In a game that was tailor-made for the fast-breaking era of the 80’s, the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks reacquainted themselves for the first time since last spring’s physical, hotly-contested six-game playoff series.
But while that series was at times a defensive struggle, Tuesday’s contest was not as both put on an offensive show in a game where the first team to put together any semblance of defensive stops would likely win.
The Bulls played enough defense in the fourth, although the offense carried the day to a 117-106 win at the United Center, their fifth straight victory as they held the Bucks to 15 points in the fourth. They spoiled hometown kid Jabari Parker’s first official game at the United Center, as he scored 11 with seven rebounds.
It was Fred Hoiberg’s offense on paper come to life, in all forms.
They tallied 27 assists, shot 55 percent from the field and made all 20 of their free-throws.
Proof positive that his system can work when adjustments are made and an elite-level point guard is running the show.
“We’re playing unselfish basketball. The ball is going side to side which is very important,” Hoiberg said.
Jimmy Butler, coming off his record-breaking 40-point second half, did it all on the offensive end with 32 points and a career-high 10 assists, matching wits with Khris Middleton, who hit five triples to keep the Bucks in it, scoring 26 points with seven assists and four rebounds.
“Jimmy has been playing with a lot of patience,” Derrick Rose said.
The Bulls didn’t trail through three quarters, even jumping out to a 10-0 lead behind Taj Gibson feasting inside against a toothless interior defense. Rose made his return after a three-game absence and found life easier than expected as his first step was more than enough to find himself in open real estate.
If there was any evidence of rust, it could only be found in his 3-point shooting because everything else was at an elite level, Bucks defense notwithstanding. He attacked at every opening, as his next-level speed opened things up across the board, even when he didn’t get the assist credit on the stat sheet.
He finished with 16 points and six assists but his affect was greater than can be measured statistically.
“When he gives us that initial push, we run with it,” Hoiberg said. “At times he can be a one-man fast break. And the big thing is he needs to continue to attack the basket.”
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Rose and Butler traded pretty reverse layups, as the lane was open without much resistance for most of the evening.
Butler added 20 in the first half to his 40 in the second half at Toronto, and his teammates joined him this go-round. Everyone who participated got good looks and the Bulls shot 55 percent, scoring over 100 for their eighth straight time.
“I was a little disappointed with Jimmy coming out the gate and only going for 20,” said Hoiberg, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “He’s making the right decisions out there and playing the right way.”
Pau Gasol even hit a couple triples on his way to 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. All five starters scored in double figures, including Nikola Mirotic’s 14 with six rebounds.
If there was any downside to such an exciting win, giving up in excess of 100 points for another game shows some slippage that must be corralled. Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams scored 20 with 12 assists and center Greg Monroe scored a quick eight to start the second quarter to bring the Bucks within striking distance, a place they stayed until midway through the fourth when the Bulls finally pulled away.
But those gripes are minor compared to other serious questions that have been asked over the last few weeks, as the start of the New Year has birthed some sincere optimism about this team getting itself right.