After an NBA lockout of 149 days, a frenzied free agent signing period and dwarf-like training camp and preseason schedule, NBA fans were given the greatest Christmas gift they could ask for: basketball. Five games, to be exact. Christmas Day started with the aging Boston Celtics on the road against the overrated New York Knicks and that was followed by a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals with the Miami Heat facing off against defending champion Dallas Mavericks. While the Knicks-Celtics game came down to the final seconds, the Heat-Mavs affair was a laugher. The Heat entered the fourth quarter leading by 32, and eventually won by 11. There were also the Magic-Thunder and Clippers-Warriors tilts, two games I really had no interest in whatsoever.
Obviously, yours truly was eagerly anticipating the second consecutive Christmas Day appearance for the Chicago Bulls. The LA Lakers, somewhat fresh off of a second-round sweep at the hands of the Mavs and even fresher off a botched attempt to trade for new LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul and even fresher off of trading arguably their second-best player to the Mavs, small forward Lamar Odom, were their opponent in both teams’ 2011-12 NBA season opener.
First, the Bulls won 88-87 despite being down by 11 with under 4 minutes left to play in regulation. After missing his only shot attempt of the first quarter, reigning 2010-11 MVP Derrick Rose finished with a very efficient 22 points on 9-13 shooting, including 4-6 from 3-point range. He had 5 assists and hit the game-winning floater over the outstretched arms of Lakers power forward Pau Gasol with 4.8 seconds left. Small forward Luol Deng didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but still managed to score 21 points, grab 7 rebounds and dish out 3 assists. Deng also scored 9 points in the fourth quarter (including a critical 3-point play that cut the Lakers 6-point lead in half) and made the two biggest plays of the game, picking off a lazy Kobe Bryant pass that set up Rose’s game-winner and then cleanly blocking Kobe’s last-second shot attempt. Although it wasn’t 20 & 10, power forward Carlos Boozer scored 15 points on 7-13 shooting, pulled down 6 boards and even–I’m not lying here–blocked a shot. Reserve center Omer Asik had 8 rebounds in 20 minutes, including 4 on the offensive end. The “Bench Mob” bailed out a somewhat ineffective starting five early on, keeping the Bulls in the game until all five starters were back in the game almost halfway through the second quarter. Brian Scalabrine did not play.
New shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton picked up 2 fouls less than 3 minutes into the game and had to be subsequently replaced by reserve SG/SF Ronnie Brewer. Due to the foul trouble, he never really got into a rhythm on the offensive end and finished with only 6 points. Rose committed 5 turnovers, many of them preventable. SG/SF Kyle Korver once again served no purpose because he didn’t hit a shot, especially from 3-point range. Boozer went 1-4 from the free throw line. Dwayne Carter aka Lil’ Wayne was courtside…in a Lakers cap. Brian Scalabrine is still on the Bulls roster.
C Joakim Noah shot 3-12 from the floor. After managing to shoot over 50% from the field in the first half against the revamped defensive scheme of new Lakers head coach Mike Brown, the Bulls shot only 25% from the field in the second half as they saw their 7-point halftime lead disappear. The Bulls also missed 17 of their first 18 shots in the fourth quarter before finally making their comeback. Reserve PF Taj Gibson and Asik combined to go 2-9 from the floor. The Bulls committed 14 turnovers. Brian Scalabrine is still on the Bulls roster.
The Bulls won’t have to travel that far to face their second opponent of the season, the Golden State Warriors. New and first-time Warriors head coach Mark Jackson lost his home and coaching debut last night against the new-look LA Clippers, 105-86. His starting backcourt of PG Stephen Curry and SG Monta Ellis combined to score 19 points on 8-31 shooting from the floor (0-9 from 3), dish out 12 assists and commit 9 turnovers while playing 76 minutes. PF David Lee paced the Warriors with 21 points and 12 rebounds.