My, how things can change over the course of two days. After an early-season controversy about how Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau distributes his minutes—in Monday night’s stunning home loss to Milwaukee, the popular opinion was that the Bulls’ starters played too many minutes—to a dominating performance by the team’s bench on Wednesday, the tenor surrounding the Bulls (7-7) has dramatically changed, following a 101-76 victory over the Mavericks (7-9) at the United Center.
“I’ve been around forever, so I’ve experienced everything you can experience in this league. I’ve been part of expansion teams, I’ve been a part of championship teams, I’ve been part of teams that have dealt with injuries, so it’s all part of an NBA season and how you function, and to me, I don’t want to change the process of what we have in place,” Thibodeau said, foreshadowing his team’s drastic improvement, after the team’s morning shootaround Wednesday at the Berto Center.
“I have the belief that we can get it done, I do, and when you go back and look at all the games this season, we’ve been in position game to win. With the exception of the Clipper game [a blowout defeat on the road], every game was there to be had.”
With both teams playing without an injured superstar—in the case of the visitors, future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki is out indefinitely with knee issues, while point guard Darren Collison missed the contest with a finger injury—and below their usual standards, it was a close-knit affair at the outset, especially because each squad was coming off a gut-wrenching defeat in their previous outing.
Veteran forward Shawn Marion (18 points), a Chicago-area native, got off to quick start for the Mavericks, utilizing his unorthodox and active game, and was complemented by the low-post play of center Chris Kaman, as well as fill-in starter Dominque Jones, who played in place of Collison.
For the Bulls, the tandem of Luol Deng (22 points, six rebounds) and Joakim Noah (13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots) were effective early, but as production from their teammates was virtually nonexistent and Dallas managed to manufacture quality looks on offense, the hosts fell behind.
However, the defensive effort picked up and Deng took it upon himself to carry more of the scoring load, leading the Bulls to go on a 13-4 to close the opening period and overtake their guests en route to a 24-23 score through the end of a quarter.
The Bulls’ much-maligned bench rose to the occasion as the second quarter began, starting with backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli (11 points), mired in a shooting slump all season, got the home crowd excited by knocking down his first shot.
The likes of holdover reserve Taj Gibson (eight points, eight rebounds), instant-offense scorer Nate Robinson (14 points, six assists) and second-year swingman Jimmy Butler (13 points) also got going, helping the hosts extend their lead to double digits.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau rode his second unit, giving him the added benefit of resting his starters after they played the vast majority of the team’s last game, and it resulted in a comfortable winning margin. Defense also remained a constant for the Bulls and at the intermission, they held a 58-42 halftime advantage.
After the break, the Bulls’ dominance persisted, as the team continued to have an outstanding rhythm on offense, leading to quality shots and a gaudy field-goal percentage. Defensively, they put the clamps on the high-scoring and potentially explosive Mavericks, who couldn’t manage much offense outside of Marion’s consistent point production.
As Deng’s scoring and Noah’s interior play propelled the starters, who were buoyed by Robinson’s energy off the bench, the Bulls kept a steady grip on their ever-growing winning margin.
Solid play from Butler, Belinelli and Gibson ensured that they kept rolling and heading into the final stanza, the hosts were ahead, 77-58.
Unlike their last outing, the Bulls didn’t let up as the contest waned on, maintaining both their focus and stranglehold on the contest as the fourth quarter opened. Thibodeau rode his productive second unit, led by Robinson—the diminutive point guard was the catalyst with his electric blend of scoring and playmaking—and Butler, who was effective in transition and as a slasher.
When Deng, the league’s minutes-per-game leader, finally exited the game, it became evident that the Bulls would coast, but upon the entrance of seldom-used backups like rookie Marquis Teague and veteran forward Vladimir Radmanovic, it was official.
If the Bulls loyalists were disgruntled prior to the contest, they certainly got their money’s worth—and then some—as backup center Nazr Mohammed’s follow-up dunk in the final seconds put them over the century mark, giving them free Big Macs to go along with the win.
“It’s the NBA, so if you win by a lot or you lose by a lot, you’ve got to get ready for the next game. So, your approach can’t change,” Thibodeau said in the morning, before launching into a critique of the media that seems apt after the victory.
“Well, you guys have got to pick your week. Last week, I wasn’t playing the starters enough. Now, I’m playing them too much. I just try to stay consistent. The important thing is to study the team, study each game, get ready for the next one, try to keep the team moving in the right direction and you don’t want to get too high, you don’t want to get too low. You just want to study, get better, improve.”
, Elton Brand
, Eastern Conference
, Tom Thibodeau
, Derrick Rose
, Luol Deng
, Chicago Bulls
, Joakim Noah
, Taj Gibson
, Kirk Hinrich
, Vladimir Radmanovic
, Dallas Mavericks
, OJ Mayo
, Nate Robinson
, richard hamilton
, Marco Belinelli
, vince carter
, Troy Murphy
, carlos boozer
, western conference
, rick carlisle
, chris kaman
, Dominique Jones
, Nazr Mohammed
, Dahntay Jones
, Shawn Marion
, Jimmy Butler
, Rodrigue Beaubois
, Marquis Teague
, Jared Cunningham
, Jae Crowder
, Bernard James
, Bradan Wright