After scoring 82 or fewer points in the last four home games, it's a wonder fans at the United Center didn't storm the court when Taj Gibson drained a free throw with two minutes left to give the Bulls 100 points.
Still severely short-handed Saturday night against Cleveland, the Bulls managed to jump-start their offense and rolled to an easy 100-84 victory over the Cavs. The win snapped a four-game losing streak, and the Bulls had gone 1-7 since the last time they scored more than 100 points on Dec. 5 against Miami.
“I loved us offensively,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought the ball movement was good — sharp, quick, quick decisions, high-percentage shots, guys sharing the ball, got to the free-throw line.”
The Bulls (10-16) were practically a ball-sharing machine in the first quarter. It moved quickly and resulted in easy baskets or trips to the foul line. The Bulls scored 33 points in the opening 12 minutes, their highest total in a quarter since Dec. 2 against New Orleans.
One explanation is new point guard D.J. Augustin. He has been with the Bulls just eight days but ran the show well Saturday, with 18 points and 10 assists. He also logged 46 minutes, playing all but the final two.
“I've always been, since college, a pick-and-roll type of player, and Thibs always likes pick-and-roll players,” Augustin said.
The Bulls again were without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler. Carlos Boozer was the high scorer with 19 points, and Joakim Noah matched a season high with 18 rebounds. But this win also belonged to rookie Tony Snell.
When Cleveland trimmed a 19-point deficit to 68-61 late in the third quarter, Snell knocked down consecutive 3-pointers to boost the lead to 16 points at the end of three. The Cavs got as close as 9 points in the fourth quarter, and this time it was Augustin and Snell who buried back-to-back 3s.
Overall, the Bulls hit 10 of 15 attempts from 3-point range, with Snell going 5-for-8.
“I loved the way Tony played,” Thibodeau said. “He didn't force anything. He shot when he was open. He passed when he as guarded. He competed defensively. That was probably his best game as a pro.”
Cleveland was coming off an overtime win over Milwaukee on Friday but had won six of nine heading into this game and averaged 111 points in the previous five. So maybe there is some promise in the Bulls' efficient offense. They scored above 90 in two road games this week.
“I think we were in a stretch of seven in 10 days, along with the changing lineups, trying to get D.J. up to speed,” Thibodeau said. “We didn't have good rhythm, but each day you could see it getting better.
“It's hard to do when you're not practicing and you're in a ballroom and stuff like that, but sometimes those are your circumstances and you've got to find a way to get it done. I didn't think there was any quit in these guys.”
It will be good news for the Bulls if Thibodeau can coax the sort of performance Augustin produced during his first two seasons in Charlotte playing for Larry Brown. Snell also has a chance to become that much-needed court-spacing 3-point shooter if he can stay on Thibodeau's good side.
“D.J.'s done a great job. He comes in, he pushes the ball, he moves it,” Mike Dunleavy said. “We have guys that are just being real unselfish right now, making the open pass, making the right play, which leads to the open shot. That's how you score in this league.”
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