(MCT) — NEW ORLEANS — Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wanted more than just a victory Tuesday night.
He wanted his players to rediscover their “level of intensity” after the five-day All-Star Game break.
“When you get that to the right level, it allows you to execute at your highest potential on both ends of the floor,” he said. “We have to get back to playing really hard.”
That they did, especially in the fourth quarter of a 96-87 victory over the Hornets.
The Hornets hit 77 points with 9 minutes, 7 seconds to play. They didn’t surpass 80 until more than five minutes had passed.
The key stretch was when Joakim Noah soared above the rim for a lefty tip-in off a Jimmy Butler miss to make it 86-79. Then Noah and Taj Gibson took turns swatting Hornets shots.
Noah said he didn’t get much sleep during All-Star festivities in Houston, but he should rest easy Tuesday after stuffing the stat sheet with 15 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
Kirk Hinrich’s fingerprints also were all over this victory. In his first game back after missing seven with an infected elbow, he scored just five points but had 10 assists against only two turnovers.
The Bulls’ Luol Deng and Hornets Eric Gordon shared scoring honors with 20 points apiece.
Hinrich and Noah executed a textbook give-and-go that gave the Bulls a 66-54 lead. And then Hinrich drove, attracted two defenders and fed Noah, who got fouled.
Hinrich’s enthusiasm spilled into the defensive end, where he stumbled coming off a screen and was called for a foul. He protested with official Sean Wright long enough to get a technical foul, but no damage was done. Ryan Anderson missed the free throw.
Hinrich later fed Carlos Boozer on a pick-and-roll that ended with an uncontested slam.
The Bulls went 2-5 in Hinrich’s absence, albeit against a tough slate of foes, so Thibodeau was excited about his return, saying before the game: “He runs the team very efficiently.”
Marco Belinelli, returning to the court where he played home games the previous two seasons, also made an impact with his passing.
With the shot clock winding down in the second quarter, he fired cross court to Butler, who knocked down a 3-pointer. Late in the third quarter, he fed Deng for an open 3.
“You want to come here, play a good game and especially win,” Belinelli said before the morning shootaround. “This is an important game for us, and especially for me.”
The victory evened the season series. Despite playing without Anthony Davis and Gordon on Nov. 3, the Hornets still romped at the United Center 89-82.