The Bulls' second unit had been really struggling in the preseason prior to Sunday night's game against the Hornets, but it was that group that led the way in a 101-96 victory. The victory was marred somewhat by a sprained left thumb for Jimmy Butler, who suffered the injury when going for a steal late in the first quarter:
Thibodeau says Butler is "day-to-day" with his left thumb sprain. Needs to see doctor tonight still— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) October 20, 2014
Kirk Hinrich turned back the clock with a 26-point effort on a scorching 11-of-14 shooting. Hinrich entered the game shooting just a shade under 26 percent in the preseason, so he was due for a good outing. But I certainly didn't expect something like this. I can't remember the last time he's made so many jumpers off the dribble, and he also knocked down some clutch jumpers in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls also got a strong effort from Hinrich's backcourt partner, Aaron Brooks. Like Hinrich, Brooks had been really struggling the last few games, but he played well in both a scoring and set-up role against Charlotte. Brooks finished the game with 13 points and three assists in just 15 minutes.
There were other nice contributions off the bench. Doug McDermott knocked down a three and had seven points. Nikola Mirotic only had two points, but he was super active and recorded three steals. Mirotic has surprisingly shown a bit of a propensity to get steals this preseason, as he now has nine. And then there was Taj Gibson (notice the Mirotic dime):
The reserves showed some signs of breaking in the fourth quarter after the Hornets trimmed a 13-point deficit to just three midway through the frame, and Tom Thibodeau went back to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to close the game out. Gibson stuck with them for a few minutes, but he was replaced by Pau Gasol with just under five minutes to go. Gibson saw the floor for key defensive possessions after dead balls, so it appears Thibs will smartly try and utilize both players down the stretch. Still, it also looks like Gasol may get the bulk of those closing minutes, and it'll be a situation to monitor.
The Hornets never went away, continuing to fight back even after Hinrich appeared to knock them out late in the fourth. With the lead trimmed to one, Rose knocked down a clutch jumper with just over a minute left, moments after he had a shot blocked at the rim that led to a Hornets bucket in transition. The Hornets had a chance to tie the game in the final minutes, but Gary Neal bricked a bad three and Rose sealed the game at the line.
Rose finished the game with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting in 28 minutes. Both those totals were highs for the preseason, and it was definitely nice to see him out there closing the game. I guess we don't have to worry anymore, right? The jumper remains a serious work in progress, though.
Gasol recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He wasn't shy about pulling the trigger early in the game, and that led to some ugly shots. But there was also a corner three and a few nifty sweeping hooks, and hopefully his efficiency will come around a bit more.
The Bulls have now won four preseason games in a row after losing the first two. They have another one tomorrow night against...Cleveland. Because it's a preseason back-to-back, it'll be interesting to see how much the regulars play, especially considering the opponent. At the very least, I would have to assume Butler won't play.