OK, it's unfair to call the Jazz a bunch of bums. Being in the West, let alone in the same division as the Thunder, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Trail Blazers, sporting a 19-21 record could be a lot worse.
Their awesome frontcourt just wasn't enough to genuinely compete with the NBA-winningest Bulls advancing to 34-9 in Saturday night's 111-97 win over the Jazz at the United Center. Utah's inside game was effective, but their lack of many shooting presences with the Bulls elite ability to stifle long range attempts and to battle inside without sending opponents to the charity stripe took away chances for the Jazz to make a game of it.
Carlos Boozer had a killer night, scoring a game-high 27 on 13-for-17 to go with eight rebounds (and, ahem, five turnovers) in a season-high 41:24 of playing time. Kyle Korver shot his old team out of the gym, scoring 26 on 10-for-16 shooting, dominated by going 6-for-11 on 3s.
Derrick Rose had a great night himself only needing 13 shots from the floor to score 24 (7-for-13, 10-for-11 on FTs) to go with 13 assists, notching his ninth double-double of the season. But the story was Korver not hesitating to take shots when he had the looks, but moreso, his seven rebounds and six assists, because he had to start in place of Luol Deng.
Deng was out after needing to rest the wrist injury that caused him to miss seven games earlier this season. An injury we've been told will need surgery after the season and won't get any better until then. It was a story of a game where the Bulls should've been looking to build a large lead and economize minutes later.
But instead, Joakim Noah (flu) was out. C.J. Watson (ankle) was out. And Richard Hamilton (shoulder), who I hear is still on the roster, was also out. Omer Asik joined Korver and Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup with Boozer and Rose, as the Bulls were forced to floor an eight-man rotation.
The lineup of John Lucas III, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson playing off the bench with Korver and Asik gave up an 8-0 run to blow a nine-point lead in the middle of the second quarter, forcing Tom Thibodeau to shorten his stretched starters' rest and rebuild a cushion going into halftime.
Fortunately, the Bulls built a seven-point lead going into the break and and extended it to 18 late in the third quarter to sail to the end. They did so with their systemic formula of attacking the glass, out-rebounding the Jazz 42-31, in a game where Utah pitifully couldn't grab 55% of the potential defensive rebounds to trump their strong night of rebounding on the offensive glass. The Bulls also extended their NBA lead with 31 of their 43 baskets being assisted.
The Bulls are unstoppable when they brash the boards, move the ball well, and keep active feet on defense to help, recover, challenge, and occupy space in ways that exponentially shrinks their opponents' halfcourt. Saturday night was another proof of this. Another proof that Thibs is a truly great coach who's effectively sold his system to every player on the roster.
- Butler had a nice night. The rookie dropped eight points on 2-for-4 shooting from the field and got to the line to shoot 4-for-5, along with grabbing five rebounds and covering a ton of space on the defensive end. The short rotation allowed him to log almost 28 minutes, further proving himself as a capable piece to maximize opportunities to rest Deng. He's increasing reason for a fringe "Play Butler More" movement.
- Asik had another 'Ugh' night. I'm a big fan of his aggressiveness, but when he isn't more than a shell of that, it can be aggravating. Starting for Noah, he logged a lot over 33 minutes, failing to completely recover at times. But earlier in his shifts, he was running the floor as well as he did in dominant stints earlier this season and late last season, where he could always beat the opposing offense to the halfcourt, prevent penetration, and clean up all messes on the glass. He only grabbed six rebounds, but logged two blocks, and didn't get manhandled. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap had good nights, but that was largely bad defensive rebounding by Asik and Boozer, targeting Boozer's bad defense, and simply better players being better at times. There's reason for optimism that whatever slowed Omer down is going away, but he isn't playing as big as he needs to play to fully trust again. Hopefully, he's just playing it off.
- How does a team go a full game without a 3-pointer? Only attempting three is a good way to start. That's what Utah did. Odd because they were crashing the boards so well on the offensive end, so what was the fear?
- Keeping Millsap and Jefferson off the line was enormous. Sure, the Bulls gave up 14 offensive boards for the Jazz to get 85 shots up, but the good FT shooters were kept away from freebies. Millsap had four offensive boards and 17 shots to only 4-for-5 at the line; Jefferson took 19 shots without getting to the line at all. Giving up some boards against a frontcourt that'll take full advantage of taking loose ball fouls proved to be a safe trade-off.
The Bulls continue their six-game homestand with a tough stretch in the schedule, hosting the Knicks (18-22) on Monday, the Heat (31-9) on Wednesday, and the Blazers (20-21) on Friday to start a back-to-back that concludes with the pesky 76ers (24-17) on Saturday.
Advanced Box Score via Basketball-Reference.com.