There was Tony Snell, playing assertively and strong, not hesitating on 3-point attempts.
E’Twaun Moore hitting triple after triple and staying in front of the speedy John Wall, and finally, a determined Doug McDermott, taking the baseline around Wall and then the elevator over Markieff Morris for a surprising dunk.
It prompted the predictable reaction after the unpredictable production: Who are these guys?
A tough bunch is what they looked like and played like, responding to their coach’s call for “nasty” after two straight wins and made it a third with a inspiring, inspired 109-104 win over the Washington Wizards.
They looked like they discovered some identity in the face of adversity, as they sensed the Wizards were content on showing up and not earning a win — as one could make the argument the Wizards did their usual Jekyll-and-Hyde routine of failing to appear for this appointment.
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Pau Gasol was the only Bull whose production looked familiar, though he played with flu-like symptoms, coming up an assist short of a triple-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists while doing his part in keeping Marcin Gortat and Nene from dominating as they’ve done recently in this matchup.
“I was really proud. Pau did not look good all day, and I asked him to show up and see what he could give us,” Fred Hoiberg said, as Gasol was a gametime decision, his status not announced until right before tipoff. “Our guys fought and battled.”
Perhaps it took the Bulls being completely exhausted of all their usual options, being without Derrick Rose as a late scratch in addition to the already suited-and-booted Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic.
Rose’s right hamstring tendinitis made him decide to sit this one out, being the first in a three-games-in-four-night stretch. And his teammates picked up the slack, being a ball of activity and running Hoiberg’s ball-movement system to perfection, each taking turns.
Snell scored 10 of his 14 in the first half, Moore scored eight of his 17 in the fourth and McDermott scored all 12 of his in the second half.
“They have to, with the guys we had out there,” Hoiberg said. “I thought guys did a good job of reading certain situations and executed it really well.”
It produced 26 assists on 50-percent shooting, as all five unlikely starters hit double figures and Aaron Brooks and McDermott did damage off the bench. Finding their balance without the stars could bode well for when the team returns en masse.
Taj Gibson has garnered attention with his mouth lately, trying to take the mantle of being a more vocal player, but Wednesday, his effect was tangible as his play did the talking.
Saying before he was sick of the way things were going, he played like a man possessed, grabbing every rebound and loose ball, hedging on screens defensively and setting solid ones offensively, scoring 17 with seven rebounds and seven assists in 30 minutes.
“Our guys did a great job of finding him, especially early,” Hoiberg said. “He really carried us. We had 55 (points) in the paint. Taj was a big part of that.”
It was enough to keep them in the game early, but how long it would stay afloat while the Wizards sleepwalked was the question.
Getting a lot of scores off secondary offense just by pushing the ball and taking advantage of a lagging team that played the night before gave the Bulls their biggest advantage.
“Like I said before I gotta do better,” Gibson said. “I learned from a good coach you gotta put more into it when it’s not going your way. Them young guys are putting more into my game. I’ve been patient ... and being ready when it’s my time to score.”
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The Bulls led by 15 with 3:05 to play after a McDermott dunk, but the Wizards clawed back. The Bulls, though, decided to play with a little toughness for the first time in a long time.
Moore torched Wall late, most of them critical run-stopping plays.
Wall scored 16 with seven assists but didn’t have the effect he usually does. Bradley Beal came off the bench to score 19 but took 19 shots, and Ramon Sessions again torched the Bulls for 16 off the pine.
The Bulls’ longtime tough guy had his juice rub off on his guys for once.
Gibson’s play encouraged his teammates to follow suit, as McDermott’s jumpers finished what Gibson’s emotions started, and the Bulls’ defense did more than enough late.
Just when you think this Bulls team has next to no life, they emerge from the ashes to show they have a little more than a faint pulse.