick fouls. Mike Dunleavy Jr. (21 points, seven rebounds, 4-for-6 3-point shooting) was another premature, temporary exit, as he left for the locker room after an elbow from Houston’s Chandler Parsons led to a facial laceration above his right eye and a significant amount of blood.
While Butler picking up his third foul wasn’t a positive, the Bulls extended their lead slightly, as backup point guard D.J. Augustin (13 points, eight assists) got it going offensively, as both a playmaker and a scorer, and in a battle of All-Star centers, Joakim Noah (13 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) more than held his own against the Rockets’ Dwight Howard (12 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots), with the latter getting frustrated enough to earn a technical foul for arguing with an official over an offensive foul sustained fighting for post position. Though Howard started to find his groove, with Boozer continuing to play well, Kirk Hinrich (19 points, 5-for-6 3-point shooting) making timely contributions and Noah leading a stout defense that held the guests to 34.1-percent shooting from the field in the first half, the Bulls took a 50-42 lead into the intermission.
[WATCH: Dunleavy Jr. takes elbow to the eye]
After the break, Dunleavy returned to start the third quarter — he received 10 stitches over his right eye — and promptly made a layup, then took a charge, proving he was no worse for the wear. Noah’s frustration of Howard persisted, as evidenced by another offensive foul on the Rockets’ star, and with the 3-point shooting of Dunleavy and Hinrich leading the way on the other end of the floor, the Bulls started the period on a 16-0 run.
The margin of separation between the teams ballooned to as many as 29 points, as a result of the torrid long-range barrage, Boozer continuing to be a force and Noah’s all-around play. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls led in commanding fashion, 85-58, buoyed by Dunleavy’s 18 points after a scoreless first half.
The Bulls continued to dominate the action in the fourth quarter, and the evening was punctuated by a vicious Gibson dunk over ex-teammate Omer Asik, the former Bulls backup center. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau actually took a seat, symbolizing that the game was well in hand — though he still didn’t take out his regulars until late — and with the outside marksmanship of Hinrich and Dunleavy keeping the Rockets at bay, the only mystery was whether Noah would record his seventh career triple-double and fourth of this season alone. And while he didn’t achieve the feat, the triumphant win was redemption for Tuesday’s disappointing effort against the Spurs.