The Bulls' Joakim Noah said his team was outworked and gave up a good chance to remain undefeated.
"Tough day at the office," Noah said after the Bulls 89-82 loss to the New Orleans Hornets. "We got our asses kicked. They outplayed us. They were way more on edge than us. It's unfortunate because it was a good opportunity to go 3-0."
The real unfortunate nature of the Bulls' outing on Saturday wasn't just that they blew a chance to stay undefeated against a Hornets team playing without Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, it was that it exposed the type of game that everyone in Chicago knew would come at some point during the season. The type of game when the offense plays so poorly that it can't be saved, especially when Derrick Rose isn't on the court.
Every team can have a bad night and the Bulls are no exception, the issue is that this was exactly the type of game that Rose used to save from the jaws of defeat. When all else failed, his teammates would seek out the superstar guard and let him work his magic. A night after shooting 64 percent from the field in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls shot just 33 percent and looked frustrated most of the night.
"I thought the start of the game set the tone for the game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We were back on our heels. They got an early lead. Their big guys hurt us. The thing about shooting, that doesn't bother me. If you are taking your shot and you are missing your shot, you can live with that. The thing about the game was our approach to defensive transition. When you are not shooting well, you cannot allow that to sap your energy. You have to get back and set your defense."
Thibodeau was definitely right about one thing: The Bulls' starters set a bad tone and it continued throughout the night.
Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Noah combined to go just 14-for-53 from the floor. Usually the Bulls can overcome most bad shooting nights because of their defense and intensity, but that wasn't the case this time. They couldn't make a big stop when they needed one.
"We got out-hustled," Bulls forward Taj Gibson admitted. "They were physical from the start of the game. They set the tone right away. We were trying to get back in the game. Every time we got close, they made a tough run. They executed real well. ... Any given night guys can step up even if their top players are down. It shows. You can't sleep on anybody."
What showed for the Bulls is that they are in desperate need of someone stepping up and taking a more consistent role offensively. Obviously, nobody is going to replace Rose, but one of their starters has to do a better job of being a stabilizer for the rest of the offense. If the biggest knock on the Bulls was that they didn't have a legit second offensive option with a healthy Rose, the problem becomes even more glaring without him.
"There's four parts of the game we always talk about that you really have to take care of and that's the first five minutes, the last five of the half, the first five of the third and the last five of the game," Thibodeau said. "So when we failed in the first five and we failed in the last five of the second quarter, that really did turn the game. And then we were chasing the whole second half and it was tough on us."
Unless the Bulls can figure out a way to find better shots, there's a good chance that Thibodeau will have to endure a few more games just like this one. The Bulls' ultimate offensive safety net is gone and this game gave a glimpse to the type of uncertain future that the veteran coach didn't want to see.