The Bulls quite literally ran the Brooklyn Nets out of their own gym Monday night. Chicago dominated the game from the opening tip and never let their intensity waiver en route to a 118-88 victory in the Barclays Center.
The starting lineup set an impressive tone in the first quarter by constantly pushing the ball past half court in the first three seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls were able to generate loads of easy buckets simply by beating the Nets down the floor for semi-transition opportunities. Credit Rajon Rondo, who kept his eyes down court every time he received the outlet pass after a rebound.
It wasn’t just the perimeter athletes aggressively running the floor. Taj Gibson continued his excellent play to start the season by scoring 14 points on 7/9 shooting. Several of Gibson’s buckets were a direct result of running the floor alongside Rajon Rondo, who found him for with nifty passes as he slipped to the rim. Gibson also set some beautiful drag screens in the first quarter that allowed the Bulls to create mismatches early in the shot clock.
The Bulls played incredibly unselfishly all night. The ball was zipping around the court, keeping the Nets defense off balance and opening up driving and cutting lanes that resulted in a night of easy buckets. While Rondo, Wade, and Butler were responsible for much of the excellent ball movement, their willingness to always make the right play was contagious up and down the roster. McDermott, Mirotic and Canaan combined for 12 assists off the bench. My personal favorite dime of the night came from Ricky O’Donnell’s large adult son in the second quarter.
The Bulls continued their hot shooting from three point range in this game, making 40.7% of their attempts from beyond the arc. Butler knocked down a couple of catch and shoot triples early in the game, and the shooters off the bench kept up the barrage all night. McDermott was one of the only Bulls not to hit a three Monday, missing a couple of wide open attempts that are usually automatic for him.
I really enjoyed Fred Hoiberg’s rotations in this game. He found minutes for all three of the alphas to quarterback the offense and managed to keep a solid balance of shooting and defense on the floor at all times. With each passing game, it seems that a lot of the frustrations I had with Hoiberg’s lineup choices last year may have had more to do with the egos he had to manage off the court.
I also found myself feeling bad for Brook Lopez in this game. The Nets are atrocious, perhaps the worst team in the entire league, and the prime of Lopez’s career is being wasted with this sad collection of teammates. A handful of times Lopez flashed some impressive footwork in the post and was able to fool both Taj Gibson and his brother with savvy head fakes and hesitation moves. Free Brook Lopez.
I don’t want to get too optimistic based on this one blowout victory, but it’s hard not to be excited. The Nets are terrible, but this is what good teams do against the cellar dwellers of the league. They built up a huge lead and never took their foot off the gas pedal; the entire second half was garbage time. They played with passion, energy, and through three games, they seem to genuinely enjoy playing with each other. Of course, things are always free and easy when the ball is going through the basket, and we’ll know the true merit of this team when they hit an inevitable cold streak over the next 79 games. But so far, so good.