By Cody Westerlund-
CHICAGO (CBS) – Bulls forward Taj Gibson stood at his locker and flashed a quick smile, the truth filtering out after a 103-83 win victory against the Warriors on Wednesday night at the United Center.
Just three weeks prior, Chicago was torched by Golden State point guard Stephen Curry to the tune of 34 points and nine assists in a loss in Oakland. So it was understandable what Gibson was hoping for this time around.
“I thought we could hold him to at least 20,” Gibson said of Curry. “Just try to make him frustrated, in the fourth quarter try to take it over.”
Few players in the NBA force a defense’s hand quite like Curry does. His dead-eye accuracy (nearly 42 percent 3-point shooting), seemingly unlimited range, quick release, deft ball-handling skills and willingness to pass make him as tough to guard as anyone not named LeBron, Durant or Melo. It’s why Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich was at times Wednesday utilizing a strategy you’d generally discourage youngsters from emulating – in-your-grill weak-side defense.
Curry’s skill set – and that of the Warriors as a whole – is also what made Wednesday one of Bulls’ most impressive performances of the season. In an absolute shellacking in which it led by as many as 28, Chicago held Curry to five points – tying his season-low and 19 fewer his average – on 2-of-10 shooting along with five assists and five turnovers.
After the game at Golden State, when Curry was what Gibson called “lights out” on 13-of-19 shooting, this was a sweet measure of satisfaction, if not revenge.
“We were juiced about this game,” Gibson said.
Afterward, both coaches played the politically correct card, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau saying Curry missed “a couple good looks he normally makes” and Golden State coach Mark Jackson saying the Bulls played him the same way they did at Oracle Arena.
The Bulls players were more enlightening and forthright, tracing the success to a pair of factors: the tenaciousness of Hinrich and the exquisite execution of the scouting report.
Hinrich flanked Curry for most of the game, pestering, chasing over the screens and recovering.
“With Kirk, you can never measure his true value if you go by statistics,” Thibodeau said. “If you go by what he’s doing for your team, setting the tone with his defense, his ball pressure, his hustle plays … The things he does, it really unites and inspires your team.
“It’s never lost on his teammates and certainly not lost on coaches.”
Most significantly, Hinrich time and again funneled Curry toward the big men. Because of the mobility of center Joakim Noah and Gibson, the Bulls are as well-equipped to handle weapons like Curry as any team in the league, as they can show and recover. On this night, their constant trapping and hedging gave Curry little space and disrupted the Golden State offense to the extreme.
“It was contained traps, and he got himself in trouble a little bit,” Jackson said.
No Warriors starter even scored in double figures, just the 11th time it happened in the NBA this year and first time since 1999 for Golden State.
“We can trust each other, and that’s something that’s a growing process,” said Carlos Boozer, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“We trusted our defense recovering … The pressure, we kept it on (Curry) all night.”
The Bulls (31-26) downplayed any bigger meaning here, though it was arguably one of their four best wins of the season.
They only hope to keep building that trust, Boozer said, for one reason.
“Only time will tell, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the playoffs,” Noah said.
Cody Westerlund is sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.