Coming home reeling and having doubts about the season do more than creep in as they began a four-game homestand, the Bulls haven’t gotten any healthier but they are halfway to stabilizing their house.
The Utah Jazz is locked into a battle for the eighth seed, just like the Chicago Bulls but it was the Bulls who led wire to wire for an 92-85 win at the United Center Saturday, even as change swirls all around them.
It was an old-fashioned win from days of yonder, with Derrick Rose masterfully controlling the tempo and the offense, with Taj Gibson literally willing the defense to one of its better performances of the season.
His voice was one heard on the floor and the locker room as he got on guys at halftime for blowing a few defensive assignments at the end of the second quarter, and although the Bulls held the Jazz to 40, he wasn’t satisfied.
“He jumped at the locker room at halftime and really got on guys,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s is taking more of a leader role with Pau (Gasol) being out.”
Rose had it going early, playing 31 minutes and scoring 22 with four assists and three rebounds. Gibson had to deal with Derrick Favors’ throwing his muscle around, contained him late, holding Favors to just six rebounds overall and seven points in the second half.
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“None of y’all business man,” said Gibson with a smile. “Some things don’t have to be said. I said what I said at halftime. We gotta move forward. We challenged each other. Great teams and players respond well when guys get after them. We responded.”
Gibson scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds, including hitting a jumper with 1:45 to restore a double-digit lead when the Jazz seemed to threaten, having entering the night winning four in a row.
“For the last two games, we’ve jumped out to double-digit leads,” Hoiberg said. “It had to be the urgency with what is at stake right now.”
Overall, the Bulls held the Jazz to 41 percent shooting and 30 from three, their best output since giving up just 83 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers nearly two months ago.
“Guys are starting to understand there’s a lot at stake,” said Doug McDermott, admittedly one of Gibson’s targets at halftime. “He got on us during a couple timeouts and in the locker room. It is a good message for us.”
And they did it with yet another first five, as Hoiberg had to adjust to the mammoth frontline of the Jazz.
It was the team’s 20th starting lineup, as Cristiano Felicio was the 14th Bull to be announced as a starter this season and he responded like a serviceable pro. He moved his feet well, defended without fouling and was competent on offense as a screen setter, moving constantly and occupying Gobert enough to where the shot-blocking center didn’t have much room to intimidate.
Speaking of Gobert, his night was punctuated by having 5-foot-9 Aaron Brooks block his shot at the rim—much to his dismay of the Jazz bench and the satisfaction of the United Center crowd.
They had plenty of cheer about early, as the Bulls started 7-7 from the field as they got Felicio a jumper and took advantage of every weak moment to grab a 15-6 lead. It was a lead they didn’t give back, as they shot 49 percent from the field. Jimmy Butler scored 13 on six of 14 shooting, adding six assists and five rebounds and Nikola Mirotic scored 15, including a crucial block late and a corner triple in the fourth when the Bulls’ offense went into prevent mode, not forcing the issue and slowing things down to nurse the lead.
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“We’re doing what has given us success,” Hoiberg said. “That extra pass and ball movement has been very successful for us. In the fourth they picked up their pressure a bit.”
But their defense led the way. They allowed just 28 points to the midway spot of the second quarter. Favors still scored plenty on the smallish Bulls, just enough to keep them within striking distance at the half with 17 points.
“Derrick was really good and engaged getting to the ball, I thought his defense has been much better the last two games,” Hoiberg said. “With a team like Utah who executes their stuff so well, you need to find a way to disrupt them.”
Rose, meanwhile, hit both of his 3-point attempts and six of nine overall, carrying the load while Butler couldn’t find his offense.
“Derrick did a good job of controlling the game,” Hoiberg said. “He continues to take smart shots. The rhythm on his 3’s have been great. He’s stepping up.”
Luckily, Gordon Hayward wasn’t in Bulls-killer mode like he was in their overtime meeting in Salt Lake City. Battling an injury that had him questionable in the pregame, he made just four of 13 shots for nine points.
The Jazz were picked up by Shelvin Mack scoring 15 with eight assists, and impressive guard Rodney Hood scored 14 but missed seven of his 10 3-point attempts.
It had its pretty moments, as the ball movement flowed to 24 assists with just 12 turnovers, but the win was workman-like.
It was professional.
It reminded you of the Chicago Bulls you used to know.