The Chicago Bulls won their 19th game of the season, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-92 at the United Center.
Coming into the game, the Bulls had actually been struggling at home, and a loss to the lowly Cavs would have dropped Chicago's home record to a disappointing 9-9. It wasn't to be, though, as the Bulls crashed the boards and dominated the paint en route to the decisive 26-point victory.
The win was the Bulls' third victory against the Cavs this year and their 11th straight overall.
Carlos Boozer stayed hot for Chicago, leading the team with 24 points. And as usual, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson punished a shorthanded Cleveland front line that was missing Anderson Varejao for the 10th straight game.
The bench was brilliant, the bigs outrebounded the Cavs 47-31 and a handful of Bulls guards combined to hold Kyrie Irving to 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
There was a lot to like about the Bulls in this one, and there are plenty of well-earned high grades to dole out after an excellent effort.
Kirk Hinrich: B
Kirk Hinrich played just 20 minutes, but he shot the ball efficiently, defended with great discipline and generally turned in a solid effort.
He totaled just six points on 2-of-4 shooting, but both of his buckets were three-pointers. Despite the low overall totals, the Bulls' bespectacled point guard deserves credit for continuing to shoot the ball at a very high rate of accuracy.
Especially from long range.
Kirk Hinrich has shot 20/44 (45.5%) from 3 since December 1st.— Jake #TeamBulls (@BullsBlog) January 8, 2013
Sure, the box score is unspectacular, but Hinrich gave the Bulls exactly what they needed on the defensive end and didn't take anything off of the table in the process.
Richard Hamilton: C-
Somebody's got to absorb a less-than-stellar grade in this one, and Rip Hamilton is the unlucky "winner" of that honor.
The Bulls' shooting guard scored eight points on 3-of-7 shooting. He added three assists and two rebounds in 21 minutes.
Not exactly inspiring stuff, right?
Considering how well both Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson played in relief, it's getting really hard to justify Hamilton's continued presence in the starting lineup.
And don't try to pick out the high points of Hamilton's season, it'll only jinx things.
Richard Hamilton has only missed 3 free throws this year. Shooting around 94%— Thomas Gordon (@_TommyGunn) January 8, 2013
He missed a pair in this one.
Sorry, Rip. You just didn't impress us.
Luol Deng: A
Coming off a season-low six points against the Miami Heat on Jan. 4, Luol Deng must have been happy to see the Cleveland Cavaliers on the schedule. In his past four games against the Cavs, Deng has averaged 20.3 points on 63 percent shooting.
Consider that trend ongoing.
After a slow start to the game (Deng made just two of his first six shots), the veteran went into the post and did some work against Cleveland's smaller wings.
Things that do not work: Dion Waiters guarding Luol Deng in the post.— Bulls 101 (@Bulls_101) January 8, 2013
On the defensive end, Deng took advantage of Cleveland's inexperienced perimeter players from the get-go, preying on the lazy offerings of Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles by swooping into the passing lanes for three first-half steals.
Thanks in large part to Deng, the Bulls generated 12 points off of turnovers.
Chicago's small forward put together an excellent all-around game against Cleveland, totaling 19 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in 38 minutes.
Carlos Boozer: A-
After putting up a combined 58 points and 23 rebounds over the best two-game stretch of his season, Carlos Boozer tallied 24 points, and 11 rebounds and four assists. As Bulls TV commentator Stacy King said before the game, "He was on Booze control."
Carlos Boozer has recorded five straight double-doubles.— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) January 8, 2013
The former Cleveland Cavalier was certainly aggressive early, as he clearly sought to keep his run of good play going. And while Boozer didn't exactly match the excellence of his two most recent games, his production is nothing to be ashamed of.
The only reason he misses out on a solid "A" is his shooting percentage. Against the Cavs' soft interior defense, Boozer should have been able to get his buckets a bit more efficiently. That's nitpicking, of course, but based on how Chicago fans have been riding him all year, he should be used to it.
Joakim Noah: A-
The box score looks nice, but Noah's real impact came in the energy department.
Big surprise there.
Joakim Noah's hands on ball defensively everywhere in early going vs. CLE: 2 blocks + messed w. Gee's rhythm on drive, cpl more.— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) January 8, 2013
Noah finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Best of all, he didn't have to play upwards of 40 minutes.
Chicago's center came into this game with the NBA's third-highest minutes-per-game average. If he's going to make it through the season, Noah is going to need the Bulls to take care of business more often against teams like the Cavs.
Thanks to a 35-22 Bulls advantage in the third quarter, Noah hardly had to play in the final period. It may not seem like much, but 32 minutes probably felt like a vacation for the poor guy; he's averaging 39.
Like we did with his frontcourt teammate, we're dinging Noah for his less-than-efficient 5-of-13 shooting night, as well as his five turnovers. Nobody's perfect.
Marco Belinelli: B+
Marco Belinelli did all of his scoring in the first half, but he's not going to suffer in the grade department for that. His 15 points before the break were much needed, as the Bulls fell behind by as many as 10 before halftime.
The Bulls' reserve guard made all three of his triple tries and shot 5-of-7 overall in the first half before going 0-for-1 in the third quarter.
Because his scoring in the second quarter keyed the Bulls' erasure of the early deficit, his plus-minus was unsurprisingly a team-high plus-24.
Going forward, Belinelli will continue to be an important piece for a Bulls team that typically struggles to score. He's an excellent piece to toss in off of the bench when Chicago needs an early boost, which they did in this one.
Bench Grade: A
If not for Marco Belinelli, Taj Gibson would have taken the honor of being the Chicago Bulls' best reserve. Still, 18 points and seven boards off of the pine is nothing to sneeze at.
Gibson played an especially brilliant first half, totaling 11 points, five boards and two blocks in 12 minutes before the break. He cooled off slightly after the break, but we're speaking relatively here. He had seven points and two rebounds after halftime.
Nate Robinson was the first Bull off the bench, but he lagged behind Gibson and Belinelli in the production department.
But not by much.
Chicago's pint-sized spark plug poured in 15 points in 24 minutes and added seven assists for good measure.
All around, the Bulls got fantastic production from the bench. The best reserve units in the league average around 41 points per game.
The Bulls got an even 50 from their subs in this one.