To a man, the Bulls (34-9) use the phrase no excuses so often, it might as well be their motto, especially in this challenging campaign in which theyve been cursed with multiple injuries.
Saturday night they embodied it, easily handling the Jazz (19-21), 111-97, at the United Center, even without the services of starters Rip Hamilton (right-shoulder injury), Joakim Noah (sick) and All-Star Luol Deng (resting his left wrist, in which he previously tore ligaments), as well as key reserve C.J. Watson (sprained left ankle).
After both teams struggled with their shooting to begin the contest, the Jazz went to their veteran inside duo of Paul Millsap (26 points, seven rebounds) and Al Jefferson (16 points, eight rebounds), who each delivered on their early opportunities. For the Bulls, sharpshooter Kyle Korver (26 points, 6-for-11 three-point shooting, seven rebounds, six assists)starting in Dengs placebounced back from a tough ending to Thursdays loss, in which the normally-reliable marksman missed multiple open looks at the end of the game, to power the Bulls in the opening period.
Another ex-Jazz player, Carlos Boozer (27 points, 13-for-17 from the floor, eight rebounds), also got off to a quick start against his former team, continuing the trend of knocking down his mid-range jumper with accuracy, enabling the hosts to erase Utahs slim cushion. After a quarter of play, the score was tied at 22.
Behind Boozer maintaining his hot handbefore picking up his second foulthe Bulls jumped out to their own slight edge early in the second quarter, as the Jazz could muster little offense besides the aforementioned post tandem. One bench mainstay and two reserves not usually in the rotation, Bench Mob stalwart Taj Gibson and the seldom-used pair of John Lucas III and rookie Jimmy Butler, energized the home team and its crowd, with feisty, aggressive play that kept the Bulls ahead.
Thibodeau eventually reinserted Derrick Rose (24 points, 13 assists) into the contest and the reigning league MVP immediately made his impact felt as both a scorer and playmaker, following a relatively dormant initial stint of action. With Boozer keeping up his aggressiveness, the two regular starters staked the Bulls to a 48-41 halftime lead.
Playing a more up-tempo style after the intermission, the Bulls built a double-digit advantage on Roses back, as the dynamic Englewood native was nearly unstoppable in transition. Though Josh Howards (15 points) scoring added some diversity to the visitors offensive attack, the hosts stout defense ensured the gap between the two teams remained to the Bulls satisfaction.
Boozer also continued his strong play, as did the third former Jazzman on the Bulls, swingman Ronnie Brewer (11 points), who was his typically active self after a mostly silent first half. However, the story of the period was Rose and Boozer, who combinedoften in pick-and-roll scenarios, but also individually, with Boozers mid-range game and Roses penetrationto dominate their overmatched opposing defenders and propelling the Bulls to a comfortable 79-63 lead at the end of the third quarter.
In the final stanza, the Rose-Boozer partnership, along with able assistance from Korver, again buoyed the Bulls, who kept up their large margin of separation over the Jazz. The red-hot Korver erupted as the period waned on, knocking down a trio of long-range jumpers, which delighted the audience, who received free Big Macs when the Bulls hit triple digits on the third of his three-pointers.
The three-headed monster of Rose, Boozer and Korver continued to pick apart the visitors, until Thibodeau mercifully went to his shortened bench with the game in its final moments. The short-handed squad survived its prelude to consecutive games against much more high-profile guests to the Windy City, New York and Miami, intact.