The Bulls Sunday continued to streak down the stretch with their fourth straight victory, a battling 117-110 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Jimmy Butler was rolling again with 39 points. But this time it was the play of the Bulls reserves, especially in the fourth quarter, that enabled the Bulls to thwart an intense Pelicans rally that saw New Orleans cut a 19-point Bulls fourth quarter lead to six with 1:22 left. That’s when rookie second round pick Paul Zipser made a brilliant block on what looked like a Jrue Holiday fast break layup. Butler then made a jumper to close out the Pelicans’ hopes for a comeback.
The Bulls moved to 38-39 while New Orleans is 33-44.
The Bulls got 21 points and 11 rebounds from Bobby Portis and a surprise 15 points from Joffrey Lauvergne that included a trio of fourth quarter three pointers. Rajon Rondo had 10 points and nine assists. The Bulls were 13 of 26 on threes, their seventh straight game with double figure three pointers. The Bulls got 46 points off the bench. Anthony Davis had 30 points for New Orleans and DeMarcus Cousins 26 points and 18 rebounds. But Cousins committed several costly fourth quarter offensive fouls to hurt the Pelicans’ chances. New Orleans had a 35-18 edge in free throw attempts.
The Bulls were in New Orleans for the second of the back to back, a late afternoon game after having won three straight, four of five and five of seven for the team’s best stretch since the 8-4 start and five of six around the All-Star break. The Bulls then lost seven of eight and the season looked lost until this run. It was another sturdy start for the Bulls, a 17-8 lead midway through the first quarter that was helped by the Pelicans stars, Davis and Cousins, firing long jump shots. Rondo again was working the pace and Butler was finishing with 12 points in the first quarter. The Pelicans responded with Cousins and Davis driving the ball to get within 23-21 before the Bulls closed with five straight behind Butler. Denzel Valentine then led a 7-0 start to the second quarter for a 35-21 Bulls lead. The Pelicans narrowed the deficit to 42-34 five minutes into the quarter. But then as the Bulls went back to the starters, Butler took over. He dominated in the post and made a pair of threes, scoring 25 first half points after 25 in the second half Saturday as the Bulls led 63-47 at halftime. Rondo had seven of the Bulls’ 15 assists. After failing to score against Atlanta, Portis had 13 points on six of seven first half shooting.
The Bulls looked like they’d run out the Pelicans to start the third quarter, especially on defense with Nikola Mirotic blocking a pair of shots on the same possession and a Rondo steal leading to a Butler fast break and 72-53 Bulls lead. But the Bulls got a bit casual on defensive rotations and settled for more jumpers, enabling the Pelicans to draw within 79-69 with four minutes left in the third quarter. The Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 87-79. Butler with 37 after three was the only starter scoring in double figures through three quarters. The Bulls opened the fourth quarter with a burst from a reserve group similar to the strong start to the second quarter as Lauvergne and Valentine had back to back threes and then Portis added one for a 100-81 lead with 9:36 left. But the Pelicans didn’t fly away. They burrowed toward the basket, getting an 8-0 run with six free throws as the Bulls held onto a 105-91 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Lauvergne added another three and Portis dropped one in as the Bulls tried to hang on down the stretch. They led 110-100 after a Lauvergne tipin with 3:36 left. The Pelicans cut the Bulls lead to 113-107 with 1:22 left before the big Zipser defensive play.