The challenges this team will face without Carlos Boozer are numerous, and it mostly stems from his ability to be counted on to score. Not just with the starters, but when Rose is out, or when an opposing defense tightens up like the Thunder did in the last quarter tonight. The Bulls were held to 13 points in that quarter and were subjected to an 11-0 run at one point, in a game where their offense was actually vastly outperforming the defense up until that time.
And for those first 3 and a half quarters it was definitely nice to see. For much of the game the Bulls were running with (literally) a pretty good OKC defense, shooting at a high percentage enough to compensate for the vast disparity in free throw attempts. And it was a damned huge disparity, with the Thunder finishing with 47 to the Bulls 22. I honestly don't think it was an undeserved result of referee bias: outside of a couple calls at most, the Thunder just looked better at drawing fouls, and were taking advantage of a Bulls defense that isn't together yet.
The FT story can be told in a microcosm of Rose vs. Russell Westbrook. Derrick Rose was the best player on the floor in the first half, with 20 points on so many sensational finishes that the ESPN telecast stopped mentioning them after a while. And that was with foul trouble that limited him in each half. But part of that foul trouble was due to his counterpart in Westbrook, who finished with 13 attempts to Rose's 4. And so as the second half unfolded, Rose was still good, but ceased being spectacular, and after several missed floaters and pull-up mid-range jumpers, it wound up turning into a typical Rose night in terms of efficiency: 28 points on 31 shots.
That it's still his 'typical' game is not exactly a worry (the awful 3pt attempts were a bit...), but it does put a pause on any 'break-out' talk, at least for one night. Though if he plays more like he did in that first half I could be easily swayed. And again, without Boozer, and having to take 31 shots in the first place, he's in a tough situation.
If it looks like a struggle to get points with having to count on Rose, it's downright worrisome when he's out of the game. As we all know by now, Luol Deng cannot be counted on to carry the offense. But tonight, when Rose was off the floor they actually did keep pace with the Thunder, and the Bulls had their finishing unit (Rose/Korver/Deng/Taj/Noah) in the game with 5 minutes left and a tie score.
But with the Thunder defense picking up, and featuring their own closer in Kevin Durant on their end of the floor, the Bulls have to rely on Rose to be spectacular, instead of it being a nice luxury as he begins his 3rd season. The Bulls got the guy help, but a majority of it was in a suit.
On to the bullets:
- I thought Joakim Noah started out a bit slow, but he had a huge 2nd half and finished with a great line, 18 and 19 in nearly 39 minutes. Seeing Noah turn a block into a fastbreak by himself was one of those great 'ah yes, Bulls basketball is back' moments of the night.
- Luol Deng did not carry over his fine preseason, with 13 pts and only 2 rebounds in 37 minutes, though he had the tough task of guarding Durant and did an admirable job with that. Though the 3-pt shooting wasn't there (and not from the team as a whole), you could tell in this year's offense that Deng's at least setting up out there. But this had some stereotypical bad Deng moments: getting stripped when trying to dribble inside, not being able to post up against smaller defenders, and going up to finish soft in transition. Not a good night, but I won't bail on the improvements I saw in the preseason just yet.
- I thought Taj was great, and took it to the overrated Jeff Green (though I'm not sure he's even rated that highly, decent game tonight considered: people kindof know he's a ninny who doesn't shoot all that well). He had a good night on the boards, and is definitely someone who always tries to finish strong. Hard hat and lunch pail and all that.
- The Thunder went small often, so that probably had something to do with it, but we'll have to postpone the great unveiling of Omer Asik. Only played a couple minutes and that was after Kurt Thomas entered the game first. Thomas rotated slowly and committed fouls, and Omer Asik can do that with hopefully bringing something positive as well, so here's to hoping he gets his chance going forward.
- Scalabrine played more than 0 minutes, which will always be a concern. When he enters the game it's as if the Bulls are announcing to the audience that they don't value rebounds, and his stint to end the first half was terrible. And if one is so 'heady', or whatever, then don't commit dumb fouls.
- Speaking of dumb bad fouls, Kyle Korver surprisingly didn't play much in the first 3 quarters, but then had a terrible stretch in the 4th where he committed several fouls, one so completely late and unnecessary that you'd think he was still being coached by Jerry Sloan. It'll be an ongoing story to see if he eventually takes the starting job from Keith Bogans who was predictably ineffectual on offense and allowed Durant to take a load off on D, while Thabo Sefolosha guarded Deng.
- CJ Watson had a couple crippling turnovers in the 4th quarter, but he was able to score when Rose was on the bench, and that's valuable. Forced to play a bit more than necessary, and it underscores the problem with his role: he's likely better suited as an actually-decent Jannero Pargo, but as the primary backup PG it's shows his limitations in running a team. But I did like that he was looking to create plays, the bench needs that.
- Ronnie Brewer still does not look healthy.
- Thibs got some guff from the ESPN telecast for losing his voice so early, but his interview and mic'ed up segments were way better than any time with VDN. I'm sure he's not happy with how the defense was beat on transition, or when they were spread out so easily by the Thunder's small-ball, but it's something that will take time: a new scheme and many new players. There was also a late-game play out of a timeout that the Bulls looked downright confused in, and ended in Korver dribbling into a 24 second violation.