A streaking Jimmy Butler was on a fly pattern with Rajon Rondo measuring his wide receivers’ speed past Paul George and the two connected for an easy pitch, catch and dunk — a scene that hasn’t been witnessed in quite awhile.
The inherent message from Rondo was clear as he compiled his 11th assist of the first half in the Bulls’ impressive 118-101 win over the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at the United Center: Run and you’ll get the ball.
Run and I’ll find you.
“Who doesn’t want the ball? Everybody wants the ball, everybody wants to score,” Rondo said. “We’ve been doing a great job of cleaning up the glass. Our wings are getting out wide and running. We’ve been practicing about 30 days straight. The chemistry is coming along (but) it’s early.”
Fred Hoiberg could only dream of this type of pace and speed to his offense last year, and even though his big guns are more deliberate players, they know a good thing when they see it as the Bulls improved to 2-0 on the year.
One wouldn’t have to hit Hoiberg with truth serum for him to proclaim it was the best performance he’s witnessed as coach, as the Bulls committed just 11 turnovers, shot 52 percent, made 19 of 21 free throws and tallied a whopping 30 fast break points.
“I talked to them and told them if we commit to playing with that type of unselfishness and ball movement, we have a chance to have a good year,” Hoiberg said.
“I loved our intensity out the gate. Our pace the other way was as good as I’ve seen, and our ball movement was off the charts.”
It began with Rondo and trickled down to the rest of the roster, as a definitive tone has been set — a surprising one for a team so new and not used to playing with one another.
Dwyane Wade dashed to the rim, Michael Carter-Williams forced the action on both ends, Taj Gibson filled the lanes and Rondo maestro’d like very few can in this league.
“He talks in every huddle, ‘run with me, I’ll throw it ahead’,” Hoiberg said of Rondo. “It’s something we work on and stress, getting up."
Rondo was the only starter not in double figures but had 13 assists in 25 minutes, setting the tone and tempo for his teammates to follow. Wade scored 14 on just seven shots in 21 minutes, while Butler scored 16 on nine shots in 26 minutes.
The value of a good point guard cannot be overstated, comparing Rondo to new Pacers point guard Jeff Teague, who struggled for the second straight night.
Teague had eight assists but went scoreless on his seven attempts and was generally frustrated by his lack of flow. He helped Paul George to a degree get his 20 points on just 12 shots, but the Pacers didn’t have any of the rhythm they were advertised to have, as many expected them to challenge for a top spot in the East.
Instead, it’s the Bulls who have surprised in the early going, with impressive wins over two teams they’ll have to beat if they hope to claim a playoff spot in April.
If Saturday was any indication, some good things could be in store.
And they got it while the getting was good, as the Bulls essentially closed the evening relatively early with a 23-4 run in the second quarter, smothering the Pacers defensively as they took advantage of the Pacers trying to play a little too fast after made baskets or in the set offense as a whole.
The turnovers led to a track meet, as the unselfishness was contagious, led by the second unit. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic were going end to end for forays, spot-up threes and easy layups.
“I thought our bench was great tonight, you look across the board,” said Hoiberg, mentioning Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan, whose ball pressure ignited fast breaks.
“Carter-Williams I can tell is starting to get more comfortable. He got into the paint and hit a couple floaters for us.”
It led to a 23-point lead after 23 minutes and the Bulls’ 21-point lead at halftime was the largest halftime lead in three seasons.
It continued in the second half as McDermott got going in the way people expect him — as a marksman behind the 3-point line. A recipient of unselfish play across the board as the Bulls tallied 34 assists on 44 field goals, McDermott hit five triples on his way to a game-high 23, almost all on the drive-and-kick or swing-swing variety.
“He was great,” Wade said. “He did what Doug does, he stepped in and just shot his shots. He’s going to have nights like that. He’ll have nights where the defense isn’t going to leave him and he’ll need to be the one to make the extra pass.”
The lead ballooned to 29 before the Pacers scored plenty in garbage time, but the Bulls sent a resounding message of sorts in the opening days of the season.
Even if you run, we’ll find you.