While seemingly the majority of the country was taking in Obama vs. Romney Part Deux, I almost begrudgingly settled in for a night of Bulls vs. Bucks that would be played without Kirk Hinrich due to a thumb injury. But much to my pleasant surprise, I was treated to an entertaining game that actually featured competent Bulls offense, a stint of marvelous bench play and a whole hell of a lot of Nate Robinson.
The Bulls did have some issues closing the game, scoring only 15 points in the fourth quarter and nearly coughing up a double-digit lead. But they were able to barely stem the tide, with Robinson coming up with some big plays and the defense getting a few clutch stops. Closing games will likely be a problem all year with Derrick Rose out, so we're just going to have to get used to it.
The offense was much better early on, as the Bulls made a concerted effort to get Richard Hamilton going. Hamilton had a significant size advantage over his 2-guard counterpart in Monta Ellis, and Rip was consistently able to get good looks running off his patented single-double screens. The Bulls also ran some nice actions off that later in the game which resulted in easy baskets. Hamilton finished the game with an efficient 24 points on 9-14 shooting, which is a huge positive to take from this one going forward.
The man who primarily fed Hamilton all night was Robinson, who was spectacular from the get-go. Robinson ran the offense under control, making sure Hamilton got his looks while also getting himself and others involved. Robinson finished the night with an impressive 24 points and 13 assists in 37 minutes, but perhaps the most impressive stat of his night was the fact that he turned the ball over ZERO times.
After a couple games of the Nate Rob Experience, it seems pretty clear to me that it will be quite the roller coaster ride. There will be games like tonight, but there will also be plenty of 1-11's like we saw earlier in the preseason. However, it's not like John Lucas III was any different, and I'm pretty confident in saying Robinson is a better player.
Elsewhere, we saw the new bench play a very effective stint early in the second quarter, invoking memories of the dearly departed Bench Mob. They extended a 32-30 lead to 49-32 before the Bucks knew what hit them, and it was actually the apparently rejuvenated Nazr Mohammed that did much of the damage during the run. I honestly have no clue what has gotten into that guy, but so far, he's done a nice job easing the sting of the loss of Omer Asik. Whether that keeps up in the regular season I don't know, but at least Mohammed is giving me some hope.
For the game, the Bulls racked up 28 assists and shot 46.8 percent from the field. That percentage certainly isn't great, but considering they did most of their work in the halfcourt tonight, I'm pretty pleased. The Bulls have had some serious issues getting things going in the halfcourt, so hopefully this is a sign of progress.
Some other notes:
- Joakim Noah looks primed for a big season. He's as active as ever, and it looks like he's gaining a lot of confidence in his offensive game. I myself don't cringe anymore when Jo shoots a jumper. He's showing little hesitation in it and is knocking it down with semi-regularity.
- Carlos Boozer had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but he was still mostly terrible. And no I'm not saying that just because that's the popular thing to spout. His first stint was atrocious, missing bunnies, committing silly fouls and getting torched by Larry Sanders. He did hit a clutch shot late and also iced the game at the line (and secured Big Macs!), but that's marred by the 3-of-9 shooting, four turnovers and four fouls. I'm starting to think more and more that Matt is going to be right about Carlos
- Luol Deng was an absolute non-factor. I don't know if it was the groin or what, but there was little effort to get him going on offense. And the few jumpers he took were real ugly.
- The Bulls are trying their damndest to use Marco Belinelli like Hamilton and the departed Kyle Korver, but so far it's not working. Belinelli is nowhere near as good at using screens like those two, and he has not been able to create much separation for open looks. He did flash his ability to put the ball on the floor and create a few times, but other than that, it was a whole lot of nothing for the Italian.
- Jimmy Butler seemingly passed on a couple of open looks, and I'm not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing. My gut tells me he should be taking those shots, but then again, he hasn't shown an ability to hit outside shots. Considering it's the preseason, he probably should be taking those open looks when he gets them.
- Marquis Teague saw "extended" minutes (11 minutes) with Hinrich out. It was more of the same for the rookie. He did score his first bucket, but he's just doesn't look comfortable out there yet. He needs a lot of time.
- In postgame, Tom Thibodeau called Hinrich more "nicked up" than anything and that sitting him was more precautionary in order to see more of Robinson and Teague. I certainly hope that's the case, because the fact that Hinrich and Deng have already sat with these little "nicks" is somewhat concerning.
- Up next is another game against the Timberwolves. Hopefully this one is more visually appealing than last Saturday's turd.