The Bulls defeated the Warriors 94-87 to run their winning streak on TNT’s Thursday night games up to 18. Even more unbelievably, they handed Golden State their first back-to-back loss in 146 regular season games. The first game of Kevin Durant’s absence will undoubtedly be the big story in Golden State’s locker room, but the Bulls earned an impressive victory over a far more talented team.
With Durant out nursing a Grade 2 MCL sprain, the spotlight once again fell onto Golden State’s Splash Bros, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The two got plenty of shots off early and often, but neither could find a way to convert from beyond the arc. They finished a combined 3/22 from distance with plenty of open looks courtesy of a scrambling Chicago defense. The Bulls kept surviving and did enough on the opposite end to earn the win.
Jimmy Butler led the way with 22 points, six assists, five rebounds, and four steals. He overpowered smaller Warriors’ defenders on several possessions, taking advantage of Golden State’s sudden lack of size sans Durant. When the Dubs began sending double teams his way in the second half, Butler did a great job making the right pass to coax the Bulls into the open shooter.
Rajon Rondo was a key factor in that third quarter stretch after somewhat amazingly picking up three fouls and three turnovers off the bench in the first quarter. Rondo came alive as soon as Golden State began double-teaming Butler, notching eight points and three assists in the period as the Bulls took control of the game’s momentum.
Even on an off shooting night for Curry and Thompson, the Bulls needed contributions from top-to-bottom to hold off the 50-11 Warriors. Paul Zipser shined in his return from ankle tendonitis, drilling 4/5 shots for nine points in 23 key minutes—including an absolute dagger of a three pointer at the shot clock buzzer with under two minutes to play. Zipser has a long way to go as an NBA player, but holding his own in a successful closing lineup against Golden State is a great piece of development.
Speaking of development, Bobby Portis had perhaps the finest game of his young NBA career. He was a beast in the first half, tallying 14 points and six boards to lead all scorers going into the break. He finished with a double-double and minimized on defensive miscues, posting a game-high +22 overall. Portis has a huge opportunity with Taj Gibson out of the picture; more games like this would be quite encouraging.
The Bulls did a good job scrapping together successful possessions against a legitimately bruising Warriors’ defense. Even without Durant, Steve Kerr has an amazing arsenal of defensive talent at his whims. Golden State forced six turnovers in a sloppy quarter for the Bulls, but only nine more after that. The Bulls gave Butler the rock and he did well to take care of it on an off-night for Wade.
Ultimately the Bulls only won this game because Curry and Thompson just could not make an open three. It was actually kind of incredible watching Thompson’s wide open looks rim out again and again. It was the opposite of a sustainable defensive performance, but that’s why they play the games. Three pointers inherently come with a high degree of variance; tonight the Bulls were surprisingly the benefactors.