The Bulls rebounded Saturday. They also came back from losing three straight games to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans, 107-99.
The Bulls used a 63-42 rebounding advantage, including 21-6 on the offensive boards, along with 28 points from a returning-to-health Jimmy Butler and 17 fourth quarter points from Dwyane Wade to reach the official NBA halfway mark at 20-21.
“It’s the same as it was last year,” said Wade, who’s brilliant fourth quarter saved the Bulls when their 15-point third quarter lead fell to one. “You have two teams (in the East) that separated themselves, maybe two or three, and then a lot of others right there. We have to go out there and understand no matter that one day you may be in the 10 spot, but you are not all the way out of it. It’s very competitive. Any team can beat any team. I think it’s been proven all year.
“I think we can play better,” said Wade. “We are a brand new team coming together at the beginning of the season; we’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I think we’ve learned from them, think we’ve gotten better. It’s unfortunate the last three games we weren’t able to have the team that was out there the three games before that, but I think our second unit guys have gotten more comfortable and gotten better. So I look forward to the second half of the season to see how we are in the next 41 games.”
And so the Bulls move on, immediately to Memphis Sunday for the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday with a game against the Grizzlies. Wade will sit out for rest in the second of a back to back, and Nikola Mirotic will remain out, missing his fourth straight game with illness. But the big relief, for the Bulls and Butler, was Butler’s return from missing the last two games with the similar flu. Plus, Butler had tried to play through the Oklahoma City game with the illness, but scored one point and departed early.
Asked what he’d gone through the last few days, Butler said, “Hell; that’s what it’s been like. My body was all types of messed up; it wasn’t a pretty sight.”
Chicago media being committed to separating the wheat from the crap, continued to press Butler to explain.
“Diarrhea, my stomach. That’s what you all need to ask me?” wondered Butler. “Ask me about D. Wade’s 17 points. My man was doing his thing out there. He was vintage D. Wade, ‘03 to ‘06 D. Wade; it was nice. Taj (Gibson with 15 points and a season high 16 rebounds) played well and we did everything as a unit. Memphis is a good team. I’m just going (on talking) because you only want to ask me (diarrhea) questions. We have to focus in on them next, lot of good players, looking to steal one on the road.”
But as we know, investigative reporting courses through the stomachs of Chicago, Upton Sinclair and the meatpacking scandals for the Muckrakers, the Chicago Tribune and municipal corruption, the Sun-Times and the Mirage Tavern, Jimmy’s diarrhea.
“I feel good now,” Butler insisted. “I’m ready to battle.”
The Bulls did bowel over the water fowl from Louisiana despite 36 points and 14 rebounds from Anthony Davis.
The Bulls stuffed the Pelicans offense, basically other than Davis and former Bull E’Twaun Moore with 16 points, with a defensive Imodium to limit New Orleans runs.
“The biggest thing was our guys did a great job rebounding the ball,” agreed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “Very physical basketball game. Shot 42 percent and found a way to win; rebounding helped us win the game.”
Robin Lopez had six points and 10 rebounds, nine offensive for a team season best. Cristiano Felicio continued his impressive play with nine points and seven rebounds and again found himself in the finishing group with Butler playing point guard late. Rajon Rondo was back in at backup point guard, running a nice pick and roll with Felicio and finishing with six points and five assists, making a pair of three pointers. Gibson attempted two more threes after making his first in six years earlier this week. Doug McDermott snapped back to make a pair of threes and Michael Carter-Williams had 11 points.
But it was the return of Butler, who also had eight rebounds, six assists, four steals, two blocks and zero rest room trips, that energized the Bulls after the recent losses.
Butler scored the first five points for the Bulls and made a pair of first quarter threes as the Bulls went ahead 21-13. But Moore and Tyreke Evans gave the Pelicans a push for a 22-21 lead after one quarter. New Orleans plays small with the slightly build Davis their center. Though Davis led them in scoring, it comes so easy for him and they spend long periods ignoring him on offense and throwing up quick jump shots. Pelicans rookie Buddy Hield was one of five for two points. The NBA is much different than college.
With the Pelicans lack of overall talent, Davis probably could average 50 points per game. They fell to 16-25 as they try for the last Western Conference playoff spot, which should go to a team under .500. The Pelicans don’t use former Bull center Omer Asik, so at close to 6-10, Davis is their tallest player in the game. That enabled Lopez, Gibson and Felicio to dominate the offensive glass, giving the Bulls a season high 101 field goal attempts, and a 21-6 edge in second chance points.
The Bulls seemed to take control in the second quarter with Rondo connecting with Felicio and Gibson powering inside. It looked like it would be a blowout with a Wade to Butler score on a fast break for a 63-48 Bulls lead early in the third quarter. But we know better with these Bulls. They began settling for isolation jump shots, not exactly their specialty. Moore led another 9-0 run and suddenly the Pelicans were within 77-71 after three quarters.
When the elusive Evans drove for a three-point play with 10:54 left in the game, the Pelicans trailed 79-78. But Wade was now awake.
He’s been called for a flagrant foul moments before landing hard on Terence Jones. Wade explained he was trying to break Jones’ fall, but to no avail.
“I was a little mad about that,” Wade admitted. “Somehow, someway my hand went around his neck, but I was trying to save him. I was kind of pissed about that. I got hit on my chin (earlier) with an elbow and I didn’t get nothing but a regular foul. So, yeah, kind of woke me up a little bit, thank you, thank him for that.”
New Orleans never would get back the lead as Wade solely held them off, scoring four straight Bulls baskets and then a three after a Felicio free throw that stretched out the Bulls lead to 89-82 with 7:50 left.
“He got hot at the right time,” said Hoiberg. “Was doing it every way possible. He came out hot and we kept riding him.”
The Pelicans would briefly get within five points, the closest they would be the rest of the game as Wade continues his assault with a spin move for a three-point play and jumper to get the Bulls back ahead by double digits with less than two minutes remaining. Talk about stuffing them up.
“I’m happy for him, like he’s always happy for me,” Butler said about Wade. “He wasn’t making shots early, but he kept with it. That’s what we need; we fed the monster on this one.”
And he kept it down, as it were.