Utah Jazz vs. Chicago Bulls: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Chicago
In a matchup of potential playoff teams, the Chicago Bulls triumphed over the Utah Jazz by a score of 89-88. The game was not decided until the final possession, when Jimmy Butler hauled in a rebound off a Gordon Hayward miss.
With the win, Chicago improved to 35-27 on the season and is four games behind the Indiana Pacers in the Central Division.
Entering the game, the Bulls were trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since November.
Chicago played without Derrick Rose, as the Memphis product is waiting until he is 100 percent healthy both mentally and physically to make his return.
Al Jefferson returned to game action against the Bulls, as the talented center missed Utah's last three games due to an ankle injury. Joakim Noah struggled to contain Jefferson and was in serious foul trouble for the majority of the game.
Chicago was overzealous on defense at times, as the Jazz found success employing the pump fake to free up open looks.
The Jazz have been terrible on the road this season, as evidenced by the 10-21 road record they brought into the game. The United Center hasn't been much of an advantage for the Bulls this season, with the team compiling a 18-14 record after Friday night's result.
With Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson missing the game due to injury, the Bulls were forced to use a limited rotation. The starters were worked even harder Friday night, as every starter had logged over 30 minutes by the end of the third quarter.
The Bulls played great defense down the stretch in order to win the game, although, a clutch three-pointer from Marco Belinelli certainly didn't hurt the winning effort.
Let's take a look at how the Bulls graded out in Friday night's matchup.
Point Guard: B
Entering the game, there was pressure on Nate Robinson to put together a solid game on both ends of the court. With Derrick Rose still sidelined, the onus of creating opportunities offensively falls on the shoulders of Robinson.
The 5'9" point guard delivered, as evidenced by the 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds that he accumulated. His Achilles' heel on the evening was his shooting, as he converted on just four of his 13 attempts from the field.
While Robinson was not efficient shooting the basketball, he found other ways to help his team.
Robinson made a big impact in the first half, as evidenced by the plus-12 he registered in plus/minus differential.
The Utah Jazz did not trot out an All-Star-caliber point guard, which obviously aided in Robinson's strong performance. While Nate wasn't shooting well from the floor, he made up for it by taking care of the ball and finding the open man.
On the season, Robinson has been more efficient offensively during home games. In fact, the Washington Huskies' product has converted on 44.1 percent of his attempts inside the friendly confines of the United Center while converting on just 39.8 shooting percentage on the road.
Final Grade: B
Shooting Guard: A-
With Richard Hamilton missing the matchup against the Utah Jazz, Marco Belinelli was inserted into the starting lineup at shooting guard. So far this season, the 26-year-old Italian is averaging 9.8 points on 40.6 percent shooting.
Due to injuries, the Bulls have needed Belinelli to play more aggressively in recent games. In Chicago's previous two games, the 6'5" guard averaged 20.5 points per game.
Friday night's start was Belinelli's 17th of the season, as he has been a reliable substitute when Hamilton has been unable to play. Considering the Bulls are paying him less than $2 million this season, it's safe to say the franchise is on the receiving end of a bargain.
Belinelli isn't in the NBA due to his defensive abilities, as his production on offense is what he's known for. Considering that it was Utah's big men that hurt the Bulls, it's hard the blame Chicago's guards defensively.
Over the course of the game, the Belinelli and Carlos Boozer pick-and-roll was effective. The Bulls started to rely on that play more and more in the fourth quarter, as the Jazz struggled to defend it.
In terms of memorable Belinelli plays, one play comes to mind. The Italian hit a clutch three-pointer to give the Bulls a one-point lead with 5.9 seconds left in regulation. The bucket turned out to be the winning score, which makes Belinelli the hero.
By the time it was all said and done, Belinelli had compiled 22 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.
Final Grade: A-
Small Forward: C+
Luol Deng did not have a remarkable game, as he turned in a gritty defensive performance against the Utah Jazz.
On the night, Deng contributed 12 points, six rebounds and two steals on 33 percent shooting from the floor. This obviously wasn't one of Deng's more memorable nights statistically, but he fought hard the entire time he was on the court.
The Duke product is the perfect representation of Tom Thibodeau's style, as getting the job done is all that matter to Deng. If that means playing good defense and being opportunistic, that's exactly what he is willing to do if it means helping the Bulls win basketball games.
In terms of setting the proper example, few players are better than Deng. On a night when his shots weren't falling, the Bulls starting small forward continued to work hard in other areas, which in turn contributed to Chicago's victory.
With two steals, Deng led the game in takeaways and was the only Bulls player to compile a block.
Deng shut down Utah's wing players, which should still count for something even if the Jazz are weak in that area.
Final Grade: C+
Power Forward: B+
Carlos Boozer was the Chicago Bulls' first option offensively against the Utah Jazz, and the 10-year veteran played well.
The Duke product finished the game with 22 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field.
With Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich missing the contest, the Bulls needed Boozer to thrive offensively. He got off to a good start, as Boozer led the game in scoring at halftime with 14 points.
For all the grief Boozer has been given in regard to being overpaid, he has performed well this season. Amongst Bulls, only Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson have posted higher PER's than Boozer this season.
In terms of jump shooting, Boozer is still one of the NBA's most talented big men. Since the Bulls struggle to create offense in half-court sets, Boozer's ability to space the floor at the power forward position is crucial.
Say what you want about Boozer, but he's still a viable option when running the pick-and-roll. The Bulls offense was at its best when Marco Belinelli and Boozer ran the pick-and-roll, which was also the case the last time the Bulls and Jazz faced off.
Final Grade: B+
Entering Friday night's game, Noah had been on quite a tear on the defensive end. Over the past 10 days, the Florida product averaged an amazing 4.8 blocks per game.
Noah drew a tough assignment Friday night, as Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson is one of the league's best centers. The last time the Chicago Bulls and Jazz faced off, Jefferson exploded for 32 points, but Noah had the last laugh as the Bulls won the game.
In their second matchup of the season, Jefferson did not hesitate to attack Noah inside. On most occasions, Jefferson came out the victor, as Noah doesn't match up well against Utah's center.
Noah struggled when battling Al Jefferson inside, as evidenced by his foul situation. Noah picked up his fourth foul, as Jefferson drew a foul and converted on the basket despite the contact.
By game's end, Noah had compiled nine points and 13 rebounds, which is disappointing statistically.
Noah is the centerpiece of Chicago's defense, as he is the vocal leader on that end of the court. His foul trouble changed the game, as the already limited Bulls were forced into an even worse rotational situation.
Fortunately for Chicago, Noah returned to the game in the fourth quarter to solidify the defense. Although he picked up his fifth foul midway through the final frame, Noah was able to remain in the game and anchor the Bulls defense on the final few possessions.
Noah's presence on defense is crucial to the Bulls' success, and it's hard to say that the Bulls win this game if their starting center had been unavailable down the stretch.
Final Grade: C-
Sixth Man: B
Jimmy Butler focuses on playing good defense and on crashing the glass, a trend that continued against the Utah Jazz.
In 22 minutes of play, Butler posted one point, three rebounds, two assists and one steal. While those statistics appear to be underwhelming, Butler's impact on the game goes beyond the box score.
So far this season, Butler is averaging just over five shots per game in over 22 minutes of action. Considering that the Marquette product is shooting 48 percent in his second season, it might behoove him to shoot the ball more on a Chicago Bulls team that is offensively limited.
Butler continues to develop into a solid wing player, and he is the perfect substitute for Luol Deng. A tough defender, Butler fits into Tom Thibodeau's system, which emphasizes team defense and non-stop effort.
At times in the fourth quarter, Butler guarded Utah's point guards, which speaks to the second-year player's defensive tenacity. When Butler was asked to cover the opposing point guard, Chicago's defense tended to force the Jazz to settle for jumpers.
In the game's final moments, Butler hauled in two important rebound, as he was in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions in a short period of time.
The day may come when Butler makes Deng expendable, as the Bulls may need to shake up the roster in order to challenge the Miami Heat in the upcoming years.
Final Grade: B
The Bench: C+
In addition to Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich missing this matchup, the Bulls were also without Taj Gibson due to a knee injury.
The injuries forced Tom Thibodeau to play Nazr Mohammed alongside Joakim Noah, and the results were decent. When both big men were in the game, the Bulls were dominant on the defensive glass.
If Chicago gets into a situation in which it is being out-rebounded in the postseason, Thibs could opt to go big inside with Noah and Mohammed for short periods of time.
With Hamilton and Hinrich unavailable, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson were inserted into the starting lineup. Each player stepped up to the occasion and made the most of the opportunity to play big minutes.
Only Mohammed, Marquis Teague and Jimmy Butler checked into the game off the bench. Injuries limited the Bulls' rotation, as only eight members of the roster played against the Jazz.
Teague only played four minutes, while Butler and Mohammed each saw over 20 minutes of game action.
In terms of plus/minus differential, the Bulls' bench finished the game with a negative-10. The unit was essentially just Mohammed and Butler, but both of them deserve credit for this hard-fought victory.
Due to Joakim Noah's foul trouble, Mohammed was forced to play the majority of the third quarter. Not surprisingly, the Bulls defense struggled without Noah, but Mohammed performed admirably.
Final Grade: C+