The Bulls played their first meaningful game at the United Center since losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat last season and looked like a team destined to make another deep playoff run while dominating the Memphis Grizzlies 104-64 on Sunday night in their home opener.
Derrick Rose worried this was a trap game. The Bulls were returning from a successful West Coast road trip and the Grizzlies had played one fewer game, but Rose and his mates had their way from the onset to the delight of a sellout crowd that celebrated the team's many achievements from last season, which served as a reminder of how high expectations are for the new year.
"There's no better feeling," Joakim Noah said of playing in front of the home crowd. "I woke up this morning feeling terrible. I was sick. I got into the building and I forgot all that. It's great to play in Chicago in front of Bulls fans."
The Bulls jumped out to an early lead and soon Memphis became a speck on the horizon. They led by as many as 14 in the first and 26 in the second before the lead ballooned to 46 in the third. They played by far their best defense of the season while holding the Grizzlies to 31-percent shooting. They also outrebounded Memphis 55-40, had 33 fast-break points and outscored them in the paint 48-26.
The Grizzlies upset the San Antonio Spurs in the first-round of the playoffs last season and along with Oklahoma City are considered one of the up-and-coming teams in the Western Conference. Memphis was without point guard Mike Conley, who is recovering from a sprained ankle. Leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Zach Randolph suffered a knee contusion late in the first quarter and did not return.
Even if the Grizzlies were without two starters for the majority of the game, this was impressive stuff, and it wasn't as if the Bulls weren't shorthanded in the backcourt with Rip Hamilton being a late scratch with a groin injury and C.J. Watson leaving the game with a sprained left elbow in the fourth quarter.
Carlos Boozer became a pariah during last season's playoff run but dominated for much of the game and finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. During one second-quarter stretch, Boozer scored 11 of his team's 13 points to help stake the Bulls to a 54-28 lead at the break. Rose left the game with 16 points and six assists with 4:39 left in the third quarter and did not return.
"Carlos was great tonight, really good," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He ran the floor, played defense, rebounded the ball, scored. He played really, really well."
Ronnie Brewer finished with 17 points and five assists for the Bulls. Luol Deng added 11 points and seven rebounds.
"Everybody felt we let one go against Golden State," Brewer said. "We didn't want to come off that trip and let down in the first game at home. We wanted to come out with a lot of intensity and that's what we did."
All in all, a nice start for a team that hopes to improve on its 36-5 home record from last season.
"They got a little bit bored out their watching the game," Rose said of the sellout crowd, which cheered wildy for Brain Scalabrine in the final minutes "Hopefully, they loved it. We played against a great team. They were missing a couple players but they're a great team and we played hard."