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A different kind of statement? Bulls stumble on road in Noah's return

Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Chicago 98.0 115.3 47.7% 34.5 37.2 13.3
Toronto 120.4 58.1% 43.2 16.7 15.3

This has not a great road team, and while it was wonderful seeing Noah back out there we could've assumed it'd take some adjustment from both him and his mates. Perhaps best exemplified by a late possession where he and Rose botched the inbounds, Noah showed plenty of rust in his re-debut. Though he did have an astounding 10 rebounds in his opening stint, there were late rotations and rushed finishes that should come back in time.

The unusually lapse-filled D from Noah was similarly occurring throughout the team tonight, with (who else?) Carlos Boozer being the main culprit. Booz started out well overpowering the Raptors on offense, and the way he and Noah dominated inside early it looked like it would be a game where the Raps (who played the night before, mind you) would give up early and the Bulls could push the pace and pour it on. But the Raptors athletes (and we now can add James Johnson to that mix, and he had a decent game starting and with 26 minutes (!) while also doing some usual bad JJ things) were able to put the pressure on the Bulls to consistently rotate, and it wasn't there.

It doesn't help that the Bulls lineups often feature the likes of Boozer, Korver, and Kurt Thomas, decidedly non-athletic players. It's technically the best shooting night the Bulls have given up all season, so I wouldn't say it's the start of any worrisome trend. But there is a lingering concern that maybe our 'league leading' defense is a bit of a mirage, after beating up on some bad offenses and playing harder than most on a given night. Will they hold up in a series against the Celtics and the Heat? It's wonderful to even have that as a concern (meaning they'd be contemporaries), but I see Kyle Korver get torched by Barbosa and DeRozan and can't imagine him lasting on the court much during either series with the wings those Eastern powers have. Might have been a night for Ronnie Brewer to be a part of that final stint, he produced far more tonight and had a pretty impressive 3-steals-in-4-possessions stretch in the 2nd quarter. (shout-out to CJ Watson as well, who as usual was alright by me)

But it's rare when Thibs subs by matchup situation, except to bench Boozer once in a while. And tonight's near-DNP of Omer Asik (30 seconds to make sure Boozer didn't get a foul at the end of the half) shows that. Against an athletic team like the Raptors, Kurt Thomas really has no place, and Asik needed to play. But whether Asik would've helped tonight or not, the idea of burying him simply because Noah returned, especially in Noah's first game back (as he isn't getting his full allotment yet) is a big red flag for the rest of the season. Not only has Asik proven he can be a real, consistent defensive force and rebounder, him playing gets him ready for the playoff rotation. Kurt Thomas is ready for the playoff rotation whether it is now or 1999. If anything, him playing 20+ minutes a night will only hurt (perhaps literally) his chances of being a factor come April.

(it also factors into Thursday afternoon's trade deadline. If Asik is truly that low on the depth chart can he really be considered untouchable? A playmaking SG that can start right now may be worth it if we're thinking title this season [and that's a bigger question.] Asik not playing not only diminishes his possible contributions this season but his trade value as well. Meanwhile, I thought his brother-in-trade-assets Taj Gibson had a pretty poor night, missing approximately 12 shots at the rim)

And, despite all this hand-wringing over the defense and the role players, Derrick Rose nearly single-handedly led the Bulls to victory with a brilliant stretch in the 4th quarter. And doing it by his lonesome would've been appropriate, as I thought he did a pretty poor job (especially early) running the offense. But when he saw the Raptors still hanging on (and before that final flurry, pretty far ahead) he tried to do everything himself and nearly succeeded. An astonishing 14-16 from the line, getting his final points total to 32 on 22 total shots. But his last two forays to the rim were unsuccessful and the Bulls found themselves down 5 with under a minute left, where that final Rose/Noah botched play sealed the loss.

They'll likely get re-acclimated just fine, but the team defense (and Asik's minutes to that effect) is something to watch. So is the trade deadline tomorrow afternoon. And so is who's coming to the United Center that night: the Miami Heat.