It was ugly and intense in all the ways one would expect of two teams separated by only an expressway and experience, in a first preseason game.
But despite all that familiarity, there was something different about the Bulls’ exhibition opener.
Namely, the 3-pointers.
They came from the top, the wings, the corners, and they came fast in their 105-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday at the United Center.
Of course, long-term prognostications are useless based on a preseason opener where both teams are merely happy to stop bumping and banging with their teammates, but the Bulls have preached to any and everybody that their product would look different under Fred Hoiberg than his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau.
And in the first morsel of the Hoiberg Era, the Bulls attempted 39 triples, and despite missing 11 of their first 12, they kept shooting. Aside from Joakim Noah and Cristiano Felicio, every participant who played more than two minutes launched at least two.
It didn’t yield great results initially, as the Bulls went 3-for-20 in the first half, then 10-for-19 in the second half against a defense not nearly as stingy. Hoiberg didn’t hesitate when asked if 39 attempts would be the norm this season.
“If they’re open and they’re good looks, yeah,” he said. “Once we get Pau (Gasol) out there, we’ll have more of a post presence. Doug (McDermott) got it going in the second half, which was great to see him get that ball in the basket.”
McDermott put up a whopping 11 attempts, and after rushing the first three shots, he settled in the second half to hit five, accounting for 18 of his 23 points.
“For him to come out and continue to shoot was a great sign,” Hoiberg said. “He might’ve put his head down in the past.”
A matchup against the team the Bulls had a chippy series with this past spring produced its share of moments, albeit fleeting, as the Bucks rolled out their impressive collection of youthful talent and defensive length that seems to cover every bit of available space in the half court.
Rookie guard Rashad Vaughn scored 20 in 35 minutes, while free agent addition Greg Monroe scored six in 17 minutes, putting both Noah and rookie Bobby Portis in a blender with spin moves for layups on separate occasions.
The Bulls offense didn’t get going until the Bucks sat their starters after halftime, and the Bulls feasted to score 40 in the third quarter to make the overall number look respectable. The difference in ball movement and pace was noticeable, even when the shots weren’t falling.
“Second half I thought our pace was better. Early on, we were lagging,” Hoiberg said. “Then we got the ball out and moving. Generally good things happen. Overall first game, especially in the second half I liked what I saw.”
Jimmy Butler didn’t attempt that many 3-pointers but found every other way to score, putting up 23 and playing with regular-season intensity, getting into a competitive go-round with emerging swingman Khris Middleton, who scored 10 in 17 minutes.
Butler caught himself on the unfortunate end of a Middleton poster, when he sized Middleton up on the fast break but couldn’t quite get a blocked shot when Middleton cupped it and jammed it, much to the buzz of the United Center crowd.
The turnovers were plentiful, but the effort and intensity will likely be to Hoiberg’s contentment, especially as Portis seemed to agitate everyone wearing green on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Ugly it was, and the Bulls will take the game tape to find some positives among the muck — then they’ll likely burn it.