Kemba Walker and his fellow Bobcats guards sliced through the Bulls D on Monday. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)How did you celebrate the end of 2012? Raising a glass of champagne, putting on a sweet hat and blowing into a noisemaker, maybe? That sounds pretty sweet, but I'm guessing it wasn't quite as sweet as getting your first taste of victory in more than a month, like the Charlotte Bobcats did with a 91-81 win over the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Monday afternoon. After all, snapping an 18-game losing streak gives you the same buzz without that meddlesome hangover.
Yes, the 36-day drought is over, and Charlotte's head coach doesn't want to hear anything else about it, according to Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune:
"What streak do you mean? One win in a row?" Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap asked.
That's right, Mike. When positives are present, you have to accentuate them, and for the first time in quite a while, there were a lot of bright spots for the Bobcats.
After weeks of ineffective offense bogged down by turnovers and poor execution, Dunlap said he decided to "put the playbook in the freezer and just let our guys go at them," eschewing standard sets in favor of a freer-flowing motion-heavy style. Perhaps Dunlap should keep it in the deep freeze; against the league's No. 4 defense, guards Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon combined for 64 points on 45 field-goal attempts, giving Chicago's backcourt — which was without Kirk Hinrich, who missed the game due to "a compilation of things," according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau — fits with their quickness and ability to penetrate off the bounce.
With first-round pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sidelined with a corneal abrasion, second-rounder Jeffery Taylor stepped into the starting lineup and mostly held his own in 24 minutes; with starting power forward Byron Mullens sidelined by a severe left ankle sprain and some extra size needed against the likes of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, recent D-League call-up Jeff Adrien got his first extended run of the season and responded with nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Everything seemed to be coming up Bobcats right from the get-go; Hakim Warrick even did this:
After plummeting from the fringes of Eastern Conference playoff contention to the third-worst record in the NBA over the past month, the Bobcats blitzed the Bulls on New Year's Eve, ripping off a 10-2 run early in the first quarter to jump out to a quick lead that they'd never relinquish. No, seriously — Chicago never once held a lead against a team that, over the previous 18 teams, had been getting outscored by more than 15 points per 100 possessions. They tied the game at 65 at the end of the third quarter, but Charlotte went on a 10-0 run to start the fourth that effectively salted the game away and put Thibodeau in the position of intentionally fouling the Bobcats' big men to try to force Dunlap's team to win it at the line and extend the game in hope of a ship-righting comeback. Had Charlotte not missed 17 free throws, this might've been a real blowout.
After notching two solid road wins over the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, the Bulls have been blown out by the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets, scored a closer-than-it-should've-been win over the Washington Wizards and surrendered a double-digit home loss to a bad Bobcats team. Chicago now sits at 16-13, a game back of the Indiana Pacers in the Central Division, and seems to be grasping a bit; according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, forward Gibson called his team "swagger-less" after Monday's loss.
"Right now you can look around in this locker room and see it in everyone’s face," Gibson said [...] "There’s that look of letdown, and you can see the heads are hanging.
"Even though our record is still above .500, our record should be way better than what it is now. We’ve given away a lot of games that we’ve should have won. It comes down to our will. It’s time to push ourselves and get back to winning. Get that swag back."
One good step would seem to be making more shots. Facing the league's worst defense — a unit that has spent the last month allowing any opponent they face to score like an at-the-top-of-their-game Oklahoma City Thunder — Chicago turned in an offensive performance they'd just as soon forget, shooting just 35.1 percent from the floor, making fewer than half their attempts at the rim and generally seeming unable to get anything going from anywhere on the floor. (Here's the Bulls' shot chart from Monday afternoon; remember, red is bad.)
Still, despite the awful offensive outing, Thibodeau hung the loss on allowing the Cats to shoot 47 percent and outrebound his Bulls 52-49.
"You can deal with the shots. Some nights you're going to shoot better than others," Thibodeau said after the game, according to Travis Miller of The Associated Press. "But the defense and rebounding is not where it needs to be."
Hardly anything seemed to be where it needed to be for the Bulls on New Year's Eve, as summed up in this anecdote from Bobcats beat writer Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
Late in the fourth quarter I turned to a Chicago sportswriter and asked him if this was the Bulls’ worse performance this season. His reply? "Isn't this the worst loss in NBA history?"
Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it was the end of the second-longest losing streak in Bobcats history — we remember you, Last Season's 23-Game Slide — and, Charlotte fans hope, the start of something better, if Dunlap can just keeps that playbook in the freezer and those guards running.