Yeah, I stayed in on a Friday night to watch the Bulls play the 76ers. I'm not sure if that's dedication or just plain sad, but I'm not ashamed, damn it. Anyway, the Bulls did what they did the last two games against crappy East teams: Play to the competition but end up pulling out a win. This one was a little TOO close for comfort, as Chicago nearly blew an 18-point fourth-quarter lead before eking out a 118-115 win. The win was the Bulls' fourth straight and they're now 5-1 on the season.
The Bulls' offense got off to a hot start (and stayed mostly hot), with Jimmy Butler again going to work with Derrick Rose out of the lineup due his ankle(s) injury. Butler scored 13 points in the first quarter, but the problem was the defense wasn't able to stop what had been an impotent Sixers team that entered the game with an offensive rating just over 90. Philly, and especially Tony Wroten, killed the Bulls with dribble penetration, which led to way too many good looks.
That dribble penetration also forced rotations that got the Bulls out of position for defensive rebounds, and the trend of them sucking on the defensive glass continued. The Sixers grabbed 11 of their 17 offensive rebounds in the first half, and that was also aided by that fact that Joakim Noah could barely jump when going for rebounds. Noah was clearly limited physically, which allowed the athletic Sixers to take advantage.
The Bulls somehow found themselves trailing by nine points in the second quarter after a rather disastrous stint by the bench unit, but at no point did I have any concerns about losing the game. Sure enough, Chicago reeled in Philly by halftime thanks to some rather Sixer-y play. Alexey Shved bricked two free throws that could have put the Sixers up five, and on the other end, Mike Dunleavy scored and Noah was pushed in the back for an and-1.
The third quarter was more of what you would expect. The Bulls got whatever they wanted on offense, and Dunleavy took advantage. Dunleavy scored 12 of his team-high 27 points in the third quarter, including three three-pointers. Chicago scored 35 points in the quarter and Philly finally regressed to the mean offensively, and the Bulls took a 16-point advantage into the final frame.
The Bulls led by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter, and it looked like the starters were going to get a nice break on the first night of a back-to-back. NOPE. The Sixers clawed their way back into the game, and Tom Thibodeau went back to the starters midway through the quarter. But not even the starters could put the game away, and Philly trimmed the deficit all the way down to one before falling just short. The Sixers scored 39 points in the fourth quarter, which is just ridiculous.
The close game forced Butler to play 40 minutes, which isn't ideal on the first night of a back-to-back, especially considering the opponent. He did play another superb all-around game, scoring 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting while also dishing out five assists as he continues to show his improvement as a shot creator. Pau Gasol notched his fourth double-double in five games with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Bulls shot 51.3 percent overall and 12-of-24 from three, so that was pretty great, although the 17 turnovers weren't so great.
On the negative side, the defense and rebounding really sucked (outrebounded for fifth straight game), and Kirk Hinrich had his first real WTF KIRK game of the season. Hinrich was torched by Wroten all game long to the tune of 31 points, and Kirk's offense was mostly a disaster as well. I do like it when Hinrich is more aggressive and not simply "running the offense," but he was too much of the offense at times and also missed some really open shots. Hinrich led the team with seven assists, but he shot just 3-of-12 and turned it over five times, with one especially awful late turnover. He also choked on two late free throws before coming back to hit two in the final seconds.
The bench saw some decent individual performances from Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott, but the unit was pretty brutal as a whole. Nikola Mirotic had an especially unmemorable performance, scoring just one point in eight minutes of play. The fact that Mirotic only got eight minutes against a bad Sixers team isn't a great sign, and while his poor play likely contributed to the low minutes, it also could be a norm with the other three bigs playing.
And finally, Noah was tough to watch. He fought hard to grab a couple offensive rebounds, but for the most part, he was a non-factor on both ends of the floor. The Sixers scored 48 points in the paint, and that just doesn't happen if Noah is his usual self. I don't know if the Bulls should just go to the Rose Plan with Noah at this point, but maybe he just needs to play through his struggles. Jo has a habit of starting seasons slow, so this could just be that. Hopefully he turns it around sooner rather than later.
The Bulls finish up their four-in-five-game stretch against the Celtics tomorrow night at the United Center. Thank God the schedule makers gave the Bulls some easier opponents during this stretch, otherwise they'd likely have a few more losses.