During Tuesday night’s preseason opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, all that remained of the former Bench Mob were Taj Gibson and Stacey King’s ‘Hot Sauce Play,’ and their jerseys on clearance in the Bulls Store. Separation anxiety.
And if this game was any indication of what the season is going to be like, it’s quite fitting that the Bulls open on Halloween night. After a slow start from a team that obviously lacked in-game chemistry, the Bulls found their groove in the second half thanks to their first unit led in large part by Kirk Hinrich, who looked right at home in his Bulls red and white.
Hinrich was one of the Bulls’ offseason pickups that proved fruitful, and seems to be the perfect fit to take Derrick Rose’s place for the time being. With five points, seven assists, two blocks and two steals, Hinrich helped lead the Bulls’ 14-0 run in the third quarter alongside Joakim Noah and Richard Hamilton. The first unit played solidly, as if Hinrich was an old friend returning for a friendly pickup game.
Luol Deng’s performance was an encouraging highlight, silencing his wrist injury doubters and proving his ability to drive this team’s offense. His 18 points led the Bulls in scoring on a night when the team posted a measly 35.7 percent field goal percentage. Hamilton chipped in with 13, while Noah contributed 10.
But the real story in this game was the new bench, and it wasn’t all good news across the board. In my mind, the biggest disappointments were Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli. I had high hopes for Butler, who did fairly well in summer league and is poised to make an impact on a future Bulls championship-contending team. But his 1-for-11 shooting and inability to finish at the rim showed his inexperience. He had the opportunities, he just couldn’t take advantage. Belinelli suffered similar shooting woes, though he did make three steals.
Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed all but saved the Bulls’ bench, providing the spark and consistency the team needed to stay in the game. Both scored 13 points, tying Hamilton for the second-highest figure on the night. When Robinson spoke to Midway Madness at Media Day, he said the most important thing for him coming off the bench is bringing the energy, and he didn’t disappoint. The second he stepped on the floor, Robinson exploded, fighting for the ball and using his size and speed to his advantage.
Mohammed proved to be a surprising asset, making six of 10 shots and notching a team-high 12 rebounds, seven offensive and five defensive. The Chicago native looked right at home, playing smart and looking like a better backup for Noah than many believed.
Overall, the Bulls have a lot to take away from this game, and I’m sure Tom Thibodeau will be hoarse after tomorrow’s practice. After the Bulls’ big third-quarter push, they almost let the game slip away in the fourth, an instance reminiscent of last season.
It’s clear the Bulls gained some valuable pieces in the offseason, but Thibs is going to have to get these guys to play to each other’s strengths. While they scored 32 fast-break points, the Bulls need to play cleaner and turn the ball over less. The Bulls were lucky this 92-88 win didn’t get away from them, though more experience playing as a team should improve cohesion and overall performance.
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