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Bulls 92, Spurs 85: Improved defense, balanced scoring, dominating rebounding?

Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
San Antonio 90.0 94.4 44.9% 19.2 17.8 14.4
Chicago 102.2 43.5% 22.6 29.4 10.0

(more on the 4 factors box score)

The Bulls said all summer that their new version of the team would be one that was improved defensively, and balanced on offense. And tonight it was exactly that.

The defense did look very good in tonight's game, no longer were the Bulls switching every screen, guys were fighting and recovering well instead. And they were spectacular on the defensive glass. The Bulls grabbed over 82% of available defensive rebounds tonight, a superlative number and far better than their mark last year. That was a key weakness to address coming into this season, and as much that was made about effectively 'replacing' Gordon with the Deng in the scoring department, there's no denying the added advantage of Luol back at the 3 when it comes to rebounds. Luol had 9 tonight, and after seeing the lack of lift in the preseason it was really good to see him absolutely fighting for boards. He had a huge one to end the first half that allowed Hinrich to hit an open 3 to put the Bulls up one.

Luol's offense was also good, but it wasn't with any added facets, just with layups and the 22-footer. There were a few possessions where Luol tried to isolate his man, but it's still not his game. That said, with 17 he was the team leader, and as mentioned, this truly was a balanced team scoring load: Hinrich 14, Tyrus 13, Rose 13, Noah 10, Salmons 10, Miller 9, Taj 6.

Derrick Rose had his first action off of injury, and there were times when would finish a play and start to gingerly walk around. But when he had the ball in his hands he was still showing explosiveness off that ankle. And when looking at how he'll improve this season, it's encouraging to see high marks in FTAs and rebounds. He also seemed to be fighting through screens a bit better defensively, and the potential matchup nightmare of Tony Parker only managed 8 points in 34 minutes. It's such a huge part of this early season that Rose isn't set back by this injury and lack of a preseason.

As a team, the Bulls didn't even shoot that well (3-16 from three, yuck), and I thought they'd nearly always have to do so to win games, especially against teams like teams of the Spurs caliber. But they not only completely dominated the rebounding battle, they seemingly got to every loose ball and were more aggressive and active on both ends. Tim Duncan dominated nearly every time he received the ball, but the rest of the Spurs couldn't take advantage, even of matchups I thought they would (Tyrus guarding Jefferson, Deng guarding Manu). They just looked older and less fresh than the Bulls all night.

Perhaps the Bulls won't look so good in those factors every game, but if it's a marked improvement overall from last season, they'll win a lot of games.

Some other observations...

  • Another less important matchup involved the DeJuan Blair envy tour, though this stop had his draft-mate Taj Gibson as the clear winner. Taj was a bit shot-happy and his hands stink, but he was killing it on the glass, and most impressively on the offensive end with Blair in the game. 
  • I don't think I find myself rooting for anyone harder during games than Tyrus Thomas. It was rough being in that mindset early as he had a terrible opening stint to the game. With the Bulls red-hot running and sharing, Tyrus took a clear 'my turn' leaning jumper. He managed to do not much else for 6 minutes until Taj Gibson headed to the scorers table, and almost on cue Tyrus threw a pointless elbow after a rebound, as if he was trying to get out of the game. But he had a fantastic second half, playing the entire 3rd quarter, not only doing what he always should be doing (board, blocks, drawing fouls, etc.), but actually shooting jump shots in rhythm (his attempts not created equal). It's important to see him not stay down after a bad stint, and just as importantly not to see Vinny punish him for one. Tyrus didn't come back in the 4th, but the Spurs stayed small and it's hard to justify putting him in over Hinrich/Salmons/Deng in that situation.
  • Speaking of substitutions, my propers to VDN for a tight rotation. Only 8 guys with significant minutes, plus some Pargo suckage sprinkled in at the end of quarters (likely to give Rose an extra breather). I wasn't really down with the stints of going big with Tyrus as a 3, but even though I think Thomas disappears in that role, Jefferson wasn't able to take advantage on the other end and it kept their monster advantage on the glass. The Spurs sort of did the Bulls a favor as well staying small in the 2nd half, and the Bulls were able to keep in Rose/Hinrich/Salmons/Deng with either Noah or Miller as the sole big, and it was nice to see him not leaving Miller out for super-extended stretches.
  • Some notes from the in-game experience: The opening season video was underwhelming, and I always get a bit irked when they approach that Celtics series as a great victory...Noah nicely addressed the crowd, just another reason he should be considered as a captain...PA Announcer Tommy Edwards was in rare form today, not just missing substitutions but calling Popovich 'George' and Blair 'Dijon'...the halftime act was Michael Jackson themed, which was fine except they went for an uber-creepy MJ impersonator.