Stephen Curry had the ball on a string and thought Derrick Rose was right with it, but when Rose didn’t allow himself to be shook, the United Center stood and applauded the defensive effort.
Then Curry found a curling Klay Thompson escaping Jimmy Butler a few inches away, and seconds later that effort went unrewarded as the best shooter in basketball fed the second-best shooter in basketball.
Triple, swish, timeout.
It was that kind of night for the Bulls against the NBA champs, who openly said this game was a measuring stick to their progress to date.
And a 125-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors sent a resounding message that though the Bulls have a reputation for getting up for the big games, their elevator doesn’t reach that high.
“They play the right way,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “All their guys move, they cut and every guy on the floor can make a play.”
Coming in knowing full well the Warriors can embarrass you if you’re not adhering to the gameplan or if the gameplan doesn’t cover everything, the Bulls still succumbed and the submission seemed to happen early.
Again, communication was a problem.
“It was embarrassing, we stopped communicating when while we were out there,” Rose said. “You could easily tell there was no communication on both sides of the ball.”
The Bulls shot 37 percent in the first half and trailed by 19 when the game was barely 15 minutes old. The Warriors shot 52 percent and toyed with the opponent as if it was a varsity-JV matchup.
Curry and Thompson didn’t have explosive nights, but they surely weren’t silent, as Curry had some dazzling moves and Thompson filled in the blanks where necessary. Curry could’ve tallied a triple double but in 34 minutes scored 25 points with 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Thompson scored an easy 20 in 32 minutes, hitting three triples as the Warriors shot 38 percent and made 12 long balls.
“They’re tough, they have a lot of guys who can score, a lot of guys who can guard, yeah. But when you don’t play good basketball, any matchup is difficult in this league,” Butler said.
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The Warriors didn’t put an all-out assault like they did on the Cleveland Cavaliers when they went up 43 points in a laugher. They just did all the great things championship teams do on a given night: never got lost on screens, shared the ball endlessly and ignored the noise.
“Guard, for one," Butler said. “We’re too worried about offense too much at times. We don’t play defense, we don’t rebound, we don’t get back. It’s not the bigs, it’s on everybody. When we’re not guarding, we’re not a very good team.”
Rose provided most of the noise early for the Bulls as they jumped out to a quick lead that wouldn’t hold. He finished with 29 points, including 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the first quarter.
Rose burned so much energy early attacking the basket and challenging Curry, he asked out six minutes into the game due to fatigue. The Bulls were down 13-12, but the Warriors went on a 21-6 run to finish the quarter, effectively ending it before it began.
Without Butler being his usual self, the Bulls were no match. He didn’t get involved until the third quarter, and by then the Warriors had a 20-point head start.
He finished with 23 points and five rebounds but only had four at halftime, when the Warriors achieved a 21-point lead.
“It just shows how bad we can be if we don’t guard,” Butler said.
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Harrison Barnes scored 19 with three triples, while Andre Iguodala came off the bench to score 10 and disrupt the Bulls offense, one that made just one of 20 triples and shot 37 percent from the field.
“We came out like that in the second half and had a chance to cut it to single digits,” said Hoiberg, referring to the Bulls grabbing a little momentum to cut the lead to 67-56 midway through the third.
But the offense folded, and the lead was quickly pressed back to 16 and then to 24 at quarter’s end.
“We missed some easy shots, we let it affect us on the other end and they got some easy baskets. They kept attacking all the way to the finish line.”
Pau Gasol was 30 points short of his effort in Detroit, going 0-for-8 with only a free throw in 23 minutes.
Nikola Mirotic was also on a milk carton, going 0-for-5 along with Tony Snell only making a field goal in the last six minutes, when the game was well out of reach.
Everything the Bulls did wrong, the Warriors pounced on.
They stripped weak drives, caught the Bulls napping way too much on defense for multiple backdoor layups and open shots, laughing all the way home.
When the Bulls got close, the Warriors would hit a couple of triples in succession to hush the impending roar of the United Center. Then it became showtime, with alley-oops, long triples and the general joy that comes with being a member of a Warriors team challenging the 1996 Bulls' record of 72 wins.
For the Bulls, there was misery for the better part of 40 minutes and the knowledge of knowing they’ll have a long, long way to go before reaching elite status.