Despite missing four players due to injurythree were hurt during the previous evenings blowout victory in Clevelandthe Bulls (15-3) held off the Bobcats (3-13), 95-89, Saturday night at the United Center. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton each scored over 20 points on the evening as selfless offense and accurate marksmanship were the hallmarks of the win, which ran the teams home record to an undefeated 7-0 on the season.
We just play. We dont know whats going to happen when the game starts. We just know were playing our style of basketball, said Boozer. Moving the ball, sharing the ball, rebounding, playing defense, trying to have low turnovers and obviously, just trying to win. Thats our whole mindset.
Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Ive said all along: We have the right guys. No matter whos out, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy steps up, he knows what he has to do, knows what his role is. These guys all play for each other and they play to win, and when you have a group like that, good things are going to happen.
The short-handed Bulls jumped out early against a young, smallish Bobcats squad, again using unselfish play and balanced scoring to create a slim cushion. C.J. Watson (11 points, nine assists), building off his recent strong performances, had a productive opening period as a scorer, while Duke products and starting forwards Boozer (23 points, nine rebounds) and Deng (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) each asserted themselves, as well.
I just try to take my time and be patient, and let the game come to me. Theyre so many scorers around meLu, Booz, Ripthat I dont have to score. I can rest on offense and just try to play hard on defense, and then sometimes, basically still stay aggressive and look for my shot, too, Watson told CSNChicago.com. Weve got to just keep playing hard. Thats what Thibs expects of us and thats what weve got to do. Whoevers out, weve got to keep the level up and basically, just try to win games.
However, center Omer Asik (15 rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals), starting in place of the injured Joakim Noahthe usual starting center was a late scratch after suffering a left ankle sprain Friday night, joining fellow victims of the Cleveland game Taj Gibson (high left ankle sprain) and John Lucas III strained left groin), not to mention Derrick Rose, who missed his fourth consecutive contest with turf toe)picked up two quick fouls, forcing Thibodeau to turn to usual deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, a fan favorite, for frontcourt help. Charlotte starting center Byron Mullens (17 points, five rebounds) was effective for the visitors in the early going, but the Bulls still held a 27-23 lead after a quarter of play.
Our defense was very poor tonight, so thats something that were going to have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Our rebounding was poor, but the offense was good.
Watson picked up his own second foul early in the second stanza, giving recent acquisition Mike James (nine points, 10 assists), a veteran pro floor general who most recently played for Erie of the D-League, a chance to show Bulls fans what hes capable of doing on the court. The game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, as an energetic Bobcats team countered its inexperience with hustle and athleticism, perhaps best exemplified by Mullens and slashing young swingman Gerald Henderson, Jr.
The scoring of Watson and Deng, who logged some minutes at power forward, led the way for the Bulls, whose defense was often bailed out by the basket protection of Asik, in his debut NBA starting appearance, in the paint. With the added bonus of Hamilton (20 points) also providing firepower from the perimeter, the home team went into the intermission with a 50-43 advantage, following a Deng put-back dunk to thrill the United Center crowd, just before halftime.
Thats the value of Lu. He really is the glue to our team. Theres nothing that he doesnt do well, Thibodeau said of Deng, who injured his left wrist later in the game. You can post him, he cuts, he moves without the ball, he can shoot, he slashes, plays great defense, guards multiple positions, play-makes and he plays to win. Hes smart, he knows how to read things. You cant say enough about what he does here, what he brings to winning.
Concurred Deng himself: I understand what hes saying, but it just fits me well. I just try to play the game the right way and just knowing that every night, playing the way that we play, not trying to step out of who I am. Having guys out, just playing the same game and it worked.
Chicago maintained its slight edge after the break, as Hamilton continued to score efficiently and Watsons underrated playmaking ability created easy opportunities for others, while Asiks rebounding and interior defense helped keep things steady on the other end of the floor.
I thought he was great. Thirty-eight minutes, which is a lot for him. His rebounding effort was very, very good. he had a tough cover with Mullens playing away from the basket, Thibodeau said of Asik. Hes geared towards help, so he made a lot of multiple-effort plays, tagging cutters, showing, closing out, rebounding. He had the ability to go from one thing to the next. Again, I think his attitude and approach are tremendous. That guy comes to work every day and he just keeps getting better and better.
The injured Noah was also pleased with his understudys performance.
I think he played very well. Im very proud of him. Hes a rebounding machine and hes playing great defense out there. You know whats crazy is I think he has a lot of areas he can improve in as well, and hes a big part of what were doing, he said afterwards. He knows what he brings. I think that hes a very capable player and he played great for us tonight.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats duo of Henderson (22 points, nine rebounds) and Mullens kept the guests within striking distance against their banged-up hosts.
Boozer and Deng also picked up their production, helping the Bulls lead balloon to double digits as the period waned on. James ability to distribute the basketball while giving Watson some rest, was a major factor in Boozers success, in particular, and at the end of three quarters, the home team was up, 80-69.
Mike was great. I thought Mike played extremely well, as did C.J. I thought both guys were terrific and Mike got us into rhythm, Carlos was knocking down shots, said Thibodeau. We felt confident because obviously, this guy has done it before. Veteran, experienced, you know he James can run the pick-and-roll. Hes going to get a good shot for you in most cases. I thought he played really hard. Carlos got into rhythm, Omers rebounding was terrific and Rip was, to me, sensational.
Chimed in James: The way they were playing me, the passes were there, so our guys were just knocking them down. They made me look good and it was easy when guys were knocking down shots, and youre playing with such good ballplayers. They make the game easy.
Thats just me. Being able to make plays, being able to knock down shots, but also being able to create for others. This game is aboutespecially at the point guard, in this era nowyou have to be able to make plays, not just for yourself, but make plays for others.
Scoring was the name of James game at the outset of the final period, as the 36-year-old showcased his ability to both penetrate and knock down open jumpers from deep range while Thibodeau continued to rest Watson. Surprisingly, Thibodeau reinserted Watson, Hamilton and other regularssans Deng and Asik, who had earned well-deserved breathersand even more shocking, the Bobcats, paced by rookie guard Cory Higgins (10 points), son of Bobcats general manager and former Bull Rod Higgins, began to trim the Bulls comfortable cushion to a single-digit deficit as the contest entered its stretch run.
But with all of the starters back in the game, the home team managed to stave off Charlottes late comeback attempt, despite a spirited effort from the scrappy visitors. The win bodes well for a weeklong home stretch of four contests at the United Center before beginning an arduous nine-game road trip next weekend.
Said Hamilton:It just showed that guys on this team want to play. When guys went down, we just came together and just said, Well just have their back, with Jo being a game-time decisionhe didnt play tonightwe knew we wouldnt have Taj and Derrick and Luke. It was tough, but guys really came together and we did what we had to do to get a win.