Lost under the glut of injured bodies and duct tape used to hold the Chicago Bulls together was a little bit of light in their 100-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night.
Besides the win, just the score probably made some Bulls fans smile for a half-second, considering they held an opponent under 100 points for the first time since Jan. 28, a 114-91 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Since then, one could argue the Bulls won in spite of their defense, on the occasion they did. Going 16 straight games can lead to a belief about defense leaving the building when a grumpy but effective coach was fired last May.
If not for Jimmy Butler’s absence, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg could almost breathe a sigh of relief by the return of defense to the United Center, especially considering who was doing the defending.
Pau Gasol blocked five shots, leading to a throwaway comment from Gasol about his reputation, saying, “For a poor defender, that’s not bad.”
Forward Nikola Mirotic was in his second game back after missing nearly a month, was praised by Hoiberg after reviewing the game film.
“We played a really smart game on the defensive end,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Niko really for us was the player of the game on the defensive end. He did a great job all night long of being in the right spot and plugging. “
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Mirotic is still under a minutes restriction but played a few more than expected (20), hitting two triples on the way to 14 points and six rebounds. But helping shut off driving lanes for the wiry Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton was crucial in the Bulls being able to overcome another high turnover game to win their second straight.
E’Twaun Moore was a standout defensively, guarding Middleton physically and without fouling—an assignment that would’ve belonged to Butler had he played.
“We played personnel really well,” Hoiberg said. “Mike (Dunleavy) played Giannis about as well as you can play him by getting off him and making him take jump shots. We guarded Parker well. We didn’t allow a lot of slashing, which they get a lot of points off of. They average 50 in the paint and we held them 10 below that.”
Before anybody gets too giddy, the Bulls have two teams capable of putting up 110 in their sleep—including the Miami Heat, who gave the Bulls a healthy dose of medicine with 129 points last week.
The San Antonio Spurs welcome the Bulls into Texas with a 30-0 home record, so the Bulls could go right back to .500 just off the caliber of their competition. Still, though, Hoiberg is encouraged by the last two games.
“If we would’ve taken care of the ball and not given them some runouts and rebounded, it could’ve been a really, really good defensive game,” he said. “We’ve taken steps in the right direction. I thought we guarded Houston. They went on a run late to score 100 on the nose on us.”