It's just one game, an exhibition at that, but if Tuesday's 93-85 win over the Pacers was any indication, this season's edition of the Bulls won't just be Derrick Rose, his supporting cast and a dominant defense.
On some nights, they'll be a balanced offensive squad that's fun to watch.
Back in the United Center for the first time since losing the Eastern Conference Finals, Chicago dispatched last spring's first-round playoff opponent, Indiana, and while it couldn't be called picture-perfect or up to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's impossibly high standards, it was at least a positive sign for the upcoming campaign.
"I thought the whole team played very unselfishly. Everyone made the extra pass," said Thibodeau, whose squad dished out 30 assists in the outing. "We got easy baskets, we got the ball up the floor quickly, we were inside-out, our post guys played very unselfishly--they kicked the ball out--so offensively, I thought it was excellent."
Perhaps learning from their lackluster start in the preseason opener in Indianapolis, the Bulls played high-energy basketball from the outset. Carlos Boozer (24 points, seven rebounds, three assists), in particular, opened the game on a positive note--the power forward made an early impact with his low-post scoring--as did Luol Deng (14 points, seven rebounds), for whom beginning the game with a flourish is a fairly consistent habit.
The team's newest addition, Rip Hamilton (13 points, six assists, four rebounds), gave the home crowd something to look forward to, connecting on his first attempt as a Bull, then sprinting out in transition--ahead of even the speedy Rose (12 points, nine assists, five rebounds), who fed him the ball--for a fast-break layup.
"Probably the first time I ever played with somebody that was faster than me, so trying to keep up with him every time he pushed the ball on the break, it was fun, it was exciting, because I could get so many easy baskets," said Hamilton. "Everything's new. Everything is on the fly. But this is my 13th season and basketball's basketball. Once the ball is thrown up, when you've got good guys on your team like I have here, they helped me through the whole time, so it makes my job a lot easier."
Solid defense, that held the visitors to a paltry 23.8 shooting percentage for the quarter, resulted in a 24-15 Bulls advantage after the opening period.
When backup power forward Taj Gibson picked up three early fouls in the second quarter while guarding Pacers counterpart Tyler Hansbrough (24 points, 13 rebounds), Indiana's primary offensive source, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau re-inserted Boozer, who resumed his productivity as both a scorer and facilitator.
Ronnie Brewer (11 points, four rebounds), despite being relegated again to a reserve role, provided additional firepower, showing he either didn't take the demotion too hard or he didn't mind sacrificing his starting spot for the team's benefit.
Meanwhile, Deng and Pacers go-to scorer Danny Granger (12 points on 4-for-11 shooting) waged their usual small-forward battle--Deng was more efficient, but Granger got hot late in the quarter--and Rose showed his maturity and development by orchestrating Chicago's offense to perfection as a distributor.
"I'm a winner. That's the way that I think of myself. Anything to win and if that's me passing the ball, that's just what it is and being in situations, I know Thibs is going to give me the ball, but I'm not rushing," said Rose, the recipient of a new five-year, 94-million contract extension. "If anything, I love a game like this every night, especially seeing my teammates happy."
Added Thibodeau: "That's what the game was dictating. Derrick can beat you a lot of different ways. He can beat you with scoring, passing, active with his defense, pushing the ball up the floor, getting easy baskets. So, I thought he was real patient. He got into the post one time, so he'll be excited about that, but overall, he played terrific. The way he ran the team, I think his help defensively is vastly improved from last year, so we're encouraged by that."
Following Indiana fighting back from a double-digit deficit when the second unit was in the game, the starters again gave the home team some breathing room, and at the intermission, the Bulls had a 50-42 lead.
Boozer picked up where he left off in the the third quarter, producing points in a variety of fashions--agile post moves, mid-range jumpers and putbacks after offensive boards--and helping the Bulls extend their cushion.
"I think he was very aggressive. In the first game, I thought he played a great floor game. He was posting deep, he passed the ball well, did a lot of good things in that game--he didn't score well and we tend to judge him that way--and this is the way he's been practicing in training camp," explained Thibodeau. "He's done a great job with running the floor and getting deep post-ups. He had good balance, he's in great shape, so I'm not surprised by his play."
Hamilton also showcased his proven scoring ability, while center Joakim Noah (five points, eight rebounds, five blocked shots, three assists)--besides Rose, the only starter not to reach double figures by the time Thibodeau began to mix in his reserves--made his presence felt on the defensive end by either altering or outright denying multiple Pacers' shot attempts.
Hansbrough was again a bright spot for the visitors, as was second-year swingman Paul George (14 points, six rebounds), who flashed his talent and versatility, along with an improved perimeter stroke. This time around, however, Chicago's reserves withstood Indiana's push and took a 78-66 winning margin into the final stanza.
Gibson finally got into an offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter--his most aesthetically-pleasing play was a dunk off a Hamilton behind-the-back pass--and with Brewer continuing to contribute as a scorer, the Bulls maintained their comfortable double-digit lead. Thibodeau inserted his regulars (sans Boozer, who earned a well-deserved break; he'd eventually replace Gibson later, after his understudy fouled out) back into the contest.
Chicago cruised during the game's stretch run and Pacers head coach Frank Vogel eventually waved the white flag, sending in his deep reserves, although the majority of Bulls starters would play out the string.
After concluding a brief, yet undefeated preseason, the Bulls head to Los Angeles for their Christmas Day season opener Sunday against the Lakers.
"For Thibs, he was in a pretty good mood," Boozer said. "But again, it's preseason and the 25th, things will change."
Rationalized Thibodeau: "You can't get carried away with this. This is preseason. David West is a heck of a player and he's working his way back off an injury. That team is an excellent team. They play hard and they play unselfishly, they're very well-coached. We're not going to get too excited about a preseason win.
"Well, there's still a lot of work to be done. I like the attitude of our team. They're serious-minded, they come to work every day, they strive for improvement and we know we have a long way to go. In this type of season, you have to keep grinding. Sometimes the schedule will be going your way, sometimes it won't," he continued. "But the games will keep coming. We really believe that if we defend, rebound and keep our turnovers down, we'll be in position to win. So, those are three things that we want to do every night and we've got to keep working towards that every day."