The Bulls' suspenseful finishes made for great must-see TV in their first four games.
That said, you couldn't blame coach Scott Skiles for wanting to see his players start as well as they finish. They gave him that Saturday night against the Jazz in a 103-98 victory in front of 22,272 at the United Center.
"The offense was excellent," said Luol Deng, who scored a team-high 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting off the bench. "Everybody was just hitting their shots."
This was about building momentum heading into the typically grueling Western Conference road swing that begins Monday night at Golden State.
"We're confident," Deng said. "We just won a big game. But we have to go out there with a purpose."
Finally, the Bulls (3-2) have some swagger early in a season. They head west above .500 for the first time since 1997.
"We'll take our chances with anybody," Deng said.
Mehmet Okur led Utah with 33 points and 17 rebounds.
After one quarter, the Bulls led by 11 behind the double-digit scoring of Kirk Hinrich and Deng. Their early attack enabled the Bulls to blister the Jazz from the field with a whopping shooting percentage of .667. Hinrich finished with 19 points, 11 assists, two steals and just three turnovers.
"It just looked like we were ready to play," Hinrich said. "I don't know how to better explain it."
For the first time this season, the Bulls led at the half, going up 55-45. At one point in the second quarter they went up by 16 on a 17-foot jumper by Ben Gordon, who scored 17 on 7-for-10 shooting.
Gordon went on a roll with 10 second-quarter points, and the team's shooting percentage remained scorching at .618 for the quarter.
The Bulls reverted to their old ways and let the game get close in the second half. The Jazz pulled within two points in the fourth quarter but couldn't fully recover from the Bulls' overwhelming first-half bursts.
"We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot coming down the stretch," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "They made all the big plays when they had to. They made all the hustle plays. When you give up as many layups as we did, you can't win."
The Bulls were nowhere near perfection. They lost the rebounding battle, committed 16 turnovers and were mediocre from the free-throw line late. Their defense became tentative in the third quarter.
"We were still offensively able to stay in the game," Skiles said.
It was appropriate that Hinrich got the Bulls started. Going into the game, he was shooting .480 from the field and .545 on three-pointers. Those numbers exceed Skiles' expectations but are expected to drop as the season wears on.
Nevertheless, Skiles points out that when Hinrich's percentages are up, he gives the Bulls an added dimension on offense. That's a nice way of saying he gives opponents fits.
Hinrich opened the game with 11 first-quarter points and went 3 of 4 on three-pointers.
"I hit my first one feeling good," Hinrich said. "I kept finding myself open. I guess I kind of jump-started us. On the other hand, we were playing really good defense."
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