Believe it or not, the Bulls and Hornets have already played each other three times this season. Or another way to put it: nearly 18 percent of the Bulls' total games played this season have come against Charlotte. One of those weird scheduling quirks, but if you'll recall, the Bulls had a similar thing where they played the Nets three times in the span of a month early on last season. But enough about scheduling oddities. As for the actual game tonight, it had the usual dose frustration which culminated in the form of a 102-96 loss.
BUT, I think we could probably take more positives than negatives from this game on the whole, which we'll get to.
Things opened up pretty sluggishly for the Bulls. Although, I would mention, I did like them going to Derrick Rose in the post on the first play of the game. Nice little wrinkle there. But throughout the quarter, the floor spacing was relatively unimpressive. We did see a little of Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic, though. Something we'd only seen used 50 minutes total entering tonight, per NBA.com.
Pace and efficiency picked up in the second quarter, though. The Bulls were looking to backdoor ad nauseam, and they found some success with that. Jimmy Butler got it going a bit through crisp cuts and brute strength. Rose hit a couple 3s, and as we all know that pretty much never happens. Overall for the first half, I thought the Bulls ran some effective stuff and simply lacked execution on maybe three or four layups, and maybe a handful of possessions total.
On defense, I think the Bulls are really well-coached. They're a cohesive unit that doesn't have to expend too much energy to get stops. They rotate, they play 5-as-1. And above all else, it's a group that knows how to follow a game plan. Tonight, for example, it became pretty apparent that the Bulls would live with Spencer Hawes, Frank Kaminsky or Marvin Williams shooting. Now, it's certainly debatable as to how wise a strategy that is considering the Hawes / Kaminsky duo went a combined 5-5 in the game Charlotte hung 130 on the Bulls. But hey, it worked pretty well tonight! The trio went 4-13 on the evening.
Then we got to the second half and Rose shot out like a cannon. I couldn't even pay attention to all the other stuff going on because I was mesmerized by Rose. Sure, him knocking down a few 3s probably helps things a lot in terms of his overall confidence and how teams guard him, but Rose was in attack mode. Derrick found a rhythm which we haven't seen him hit in quite some time. He controlled pick-and-roll with both the pass and the drive. Just really, really encouraging stuff.
Down the stretch, though, the Hornets ended up pulling away. Nicolas Batum -- aside from a couple head-scratching shots -- was really, really good tonight. Charlotte shot 34 3-pointers in total, which goes to show how quickly some teams can embrace the 3-point revolution era that we're living in. Kemba Walker hit the dagger on -- you guessed it -- a stepback jumper with Nikola Mirotic guarding him. On that play, I was a little confused as to why Mirotic switched onto Walker. Rose got through the initial screening action fairly easily, and the play didn't develop fast enough to force Mirotic to slide out on Walker -- so I'm not sure if there was a communication breakdown or what happened there. But basically, a switch wasn't absolutely necessary.
And that Walker dagger was off the heels of a Jimmy Butler 3-pointer that just rattled out, making things sting just a tad more. But in better news, Rose and Butler completely carried the Bulls tonight, and without them this game probably would've resembled that aforementioned 25-point blowout. I suppose one can view those strong individual performances in one of two ways 1) Rose and Butler playing well, simultaneously, is a good sign regardless of result. 2) If they played really well together then how the hell did the team end up losing? Shouldn't impressive Rose and Butler performances carry the Bulls to victory over the likes of a Charlotte? (I don't know the answer to that, just posing the question.)
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point of a few other notes. First of all, Doug McDermott has come a really long way on both ends of the floor and most definitely belongs on a professional basketball court. McDermott saw 33 minutes tonight to Tony Snell's 12, and rightfully so. Secondly, Pau Gasol played the role of a rim-protector tonight, and it should be recognized as such. It doesn't happen often.
Other than that, yeah, it's obviously not great to lose again to Charlotte. Is Charlotte a playoff team? Most likely. Are they improved? Most definitely. Are they a team the Bulls should be beating when Rose and Butler play as well as they did? Probably? I'm just not sure.
I wouldn't categorize this as one of those horri-awful-painful losses the Bulls tend to bring us from time-to-time. No loss is good, and this is no exception. But I can't help but leave this one feeling pretty good considering Rose hit a level we don't often see him at, Butler was awesome and McDermott looking like a legit NBA talent.