After a pretty depressing showing against Atlanta, the Bulls needed to come out of the gates proving tonight would be different. They instead did the opposite, as halfway through the first they were down 24-5. The Bulls were missing everything they threw up, including several layups, while the Mavs were on fire, either pulling up in transition or abusing the Bulls down low.
But while anyone could assume the deficit wouldn't stay that severe considering how early it was in the game, the way the Bulls looked did not suggest they'd not only lead at the half, but eventually build a 17 point lead of their own.
I'll single out 4 real stars of tonight:
Ben Gordon kept the Bulls in that game with 19 first half points, finishing with 35 in nearly 42 minutes. And it wasn't a 3-point barrage, as he was only 2-3 from that range, and between points 6 and 28 not a single was from a 3-pointer. He was living in the paint, finishing and getting fouled (9-10 from the line). Not just a shooter, but an absolute scoring machine. He is having a fantastic start to this season. Damnit, pay this man!
Luol Deng started off slow (the plan seems to be running plays for him to start games, and the results haven't been great) but really turned it on, and while I'm sure we won't hear the last of him being soft, he certainly didn't look it on successive drives to end that half, getting 16 of his 20 points. What was really surprising was after having a tough time staying with Josh Howard early (almost embarrassingly so), he was put on Dirk and did a fantastic job. It worked the way Steven Jackson was able to guard him in that famous Mavs-Warriors playoff series, and a credit to Luol in stepping up to that challenge.
Tyrus Thomas didn't start, but was the first big off the bench (kudos to Vinny on that one) when Noah was banished. And I thought that while his numbers (8pts/rebs in 33 minutes) weren't that spectacular, he had a great overall game and was instrumental getting the Bulls out of that early hole. 2 blocks and 2 steals, and was all over the place tracking down loose balls. And with Tyrus isn't not just the type of hustle that's flailing for the cameras, he's so damned long and quick that he can really snag loose balls that others simply can't. He did start the second half guarding Josh Howard (so Deng could take Nowitzki) and held his own there. On offense, had several dunks (it's been a while), and only took one jump shot...a part of his game that we'll eventually have to see again, but it was a good confidence-builder that he was able to do everything else to help the team, and in general just looked like he was ready to go right when he entered the game.
Derrick Rose had the worst half of his young career, ending the first with 2 points and missing several layup attempts that we've gotten accustomed, almost unfairly, to seeing converted. But after a fantastic second, he finished with 16 points, 9 boards, 6 assists and not a single turnover in 42 minutes. Just unbelievable. After this and the preseason game he dominated, it's clear that the Mavs have no answer for him. Kidd obviously can't hang with him on the defensive end, and they have no true backup PG to chase him around, so the Mavs had to rely on bigger players like Jason Terry and Antoine Wright...and especially with his mid-range jumper working Rose was unstoppable even when those defenders played off of him.
If those 4 always played like they did tonight...now that's a core.
Some other notes:
- I mentioned the banishment of Noah earlier, he played the first 4 minutes of the game and never returned. I don't think that's entirely fair to him (I mean, he could've come back for at least a stretch in the 2nd half) but he did indeed do nothing in his time outside of two fouls, and just to show how poor the team's start was, they were a -15 in those 4 minutes.
- Well it didn't take long for Larry Hughes to remind me (no matter his fancy under-suit for his shoulder disguise) why he sucks. Missed all 4 shots (leaning jumpers, naturally) in the first half. However he did hit two big shots to boost the lead in the second half, a sequence that also included a steal. Hey, if Larry Hughes is only here to take Thabo's dozen minutes a game as a backup guard, I can live with it. It's when he becomes a high-minute player that the lack of efficiency starts to drag down everyone around him. So I'll still stay scared of that. Even with Hughes' return and the signing of Lindsey Hunter (who didn't play), Rose still played over 40 minutes again...so there are minutes to be had. I guess...we'll just have to watch those minutes with eyes partially covered.
- Vinny tried his best to blow this game at the end, keeping in Nocioni the final 13 minutes of the game (first with Tyrus as the center, and then subbing out Tyrus before him), even though he had absolutely nothing. I have the feeling VDN was doing the typical coach thing and trusting his veterans to hold onto a lead like grim death, but Noc is the type of player who can lose you a game, especially in one game like tonight where he can't hit shots (0-5). Because beyond that it's about securing rebounds and being smart on both ends...not exactly Nocioni qualities. I mean, good on him for the effort (and he did stick to drives when the shot wasn't working), but I have to hold him accountable for his ways of seducing coaches (and a lot of fans) to the point where he's getting 28 minutes even when really terrible. Maybe it's the hair.
- Luckily, the Mavs had no interest in capitalizing, as they only scored 7 points in the final 4 and a half minutes, while the Bulls scored ZERO. They looked so concerned with running clock that they couldn't even get decent shots...on a night where just giving Rose or Gordon the ball and clearing out would've been enough for at least a foul. Honestly, if the Mavs weren't so cold themselves (including Dirk absolutely blowing easy shots in the lane) these past two bullet points could've became the lead for the recap.
- And the worst part about those last 4.5 minutes was that it was stuck at 98 points...so every possession included the lame Bulls crowd gasping at the lost chance of a free Big Mac. And when the home team had the ball with under a shot-clock to go, they rightly dribbled out the clock, secured a pretty amazing and thorough come-from-behind victory...and were serenaded with boos because of the loss of free food. Hopefully the guys on the court have a sense of humor about it, because they should know they deserved a great ovation for how they performed tonight.