Coming off of an ugly 86-73 loss at the Washington Wizards on Jan. 26, the Chicago Bulls turned it around against the Charlotte Bobcats, defeating the visiting kitties, 93-85.
The win avenged a 91-81 defeat in the last meeting between these two teams.
Thanks to their usual stifling defense—especially on the perimeter—the Bulls forced the Bobcats into plenty of hurried, contested attempts. To its credit, Charlotte didn't just throw that ball away (it had only 10 turnovers on the night), but Chicago clearly forced the Bobcats into a number of difficult situations as the shot clock wound down.
On the night, the Bulls held the Bobcats to 39 percent shooting.
Jimmy Butler led the Bulls in scoring with 19 as Chicago won its seventh game in its last nine tries. Not to be forgotten, Joakim Noah followed up his near triple-double against the Wizards with another stat-stuffing performance. The Bulls All-Star center led his team with 18 rebounds and seven assists.
All in all, it was a very nice night for the Bulls; Luol Deng returned after a five-game absence, Butler asserted himself as a viable rotation option, the defense swatted away a stunning 14 shots and the bench took the game over down the stretch.
Oh, and the Bulls held their 10th straight opponent under 100 points.
Based on the bevy of excellent performances in this one, there are sure to be some pretty solid grades for the Bulls. Let's check 'em out.
Kirk Hinrich: C
Kirk Hinrich did a couple of things well as the Chicago Bulls starting point guard: He knocked down a pair of threes, and perhaps most importantly, he read the scouting report on Kemba Walker. Hinrich's refusal to allow Walker to get to his preferred right hand was a key reason the Charlotte Bobcats struggled so mightily to get into their offensive sets.
In the end, Walker got his numbers, but they didn't come easy.
That's all Tom Thibodeau needs from Hinrich right now, which is a good thing. Because he's not capable of doing a whole lot more. As Derrick Rose's placeholder at the 1, the bespectacled Hinrich has been decidedly average.
He totaled eight points, four assists and a steal on 2-of-8 shooting in 26 minutes in this one.
If he continues to stroke the three like he has of late—Hinrich is shooting nearly 67 percent from long range over his last five games—the Bulls will be glad to keep using him (albeit in a more limited role) when their MVP returns sometime in the next few weeks.
Richard Hamilton: F
Sorry, did Rip Hamilton actually play in this game? All I saw was some guy in a mask who couldn't buy a bucket, failed to record an assist and even turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds.
The Chicago Bulls starting shooting guard did a fair amount of shooting in his 15 minutes, but he made just a single bucket. In the second half, Hamilton barely played at all, losing minutes to the vastly more effective Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler.
Sure, Rip has been averaging 11.7 points on 44 percent shooting up to this point, but it was nearly impossible to understand what value he brings to Chicago based on his performance in this one. When he's not scoring, Hamilton gives the Bulls nothing.
With the much more dynamic Butler showing such vast improvements in recent weeks, it's getting pretty darn difficult to justify Hamilton's presence in the starting lineup.
Luol Deng: B-
Luol Deng didn't show many signs of rust in his return from a five-game layoff. The bothersome right hamstring that kept the Chicago Bulls small forward on the bench since Jan. 18 appeared to be a thing of the past, as Deng turned in a solid all-around effort.
Based on his recent play against the Charlotte Bobcats, Deng was probably more than happy to make his return in this one. Over his last three games against the kitties, he had averages of 22 points and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting.
The only thing hinting at Deng's fragility was coach Tom Thibodeau's relatively light usage of his wing stopper. Instead of leaving Deng out there for his customary 40-plus minutes, Thibs mercifully cut his playing time to a more reasonable 31.
When on the court, though, Chicago's All-Star swingman defended with his usual tenacity and scored the ball efficiently.
Deng finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists.
And from the "not to be forgotten" department, Deng's absence opened the door for the extended audition of Jimmy Butler, who has thrust himself into the rotation. It now appears Deng isn't the only rangy defensive dynamo on the wing in Chicago.
The Bulls are certainly glad to have Deng back, but even his hiatus provided an unforeseen benefit.
Carlos Boozer: C+
It's a little troublesome that a player as established in the league as Carlos Boozer would allow himself to get mixed up in a verbal back and forth with D-League call-up Jeff Adrien. But Boozer did precisely that.
Though it seems unlikely that the extracurricular chatter was the reason for Boozer's subpar shooting night, it certainly didn't help. What's worse: Adrien actually outplayed Chicago's double-double machine.
The Bulls power forward finished with 13 points and four rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting, and he made just 1-of-4 from the foul line. Adrien, on the other hand, piled up 14 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting.
In fairness to Boozer, he did generate the night's most enduring highlight. His sick lefty dunk over renowned shot-blocker Bismack Biyombo with just over a minute left in the game gave the Bulls an eight-point lead and removed all doubt about the final outcome.
Boozer's been great over the last two months, but he didn't bring his "A-game" against the Charlotte Bobcats. According to the grade, he didn't bring his "B" game either.
Joakim Noah: A+
Joakim Noah's production is starting to get a little ridiculous.
It's not just the stat-stuffing numbers or the insane minutes (Noah logged 45 in this one); it's the seemingly endless reservoir of energy and hustle that truly marks the sixth-year big man as an All-Star.
After posting nine points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in his last game against the Washington Wizards, the Chicago Bulls center displayed his amazing all-around skills yet again. Noah finished with 13 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and a steal against the Charlotte Bobcats.
You almost need to catch your breath when reading a stat line that long.
Numbers aside, Noah also gave Chicago a shot in the arm with a huge three-point play that helped get the Bulls a little breathing room late in the third quarter. His and-one finish gave Chicago a four-point lead just after the Bobcats had pulled within one with less than three minutes left in the third period.
There's no doubt about it: Noah is a stud. He dominated the game on both ends and served as his team's emotional leader. So what else is new?
Jimmy Butler: A
Even though Luol Deng returned to the Chicago Bulls' starting lineup, Jimmy Butler wasn't about to relinquish the spotlight. After averaging 14.2 points and nearly 45 minutes per game in Deng's absence, Butler came off the bench against the Charlotte Bobcats and continued his recent run of terrific play.
Butler posted a career-high 19 points in 31 minutes, and his infectious energy provided a major boost for the Bulls down the stretch.
He hounded Bobcats players at three positions, chased down loose balls, came up with huge rebounds and finished at the rim in a variety of spectacular ways. Perhaps unfairly thought of as a one-dimensional "hustle player," Chicago's second-year man is showing that he's got enough all-around game to warrant a firm spot in the rotation.
In addition to his 19 points, Butler also pulled down six boards and handed out two assists. Based on the quickness he's been showing on defense and his nose for the ball, Butler deserves a shot to start over Rip Hamilton at the 2.
Bench Grade: A
Put simply, the Chicago Bulls would've lost their second straight game to the Charlotte Bobcats if it weren't for the excellent play of their bench. We've already covered Jimmy Butler's contributions, but plenty more Bulls reserves put their stamps on this one.
Both backcourt subs outplayed Chicago's starting guards, as Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli combined for 19 points on 17 shots, figures that put to shame the 10 points on 13 shots produced by Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton. Robinson, in particular, was a key to the Bulls' victory; his aggressiveness and activity kept the Bobcats scrambling in the halfcourt and on their heels in transition.
Chicago's 5'8" spark plug even had three blocks. And if that weren't enough, his opening sequence in the fourth quarter, which included a made three, a steal and an assist on a Butler dunk, all but put the game away.
Up front, Taj Gibson didn't score the ball all that well, but his usual hard-nosed defense and glasswork gave the Bulls' reserves the edge they needed. He pulled down seven rebounds and swatted three shots in 24 gritty minutes.
It's clear that Robinson, Belinelli and Gibson have their limitations, but when the Bulls' subs outproduce the starters so substantially, it might be time for Tom Thibodeau to reconsider some of his lineup constructions.
The bench was phenomenal in this one.