They acted like a serious contender should act after a season-opening beatdown of a bottom-feeder. To a man, the Chicago Bulls reminded anybody who would listen Wednesday that their trashing of the Knicks in Madison Square Garden was one measly game, a nice debut but nothing to get crazy over. They didn’t much care it was the franchise’s most lopsided win ever at the Garden, or that the Knicks had never lost a season opener by such an embarrassing margin.
They talked about starting slowly offensively and not making open 3-pointers. The Bulls talked sober talk. Coach Tom Thibodeau, for crying out loud, picked up a technical foul with his team up 24 points. An official turned and asked him, “When will you relax?” and Thibs, true to every instinct in his being, shot back, “Never!”
And so began the Chicago Bulls’ 2014-15 season, one a fair number of people think can result in a trip to the NBA Finals. Coaches, particularly guys such as Thibs, get paid to find fault with a 104-80 victory on the road, and surely he will before Friday night’s playdate with LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers back in Chicago. But for the rest of us, for the people who noticed the Bulls were up 35 late in the fourth quarter and hoped some kind of slaughter rule could be instituted to save the Knicks from further shame, the Bulls did just about everything right. Injected with truth serum, they wouldn’t dare ask for more things to go right on the first night of any season.
Derrick Rose played 21 minutes, Joakim Noah played 20, and the Bulls’ two most important players held up just fine. Neither played a second in the fourth quarter, and neither needed to.
Pau Gasol hit 7-of-11 shots, scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 29 minutes and wreaked havoc around the basket, completely compromising the Knicks’ defense. Asked about this new dimension Gasol brings to the offense, Rose said, “It’s huge. It eases the game. … Plays where … you know things aren’t rolling for you, you can easily dump it down. … If you double-team it’s going to be open shots, wide-open 3s.”
The usually reliable Mike Dunleavy didn’t hit a single shot; in fact, he missed all five he took, including four 3-point tries. But Dunleavy played terrific defense on Carmelo Anthony in the absence of Jimmy Butler, who might miss another week or two with that sprained thumb. Left one-on-one with one of the NBA’s three best scorers in a manner that he would have considered a nightmare in his younger years, Dunleavy harassed Anthony into missing 8-of-13 shots — and obvious frustration. Dunleavy said afterward, “I’ve got a whole new appreciation for guys who are asked to do that all the time.” Dunleavy knew his offensive numbers would suffer. “The physicality of trying to guard him, just chasing him around. … With where I am in my career now, I don’t care about any of that. I want to contribute in any way I’m asked.”
Aaron Brooks, just about at that point in his own career, recorded six assists to one turnover and hit four of his five shots. He really does do for this offense, off the bench, what Nate Robinson did two seasons ago, what D.J. Augustin did last season.
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