CHICAGO – Technically, the Bulls’ first five-game win streak since March 7, 2012, began on Nov. 8.
In Tom Thibodeau’s world, the streak, which continued in less-than-stellar fashion with Monday’s 86-81 victory over the Bobcats, started on Nov. 4.
That’s when the schedule allowed a team that had played disjointedly and in fragmented fashion since an injury-plagued training camp to practice – for consecutive days.
This is Thibodeau’s version of heaven.
And even though those 2 days initially were followed by a road loss at the Pacers, defensive and offensive chemistry began to form. That cohesion didn’t make consistent appearances in an underwhelming effort that featured 36 percent shooting and 16 turnovers.
But in their last United Center appearance before a season-high, six-game trip, they mustered just enough plays to keep the win total climbing, if not the across-the-board improvement.
“They play a way that leads to winning and playoff execution,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “They play playoff-style basketball 82 times a year. So they’re preparing for the games they need to prepare for.”
Luol Deng’s 21 points led the Bulls, with none bigger than his 3-pointer with 27.1 seconds left and the Bobcats down just one.
The Bulls had led by as many as 10 early before failing to score the final 5 minutes of the first half. They also endured a 6-minute stretch without a field goal in the second half, though they did make free throws in this span.
That included Derrick Rose’s first free throw attempts in 10 quarters, a staggering statistic for someone who attacks the basket as much as Rose does. Lately, though, Rose has tended to settle for outside shots.
Rose went 4-for-13 with just 12 points, but hit a huge floater with 1 minute, 46 seconds left for a four-point lead. Following a Gerald Henderson 3-pointer, Rose followed with a strong drive and left-handed lay-in with 67 seconds remaining.
“I’m not going to stop working,” Rose said. “I’m going to keep shooting. My confidence is just going to keep growing. Like I said, I’m going to have games like that where I shoot great. I’m going to have games where I miss the majority of my shots. But that’s not going to stop me from taking the shots that I normally take.
Carlos Boozer also struggled with 5-for-17 shooting but, like Rose, stayed with the game to deliver big plays late. He had a tip-in and nifty interior feed to Joakim Noah as part of his 12-point, season-high, 17-rebound night.
Jimmy Butler scored 10 points in the first 6 minutes and overcame a right toe injury to finish with 14 as all five starters hit double figures again.
"It got choppy, particularly in the second quarter," Thibodeau said. "They do that to you. They’re very good defensively. The second half, we did a better job of getting the ball to the other side. But we found a way to win. We just kept grinding."