All those clichés about the NBA and sporting events in general -- "you only have to watch the last two minutes" or "it's not how you start, it's how you finish," Neither applies to the Bulls right now.
The Bulls rolled past the Denver Nuggets 117-89 on Friday at the United Center, stretching their win streak to five games, with a trip to Miami looming on Sunday afternoon.
The one piece of bad news was a rib injury suffered by Jimmy Butler late in the first quarter. According to coach Tom Thibodeau, an X-ray showed the injury was a bruise, not a break.
Butler appeared to take an elbow to his right side while driving to the basket. He stayed in the game and knocked down a 3-pointer, but bent over in pain after releasing the shot and walked gingerly to the locker room. His status for the Miami game is unknown.
During this five-game win streak, the finish has usually meant nothing to the Bulls. They've built success by owning the opening quarter.
In all five games, they've built at least a 10-point lead after 12 minutes, while averaging 31.8 points scored. Against Denver, the first-quarter score was 32-19. Keep in mind, the Bulls started the night as the NBA's lowest-scoring team.
"Our mindset has been really good. Shootarounds, practices, just everything," Joakim Noah said. "I think we've got a hungry group right now. It's good."
Thibodeau credited Kirk Hinrich for setting a strong defensive tone with his ball pressure. At the same time, the Bulls scored 14 points in the paint during Friday's first quarter.
"We start the game, we play a power game," Noah said. "I think Carlos (Boozer) did a great job establishing his presence early in the game. That gives us that good start. Taj (Gibson) comes in and does his thing and I think the guard play has been really good."
Point guard D.J. Augustin led the Bulls with 22 points and continued a trend of hot shooting from long range. Augustin drained 5 of 7 attempts from 3-point range and has nailed 16 of his last 24 shots from behind the arc in the last five games.
Rookie Tony Snell stepped in for Butler and scored a career-high 20 points. Gibson added 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Noah finished with 14 and 11.
Thibodeau had a more detailed explanation of the Bulls' first-quarter success, which also brought insight to his coaching philosophy.
"I don't think you start getting ready a half-hour before the game," he said. "I think there's a lot that goes into preparation.
"It's not something you can turn on and off. I think there people that are serious in this league, they do that. They build those habits. They know they're opponent well and they're ready to execute. … That takes a lot of discipline to do that over and over again, but that's what you're trying to build toward."
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