The Chicago Bulls fans assembled tonight in the United Center and finally got the chance to see Derrick Rose for the first time since #thereturn. As a bonus, they also saw Joakim Noah in his #leretour. They weren’t disappointed either; both players shined and the Bulls obliterated the Pistons 96-81.
Chicago spent most of the second half with a lead in the mid-20s. The Bulls were dominating on both ends of the court. It was a straight-up stomping. The Bulls were hitting from anywhere and everywhere, passing the ball, pressing it down the court, and involving everyone.
The Pistons had no idea where the next shot was coming from. They spent most of their time trying to figure out what just happened more than how to defend what would happen next. On offense they couldn’t hit a barn with an elephant from inside the barn, shooting .325.
If the Bulls are already in this kind of form, they are definitely championship contenders. Their defense was just as stellar as it has ever been, but the offense was at another level.
The only downside for the Bulls is that they still haven’t ever played their starting five together. Jimmy Butler sat with a bruised knee, and Mike Dunleavy started in his place.
Derrick Rose is not just back, he’s back.
Rust? He don’t need no stinkin’ rust.
On both ends of the court, Rose was phenomenal. His offense and defense are in regular-season form. It is amazing how quickly he’s gotten back into rhythm.
And lest you think this is mere homerism, first look at the video above, then look at the stats.
He played 22 minutes and scored 22 points on just nine field-goal attempts. He resolved his free-throw issues too. After missing the first, he made his other nine. He also hit one of his two threes.
And we finally saw the jump shot he’d been working on. At one point in the third quarter, he pulled up, leapt two feet in the air, and at the apex of his jump, he released a beautifully arcing shot that splashed perfectly through the net.
He was breaking down defenses, scoring when he could get a clean shot off, and passing it to the open man when he couldn’t. Add two assists to the total and at least three times when a teammate went to the line after being fouled on a shot Rose set up.
This game was the first sign that he might not only be back to where he was, but he might be even better than he was. He’s already reminding us why he was in the conversation for best point guard in the NBA, and if he keeps playing like this, he might not be the only one who thinks he’s the best player period.
Mike Dunleavy was the surprise starter at the shooting guard position, causing a certain Bleacher Report writer to wonder what the team record was for starting 6’9” forwards from Duke in one game.
He played capably for the most part and even well at times. He scored nine points in 17 minutes. He was 2-of-5 from the field and 1-of-3 from three. He added five boards and an assist.
There were two plays that were particularly defining for Dunleavy. On one, the Pistons' Andre Drummond, frustrated with the way the game was going, delivered a foul that was marginally dirty which sent Dunleavy to his back. Drummond grabbed Dunleavy’s wrist to help him up, and Dunleavy slapped his hand away, reaching for Deng’s hand instead.
He’ll fit right in with the Bulls with that attitude.
On another play, he spun around his defender, then went past a second along the baseline, used the rim as protection, and went in up and under the basket to get the two. It was the kind of ball-handling you would never get from Kyle Korver.
Defensively he was solid, at least in the sense that his name wasn’t called as a victim. Kyle Singler, the Pistons' starting shooting guard, was held to six points on 2-of-5 shooting.
That Tom Thibodeau chose to start him bodes well for the Bulls. Dunleavy should see regular minutes, which in turn means that Luol Deng should see fewer.
Luol Deng had his most efficient game of the preseason. He scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting and 1-of-2 from deep. He added four rebounds and two assists.
He also drew the main responsibility for guarding Josh Smith, the Pistons' big offseason acquisition, and held him to nine points on 10 shots. Smith, normally a stat sheet stuffer, was also held to four boards and three assists.
Smith is also an elite defensive player, but he’s best player the Pistons have. Deng cancelled him out, and anytime you can have your third- or fourth-best player cancel out the other team’s best player, it’s a win.
Carlos Boozer had a better game than met the eye. He didn’t seem to be that big a part of things until you looked at the box score and saw all the rebounds he was pulling in.
He had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.
Ironically, the best play he had in the preseason might have come without a successful conclusion. He threw a post move on Greg Monroe, feigning right and going left with Monroe going nowhere. It was truly magnificent, but then Andre Drummond came over in help defense and blocked his shot in brutal fashion.
The whole thing just seemed so Carlos Boozer. Even when things are good, they’re bad.
In #leretour, Joakim Noah was decent but not great. His defense was certainly special and a big part of the reason the Bulls were a plus-23 when he was on the court, which was the second-best on the team behind Rose’s plus-25.
He added three blocks, three assists and eight rebounds.
However he missed all three of his field-goal attempts, and while his passing was fine, he seemed uncomfortable with his own shot, reluctant to take it.
The highlight of the game for Noah came when he grabbed the ball on a long defensive rebound, pushed the ball down the court, and fed Derrick Rose for the layup.
Having a center who can not only put the ball on the floor and press the fast break, but even be able to keep ahead of the defense while doing so, is a rare thing in the NBA.
The Bulls are quicker now, and the overall speed of the game with both Noah and Rose on the court was noticeably faster than it’s been in the Thibodeau era.
When Jimmy Butler joins them, the Bulls will actually be a threat in transition.
The bench played very well, particularly the group that will be in the regular rotation once the season begins.
For the first time this preseason, Taj Gibson wasn’t the biggest player off the bench. This time it was the Bulls' rookie, Tony Snell, who begged the question, “Can you Snell what the rook is cooking?”
He played with confidence for the first time in a Bulls uniform, in the Summer League or preseason. He scored 12 points, dished four assists, swiped the ball three times, grabbed one board and shot 5-of-8 from the field and 2-of-4 from deep.
Kirk Hinrich added five points and five boards. Marquis Teague added 11 points of his own. And Gibson didn’t do too bad either, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 boards. Sadly, his field-goal percentage fell off a cliff; he shot “only” .500 after knocking down 70 percent of his shots in the preseason.
There had been a number of questions about the Bulls bench in the offseason. It’s looking more and more like those questions have an affirmative answer.