CHICAGO -- Going into halftime Monday night, the situation was embarrassing but familiar for this edition of the Chicago Bulls.
They looked sloppy, uninterested and were trailing the lowly one-win Philadelphia 76ers by five. Chicago preps legend Jahlil Okafor had 16 points at the break. The Robert Covington (of Proviso West High School) Fan Club members were going nuts.
We didn't know Derrick Rose was sick yet, just that he took only one shot and kind of lingered around the 3-point line most of the time. But after two quarters against the worst team in the NBA, it was about as bad as it gets. I'm not saying the Sixers were confident, but I saw one guy take a selfie with a kid on his way to the locker room at halftime.
According to one Bull, halftime was pretty intense.
"It was very vocal, to be honest," Doug McDermott said. "[Joakim Noah] was very heated and [Pau Gasol] actually talked up, saying we've got to step on teams' throats like this, you know, that aren't winning this year. Other teams see this film of us lollygagging the first half and they're not scared of us. So we really wanted to change that around in the second half, and I thought we did a much better job."
(A couple of veterans, wary of the media's line of questioning, denied this, of course.)
Whether it was Gasol's inspiring words or the very existence of the 76ers, the Bulls quickly turned it around in the third quarter, outscoring Philadelphia by 22 en route to a breezy 115-96 victory. It was only the Bulls' third double-digit win this season, and the second against the Sixers.
This is your Bulls team, Chicago. Deal with it and try to enjoy the good times.
"It has nothing to do with Philly," said Noah, who had 15 rebounds and eight assists in 22 minutes. "We obviously have an issue right now with playing with the right energy. I think that it's definitely something we need to [change]. This team has an identity of playing with intensity and the right energy. That's been our identity for a while now. I think it's up to us to find that, play hard the whole game."
Easier said than done. I went to this game to see if the Bulls could look impressive in a victory, something that's been hard to come by for a team with a not-so-bad 14-8 record. The starters looked lethargic in the first half -- coach Fred Hoiberg later said both Rose and Jimmy Butler were "a little bit sick" -- but the first unit led the third-quarter surge. The reserves moved the ball with the kind of pace and unselfishness Hoiberg preaches, but they didn't defend much in the second quarter.
Starting small forward Tony Snell, who played a team-high 36 minutes and 38 seconds, was the hero of the night, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the third quarter. He added 11 rebounds and two steals. His defense fed into his scoring. Just as general manager Gar Forman drew it up when he drafted Snell two years ago.
"I think Tony impacted the game every way you possibly can," Hoiberg said.
That's good. The Bulls need Snell to be an asset, not a liability in the starting lineup with Mike Dunleavy out indefinitely after a slow recovery from back surgery. But they really need Rose to show some consistent scoring. He got his hair cut and shed his post-surgery face mask. Next up is his complete floor game.
"Other teams see this film of us lollygagging the first half and they're not scared of us. So we really wanted to change that around in the second half, and I thought we did a much better job." Doug McDermott
"Derrick almost didn't play in the second half," Hoiberg said. "He's really under the weather. He and Jimmy were a little sick out there. He had very little energy. He was not able to eat much today. I'm glad he fought through it. He hit a big shot for us to open up the second [half]."
Rose scored all six of his points in the third quarter. So don't rip him for this game.
I haven't ripped Rose much through his uninspiring start to the season. He missed training camp and had blurred vision thanks to a broken orbital bone. But he played through it all, never making excuses, always talking positive -- even though it infuriated his critics.
He's been unquestionably bad for most of the season. But let's be generous and give him until the end of January before you ship him off to Philadelphia for Richaun Holmes and Nik Stauskas. I think he'll snap out of his funk as the season goes along, but I don't have any proof it will happen, aside from his career numbers.
It's easy to rip this team for what it is now and it's almost impossible to visualize this team morphing into a championship contender by the spring. But there are signs of hope. Butler has his moments -- he had 19 of his game-high 23 in the first half Monday -- and Noah is coming on as a reserve. The Bulls have to adjust to Hoiberg's style of play, and he has to conform his game plan to this team's talents. It doesn't happen overnight, or even over two months.
Noah isn't happy playing 22 minutes a game, but he's leading a second unit that is turning into a cohesive group with good spacing for shooters. Nikola Mirotic was busted down to reserve last week, and that might be a good thing. He had 17 points and hit five of eight 3-pointers. McDermott added 13 points, albeit on 6-for-16 shooting. With Noah directing traffic, that group can add some life to an often moribund offense.
"We've got great chemistry right now," McDermott said. "It's only Niko's second game not starting, so I think we're really effective out there. He got his shot going tonight, he got his groove back from the perimeter. Joakim obviously is doing things for us that are important. He's finding us on cuts. He's just playing so unselfish, so it makes our jobs easier."
By the game's end, the fans were cheering for Big Macs and the first regular-season home minutes for Bobby Portis. The players were happy in the locker room, glad to see Snell shine. But this is a team in transition, unsure of its identity and what's to come these next few months.
"It was good," Noah said of the second half. "But we've got to be able to do it for 48 minutes."
That's the challenge no halftime speech can solve.