OAKLAND, CA- Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler hit the floor for a long loose ball after a Stephen Curry missed triple, a sign the champion Warriors had no designs on ending their season-starting 13-game winning streak.
Thompson cooly pitched it to Curry, who drained a triple, blowing the top off the fanatical Oracle Arena with five minutes remaining — a sign for the visitors an upset would require more than just effort.
It would require more than just keeping the MVP to an off-night and have him commit more turnovers than usual.
Beating the NBA champs means playing a damn near perfect game at this stage and even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls put up a valiant effort but even weary and off their game, the Bulls were just another victim to the Warriors’ march to validation, falling, 106-94, Friday night.
“We gotta always win the 50-50 balls, can’t leak out for shots,” said Butler, the best player on the floor for the second straight night with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. “They hit a lot of threes off offensive rebounds. I’m not gonna say that’s why where we lost the game, but it had something to do with it.”
Butler did all he could on the big stage, but aside from early play from Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol, he didn’t have enough help.
Joakim Noah continues to be lost within the offense, going scoreless in 17 minutes with seven rebounds and four turnovers, as it appears he can’t find his place when one more playmaker is all it would’ve taken for the Bulls to pull off an improbable upset.
“I have to be more aggressive offensively and look for my opportunities,” Noah said. “Right now I’m not sure where I can get them but when they come I have to be ready.”
Through 42 minutes it was hard to tell which was the better team, at least until Golden State’s deadly lineup finished the night by not allowing the Bulls to get anything going offensively in the last half of the fourth.
But the Warriors’ offensive rebounding was an Achilles’ heel, giving up 15 as Draymond Green came up with more than his share of loose balls, producing an effect that went beyond his nine-point, nine-rebound night.
“Yeah, loose balls,” Hoiberg said. “Draymond Green, he’s a horse in there. He does a great job watching his body, getting in there for extra ones. Those loose balls, you’ve got to find a way to come up with those.”
They harassed Curry into six turnovers, as Kirk Hinrich gamely put up 17 before fouling out, including eight in the fourth and a triple to tie the game at 89. Hinrich’s scoring was necessary considering the bench, aside from E’Twaun Moore’s nine points, couldn’t produce much offense, placing a lot of pressure on Butler, Mirotic (18 points) and Gasol (14 points, 10 rebounds).
Meanwhile Andre Iguodala scored 12 off the bench to accompany Harrison Barnes scoring 20, a sharp contrast to the Bulls’ production at small forward, with Tony Snell scoring two and Doug McDermott hitting one of his four triples.
Despite that, the Bulls held leads in the second half and had the Oracle Arena crowd sitting on their hands and knees before things got away late.
“I thought we battled, we really competed,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We wanted to hold them to 10 threes or under.”
Then Curry re-entered the fourth midway through hitting just two of his eight triple attempts, then that one fell to break an 89-all game.
Waiting on the inevitable knockout punch that always comes wasn’t part of the plans, as the Bulls kept Curry and Thompson relatively in check, holding them to a 42-point night total.
They controlled tempo, didn’t turn the ball over and refused to be seduced into Golden State’s addictive style of play. It allowed them to shoot just 40 percent from the field to the Warriors’ 49, yet they had a real chance to steal one on the road like the last team that beat them in their building — themselves, last January.
“Nobody’s perfect, man,” Butler said. “I think we had to play really well. I think we did alright. We got away from their shooters at times and they made big shots, that’s what players in this league do.”
But the Warriors’ small ball lineup more than made up for their sluggishness, as Barnes’ two late triples made it a 10-point game with 1:02 left, leaving the Bulls a bit dazed, confused and added to the lot of Golden State victims to start the season.