CHICAGO (NBA.com exclusive) -- If the Bulls are going to win this season, they are going to do it with the kind of effort they put in Thursday night in their season opener at the United Center.
Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng played tremendously, and the Bulls took advantage of the spirit that comes from a season-opening home crowd to score a surprisingly easy 92-85 victory over the visiting San Antonio Spurs.
While the Spurs played an uninspired game one night after their impressive home-opening win over New Orleans, the Bulls opened up hot, survived a stretch of silly basketball, then put their best attributes on display for the rest of the game. They won because of better effort, and because they converted the effort into points on most occasions.
"They had more guys come to compete than we did,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They were more aggressive; loose balls, boards, the whole deal."
Want proof? The Bulls got 15 offensive rebounds, allowed the Spurs just eight offensive boards and only 13 second-chance points and even outscored the Spurs in the paint, 40-38.
By the end of the game the Spurs actually had a better shooting percentage, but by then it was too late as the Bulls took control of the game in the third quarter and never relented.
"We look at them as one of the best teams in the league, so this was a good win,'' Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.
There were numerous key performances from the Bulls, and it would be difficult to pick one over another.
Deng, who missed most of last season due to injury and had lost some of his esteem among fans before that, scored 17 points and had nine rebounds. His inside play was notable, especially since critics believe he is afraid to go inside.
Thomas had 13 points and six rebounds, and carried the team during a 21-6 run in the third quarter that pulled them out in front.
Noah got his first double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds -- six of which were off the offensive glass.
And Rose, who missed most of the preseason with a very worrisome ankle injury, played 33 minutes, scoring 13 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Even in the fourth quarter, when his body might have been asking him to do otherwise, he was charging into the lane on drives.
"We were very balanced tonight, and I'm pleased we pushed the tempo when we had it,'' Del Negro said. "We went after it on the glass, and I liked the way we responded when they made a run."
In the first three minutes, the Bulls were playing with a youthful enthusiasm the Spurs were clearly not in the mood to match.
The Bulls jumped out to an 8-2 lead as Noah scored twice inside, Rose made a stunning interior block against Richard Jefferson, and the Bulls refused to allow the Spurs any second chance shots. The Spurs had no offensive rebounds in the first quarter, a part of the defensive improvement the Bulls have promised for this season.
"Our defensive intensity, compared to last year, you can see a definite improvement,'' Noah said. "We have to keep it up and come playoff time, we will be a better defensive team."
The Spurs led after one quarter, and had a 46-44 lead near the end of the second quarter when the Bulls put on a show to take the halftime lead. Following a timeout with 23.4 seconds left, the ball went out to John Salmons in the left corner. His shot was off the mark but Deng came up with an offensive rebound, fought to retain possession, then got the ball out to Hinrich at the top of the arc for a 3-pointer.
Thomas sparked the third quarter when the Bulls took control of the game, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds as the Bulls took a 74-64 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Spurs, oddly, offered little resistance to the outcome in the fourth quarter. They got no closer than seven points and that came on the last scoring play of the game.
"They just outplayed us,'' Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "They had a better effort from more guys than we did. We had one guy play well and the rest of us not so good. We couldn't help him out."
Spurs forward Tim Duncan had 28 points on 13-of-19 shooting and had 16 rebounds, 14 of them off the defensive glass. The only other Spur in double figures was Ginobili with 12 points.
"Timmy was incredible,'' Popovich said. "He doesn't care what the situation is, he just wants to play and compete. I'm sure he was disappointed in the outcome."