I had this picture all ready to go so that I could make a "can we stop the season and declare this team NBA champions?" joke. Oh well.
Bulls 82, Hornets 89
After starting Friday's game with a 7-0 run, the Bulls got a bit of a taste of their own medicine on Saturday night. The Bulls struggled to score in the early goings, and the Hornets rattled off a 8-2 run to start the game. Greivis Vasquez got the Hornets out in transition and distributed well, as he has shown the ability to do early on in this season.
Al-Farouq Aminu pitched in six points in the opening period, all dunks. Ryan Anderson and Roger Mason also pitched in from outside, the latter pitching in two (including one that was contested by Gibson about as well as you could ask for).
The Bulls offense was sluggish and unable to gain its bearings early on. Boozer was not able to connect on his jumper, starting the game 0/4 from the field. Luckily for the Bulls, Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli--yes, you read that correctly--were able to carry the Bulls through this tough stretch. For all the criticism Deng has received regarding his decision to play in London and to opt out of surgery, he continues to soldier on and deliver tough baskets on determined drives and put backs. Deng almost had a double double halfway through the second quarter (10 points, 7 rebounds).
Belinelli had easily his best stretch of play early on in this one, pitching in eight points in short order, including a dunk (!) on the break, resulting in Stacey King asking for the hot sauce, and a trey. As King made sure to note, Belinelli is "not just a shooter." It's still too early to make any grand declarations regarding Belinelli's game, but he clearly has a more diverse skillset than Korver did. Of course, that does not mean he is a better player overall, as Korver's elite shooting made him an important piece of a team with legitimate title aspirations. However, Belinelli's play in this one was encouraging, whether or not you believe it is a reproducible effort.
He also pitched in a couple nifty assists, helping the Bulls double up on the Hornets in the assist department (a Hornets team that ranked 6th in the league in assists per coming into this game).
It was a shaky start, but the Bulls erased their early 10-point deficit with relative ease. After his early dunkfest, Aminu went scoreless the rest of the half, and the Hornets' transition game that had hurt the Bulls earlier was held in check the rest of the first half. However, after two straight treys from Vasquez to end the half--FIND THE SHOOTER--the Bulls entered the half down 44-46.
The Hornets started the second half with the slowest developing post move to hook shot ever from Lopez over Boozer, a Lopez dunk, and another Aminu dunk. Through a little over five minutes of play, the Hornets lead was once again back to 10.
Unfortunately, this game made it painfully obvious that nothing will come easy for this Bulls team on the offensive end. The transition game can only account for so many points, and when Boozer isn't hitting, the Bulls don't really have anybody to break the defense down (miss you, Derrick). Per Jeff Mangurten, the trio of Hinrich, Boozer and Hamilton were 2/18 through about 2.5 quarters of play. As you all know, the Bench Mob was able to mitigate such things last year, but the Bench Mob is not a thing that exists anymore.
The Bulls had some trouble finishing at the cup on the break, otherwise they would have had a small lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Bulls entered the 4th down 60-66. The two teams traded buckets for most of the quarter until the Bulls pulled to within 4 with a little over a minute to go. A huge call went to the Bulls way, with the refs reversing a call that was originally called Hornets ball. After replay, the ball clearly appeared to go off Jason Smith's hand without touching a Bull on its way out of bounds.
The Bulls had a chance to narrow the deficit to 2 or 1 on their next possession. The Bulls called Belinelli's number, who had a pretty good look on a corner three. He missed. After starting off hot earlier in the game, Belinelli finished 4/10 (2/6 from 3). Gibson was called for a foul on his rebounding attempt over Smith. Smith hit both of his free throws at the other end to put the Bulls down six with 53 seconds left. The rest was a formality, as the Bulls fell for the first time in this young season against a Davis-less Hornets team.
BULLets, Sponsored by "I See What You Did There, Inc.":
- Evil Boozer. Evil Boozer reared his head tonight. He went a horrific 1/8 from the field, and it's not like he was getting terrible looks. He just missed. Unfortunately, that is just the game you play when you have Boozer on the floor. He's like Kyle Korver, but bigger, which is sadly not the worst thing that has ever been said about Carlos Boozer.
- Transition defense. The Bulls have shown the propensity to lose shooters in transition, which hurt them occasionally in this one. However, Anderson was actually pretty terrible, going 1/7 from beyond the arc. Moreso than transition D vis-a-vis the 3-point line--which is tough to defend for any team, really--the Bulls allowed far too many easy buckets, particularly to Aminu.
- A positive! Noah notched a double-double on the night, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 boards. So that's nice.
- Memes, broken. Unfortunately, this sort of throws a wrench into the whole "The Bulls will beat bad teams by virtue of defense and rebounding no matter what" thing. However, it's entirely possible that the Hornets aren't that bad (at least not in the realm of terrible as Cleveland). Still, that doesn't make this loss, at home, any less palatable.
- The story: Boozer, Hamilton, and Hinrich shot a combined 4/26 from the field, good for 15%. That+the lack of a Bench Mob=loss almost every time. That's all, folks.