ABC/ESPN made an interesting call with their national telecast in adding former referee Steve Javie, thus having not only a focus on officiating throughout the game but forcing long discussions of the '3rd team' while the action on the floor went on. And really, I suppose the kind of 'action' this game produced is one you'd want to try a new concept on. This was definitely not the matchup the league anticipated when the schedule was released, with not only marquee stars missing but plenty of others as well. The Lakers had Steve Nash return recently, but were missing several of their usual wing options (often going 3 PGs with Nash+Steve Blake+Kendall Marshall). And with the Bulls having an injured Carlos Boozer, their bench bigs consisted of Nazr Mohammed and nobody else.
And then it was made worse by Nash actually being forced to exit the game in the 3rd quarter after bumping knees with Kirk Hinrich. All part of Hinrich's master plan of making himself look good while ruining entertainment value for all involved, I guess. Hinrich bizarrely plays well on national TV and maybe-less-bizarrely well against the Lakers, and today was a continuance of that: he led the Bulls to a fast start (season-best 34 point first quarter on 58% shooting) and finished with 18 points on 13 shots, plus 5 assists. Hinrich also had 3 steals and led the Bulls in that category (13 overall) as they often made life difficult for the remaining Laker guards.
(And though Hinrich was reportedly on a 20-25 minutes restriction, he played a lot of SG alongside DJ Augustin and finished with over 28 minutes. Bulls were +18 in those minutes, by the way.)
It's also helpful to Hinrich and the rest of the Bulls that the Lakers defense is pretty terrible. Make all the D'Antoni jokes you wish, but hell I still wish the Bulls hired (paid for) him in 2007. And that group he has now is pretty terrible up and down the roster, even when compared to the depleted Bulls. As an interesting aside he does share with Thibodeau an ability to take scrap-heap PGs and get good production out of them, as Kendall Marshall had 13 points on 5-6 shooting, just short of DJ Augustin's 15 points but a much more efficient game going with 11 assists (to DJ's 6).
It was part of a big bench performance from the Lakers, as while the Bulls had very good starts to both halves they never were able to blow them out. Chris Kaman was a huge (and random) contributor for LA, with a game high 27 points. He's the type of size+skill combination that can give Noah trouble sometimes. That said, the Bulls inside players were still very good, even if it was literally just Noah and Taj Gibson. Gibson was the strong starter of the two, with 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter. Noah finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, with some huge plays in the 4th quarter even after being left in to play with 5 fouls.They also dominated the defensive glass at over 84% of available rebounds, and the Lakers didn't have a single offensive rebound in the first half.
The dominance of Taj and Noah led the Lakers to play a more conventional big-man tandem instead of their usual stretch options, and as mentioned it did some damage. Combining that with some fatigue perhaps affected the Bulls as they started very slow in the 4th (9 points through 10 minutes) and saw their lead dwindle to 4 very late in a game they once had a 17-point lead in. The Bulls did hold on, and wound up leading the entire way. Chicago finished a surprising 3-3 on their road trip, with now just two home games before the All-Star break.