The Bulls want to become this fluid offensive bunch that flows into sets, gets up and down in a hurry while winning pretty.
But winning pretty isn’t an identity that describes this group right now. If they’re gonna win, it’s gonna be ugly, and sometimes ugly has to be beautiful.
After sleepwalking through most of the night, the Bulls pulled it together to knock off the New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center on Saturday, 98-94, with a late fourth-quarter surge that seemed to erase extended stretches of inactivity, and a little disinterest.
The only pretty thing might have been the play of Aaron Brooks, who hit a leaning, floating hook shot with 40.3 seconds left to break a 94-all tie.
For a man that’s been short his entire life, taking such contorting and downright awkward shot attempts come easier than it appears—and returning to the rotation after a few games on the bench, it appears Fred Hoiberg likes using him and Derrick Rose together to close games.
“Aaron was awesome. Out second unit saved the day for us,” Hoiberg said. “They went in there in the last 4-5 minutes of the third and through the fourth and was phenomenal.”
Not to be outdone, Rose, the man who played without a mask, nailed a pull-up jumper with 11.5 seconds remaining to put the game away—his first jump shot attempt and only make.
Brooks only had two going into the fourth but scored 15 in the final 12, as the Bulls struggled for any form of offense all evening.
“I didn’t feel like I was in a zone. I just took open shots,” Brooks said. “I didn’t realize I was in a zone. Just made open shots. I got to the spots I wanted to get to and shots went in.”
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Hoiberg had to lean on the bench, as Joakim Noah, Brooks, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic all scored in double figures to help out the lagging starting unit. More than anything, they played with the type of pace Hoiberg envisioned when he took the job last spring.
The Bulls scored 34 points and shot 65 percent in the fourth quarter.
“It was such a grind out, ugly and slow motion type of game and finally got some energy injected,” Hoiberg said. “It was fun. Fun to watch, fun to sit there and see it as opposed to moseying into our offense.”
Rose scored nine with three assists while Jimmy Butler made just 4 of 15 from the field but scored 15 thanks to some hard drives to the basket and free throws.
Brooks hit two straight triples to start the fourth and tied the game at 70 before Kirk Hinrich hit a corner 3-pointer to finally give the Bulls a lead.
It was short-lived as a five-point lead turned to a one-point deficit when Tyreke Evans hit a wing triple with 7:31 remaining.
Rose’s penetration set up two crucial baskets, a Brooks triple and Pau Gasol midrange jumper, to give the Bulls a 94-91 lead with 2:05 left. Anthony Davis’ three-point play made it nervous time for the Bulls again, but they shut down the lane just enough for the second straight game after their panic-inducing three-game losing streak.
Davis and Evans scored 22 each, but Noah helped hold the Chicago native to just 8 of 24 shooting, making everything difficult aside from a highlight play here and there. Davis finished with 13 rebounds and four blocks but also committed four turnovers.
But the negative signs were still around, the Bulls just overcame it. They shot 42 percent but it was their hot fourth that made it look respectable after they shot 35 percent through three quarters.
The ball movement was choppy and the players often resorted to playing one on one as opposed to flowing through the system. It resulted in a variety of bad shots, bad decisions and plenty of guys standing around.
The Bulls committed seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, being careless and cavalier, allowing the Pelicans to easily get into the passing lanes for steals and easy layups.
“We weren’t making good decisions, weren’t holding guys off and giving them layups at the other end,” Hoiberg said. “We had a nice little flash, a little burst in the second that got us going.”
Alonzo Gee had three steals in the first alone, as he, Evans and Norris Cole repeatedly attacked the Bulls’ defense and dared them to challenge shots at the rim. They were undeterred and the Bulls looked a little out of it until receiving their wake-up call.
Even if they’re playing games that shouldn’t be so close, learning how to win in less than ideal circumstances can only bode well for down the road.