Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Bulls had a huge 2nd quarter where they outscored the Bucks 32-18, and where Nate Robinson continued his great play lately with 16 of his game-high 24 in that quarter. It's where they had their largest lead of the night (20) punctuated with a rare (these days) Nate dunk. The Bulls never really looked back in the second half in a 104-88 win.
Once again it was the bench that really sparked the effort. The 2010-12 Bench Mob may have been a uniquely productive 5-man unit, but it's more of a luxury especially exhibited in the regular season. The play lately of reserves Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, and Taj Gibson has been just as fantastic. It's still to be determined when Rose comes back how much Nate will play, or if the lack of a 4th big will hurt them (Nazr's only attempt tonight was a 6-footer that went 4 feet), but those three have already won the Bulls a lot of games this season and could be a huge boost in the playoff rotation.
Gibson was actually the starter tonight, as Carlos Boozer's streak of 123 consecutive starts was halted with a hamstring injury. He immediately went after Ersan Ilyasova for 6 points in the opening quarter, and added a couple of powerful dunks during the Bulls second quarter run. Taj was also part of the Bulls total domination in the paint and getting 36% of their own misses. Taj had 5 of his 9 rebounds come on the offensive glass, Joakim Noah had 12 total rebounds, and Luol Deng had his season-high in that department with 13 of his own. Though Boozer was out, the Bucks playing small (and their own starting center Larry Sanders being out) allowed for Deng to play some PF and 40 minutes overall.
Playing Luol in that way also meant more Jimmy Butler time. And Butler at this rate...I believe he'll be the best player in the NBA by May. His sustained great play has been that impressive (ok, maybe All-NBA 3rd team?) as he had 18 points in 27 minutes on 8-12 shooting. A couple of those misses were with the shot-clock expiring, making a night where he both hit a three-pointer and had a fantastic finish on a lob (! the Bulls completed a lob pass !) look even more impressive.
And the defense with that lineup was hellacious . The Bucks played right into it with their version of Boylan-ball (basically: "roll it out there fellas!") which produced tons of rushed shots and horrible turnovers (18 on the night). It was also work by the Bulls to apply consistent pressure and get them to further embrace that disjointed style of play. [Maybe playing the night before was a way for them to show a lack of focus as well.] It was personified by the frustration Brandon Jennings exhibited in being sick of Nate Robinson and getting himself tossed after arguing with the officials. Nate later hit a long 3-pointer in what was his night, and I'm sure a long time beforehand he didn't let Jennings hear the end of it.
The Bucks did show some fight, or at least some luck, in trimming the second half deficit to 7 behind 3-point shooting (6-14), the traditional 3-point plays with some guard penetration, and their own offensive rebounding prowess. They didn't match the Bulls in that department, but Sam Dalembert was a surprisingly good fill-in for Sanders and had 6 offensive boards on his own. But just likehow their offense was loose, their defense was a lot of flopping instead of fundamentals (or size) and they never really threatened the Bulls, especially after they put their bench guys back in the game.