For those wondering if the Bulls would look like the disjointed outfit in their preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets or the free-flowing unit that blitzed the Minnesota Timberwolves, Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans provided a clear answer.
They launched triples with comfort and regularity but also went through dry stretches, leading to a 123-115 loss at the United Center, in front of a spirited crowd by preseason standards, buoyed by periodic updates from the Cubs Game 3 playoff win.
Chicago native Anthony Davis kept the Pelicans somewhat close early, with a smooth 26 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, but it was the reserves, the players who often finish exhibitions, that turned things around in their favor.
“We forced up some bad shots late in the clock because we couldn’t run our plays,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to give them credit because they kept fighting and it never stopped for them. We have to somehow take a stand and stay in front of your man.”
Putting the Pelicans on the line 37 times helped a 20-point lead get whittled to a tie game at the end of three quarters, which offset the Bulls shooting 51 percent in the second half.
Then the Pelicans jumped out to an 8-2 run to start the fourth and the Bulls reserves never recovered, despite playing efficiently early on.
“We stopped doing what got us the lead,” Hoiberg said. “We were getting out, we were running, we were getting open shots. And then our pace went bad and we didn’t stop anyone.”
For many parts of the evening, it looked as if Jimmy Butler having a dead-legged night didn’t matter, as his shots came up short and he had trouble containing the Pelicans guards as they waltzed to the basket.
He shot 2-for-13 in 27 minutes, as the Bulls starters didn’t display the cohesiveness the bench did overall, although they had their moments.
Their ball movement and crisp passing led to a bevy of open shots, as they seemed to master the “swing-swing” pass, easily spotting shooters on the perimeter for 18 of their 32 3-point attempts in the first half, shooting 34 percent on the night.
But falling in love with the 3-ball could prove troublesome once the games get going, no matter their proficiency, although it should be said playing without numerous rotation players can skew the observations, just a bit.
Derrick Rose was in the building, but out. Joakim Noah sat out as a precautionary measure, while Taj Gibson is aiming to return Wednesday against Detroit.
It was the bench that found its rhythm while the starters struggled offensively, as Bobby Portis is continuing his impressive play, scoring 20 with 11 rebounds, including a pair of 3-pointers and two blocked shots.
“He was awesome, he came off the bench and gave us a big lift,” Hoiberg said. “He was hitting shots, banging around. I thought he battled defensively against Anthony Davis.”
Doug McDermott scored 17 while launching a team-high nine triples off the bench and E’Twaun Moore scored 10 in the fourth to keep the Bulls somewhat close.
But everybody wearing a Bulls jersey had trouble on the defensive end, as they allowed a whopping 69 second-half points, allowing Pelicans reserve Sean Kilpatrick to score 23, including a 4-point play that energized his team in the fourth.
Ryan Anderson would be a great fit in the Bulls’ system for his ability to shoot, but was a thorn in their side on this night, running the bigs ragged for open triples on his way to 18 points and 10 boards.
Kilpatrick is making a name for himself in what will be termed a meaningless preseason game overall, the aim of such exercises, while the Bulls will be looking over game film for adjustments before things get truly serious, looking for answers—the goal of such exercises for them as a unit.