A lack of consistent production from Bulls big men has been a dominant story line all season, so Ben Gordon decided to take matters in his own hands — or, more accurately, his finger.
With Joakim Noah benched and Tyrus Thomas playing just 5 minutes 6 seconds, Gordon spectacularly blocked an Antonio Daniels drive and then mimicked Dikembe Mutombo's finger wag as the Bulls began a fast break the other way.
"I've always wanted to do that," Gordon said, smiling.
The lineup also spoke volumes about Thomas and Noah, the latter pulled as a starter in favor of Aaron Gray, who finished with zero points and nine rebounds.
"I thought the smaller lineup was more effective," Del Negro said. "We have to get more commitment and consistency from our bigs. I thought the guys who were competing and playing the hardest should play."
Del Negro finally admitted Noah's adjustments move beyond merely improving his conditioning.
"Being in the right spot more defensively and getting a better feel for the offensive execution and timing," Del Negro said.
The Bulls' offense rarely looked better in posting season-highs in points, shooting percentage (52.4), assists (31), three-pointers (11) and three-point shooting (55 percent).
"We moved the ball real well with the small lineup," said Deng, whose second straight strong game featured a team-high 26 points. "All the guys could make shots. When we do that, we are pretty tough to stop."
This being the Bulls, though, they watched a 16-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to 102-98 before Drew Gooden's three-point play with 2:17 left and Hughes' three-pointer with 1:35 left righted the ship.
Hughes' 24 points featured 5-of-6 shooting from three-point land, where he is 12 of his last 17.
Del Negro's unconventional lineup got off to a rocky start. At 6 feet 11 inches, Andray Blatche used his 4-inch height advantage to back Nocioni down into the post and score back-to-back baskets quickly before Del Negro burned a timeout.
Then the lineup responded, with Nocioni taking a charge from Blatche and draining a three-pointer at the other end. Nocioni also sneaked free for a layup and, following Gordon's Mutombo impersonation, Deng scored on a baseline finger roll. When Gordon casually swished a three-pointer, the Bulls had a 10-0 run and a 79-68 lead.
"I liked that lineup," said Gordon, who scored 21. "We moved the ball well, spaced the floor and got a lot of open looks."
Del Negro had stressed the importance of ball movement consistently since Wednesday's loss in Milwaukee. And the Bulls responded, assisting on 17 of 22 first-half field goals.
For the game, the Bulls committed just nine turnovers with Rose tallying eight assists to zero miscues.