Bulls aren't hanging heads after loss to Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The most telling part of Friday night's game for the Chicago Bulls didn't come when the final buzzer sounded. Chicago lost 106-94 to a Golden State Warriors team that is now 14-0 and is playing better basketball than anyone else. The intriguing part on the Bulls' side was listening to their players and coaches talk about the game after it had ended.

Sure, they were disappointed they had lost, but for a team that has struggled all season to find a consistent effort, they were proud of the way they hung around while playing without Derrick Rose (sprained left ankle) and Aaron Brooks (left hamstring).

"I thought we really competed," Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We battled, battled them the whole game. They made a couple big plays down the stretch. We couldn't get it back on the other end. But if we battle like that, we're going to win a lot of basketball games this year."

Watching the Bulls play the way they did the past two games was a little like traveling back in time to the Tom Thibodeau era. Thibodeau and his players thrived off being the underdogs. They loved rising to the challenge that came with playing short-handed -- usually without Rose. They loved proving everybody wrong when the odds were stacked against them.

A few weeks into the Hoiberg era, the Bulls seem to be remembering the core of what made them such a great regular-season team over the years. After an up-and-down start, Hoiberg's players seem a little more comfortable with what they're being asked to do, and the rookie NBA coach is getting them to play tough on the defensive end. The offense hasn't been as smooth as the Bulls would like, but the defense seems to be kicking in. The Bulls rank 10th in the league, giving up just 98.8 points a game, and hung tough with the best team on the planet all night.

Hoiberg and his players don't believe in moral victories, but when the Bulls can keep it close against the Warriors -- and do it while playing without Rose and Brooks, and having veteran Kirk Hinrich play almost 35 minutes -- it's easy to understand why the locker room was upbeat after a loss. The Bulls' backcourt of Hinrich and Jimmy Butler combined for 45 points, besting the Warriors' dynamic duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who combined for 42. That's the first time all season Curry and Thompson have been outscored by an opponent's backcourt, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"We understand how hard you have to play in order to win in this league," Butler said after scoring 28 points, grabbing nine rebounds and contributing seven assists in 39 minutes. "Everybody's buying into it, everybody's working on their game, and everybody's just playing incredibly hard. When we do that, some nights we fall up short like we did, but a lot of nights we'll win games."

This group still has plenty of flaws. Joakim Noah looks lost on the offensive end. Tony Snell is struggling to contribute at all, and Taj Gibson lacks the consistency in his game right now that made him so dependable over the past six seasons. Doug McDermott is still a liability on the defensive end, and E'Twaun Moore still has some games where he struggles to find a rhythm. Having said that, the Bulls are starting to believe in themselves again on a nightly basis. The offense might not be there all the time, but the defensive intensity can be packaged and produced each night.

"We're happy about our effort," Pau Gasol said. "The way we brought our energy and our intensity."

The fact that Butler and fellow All-Star Gasol are the ones saying they are pleased with the way things have evolved in the past two weeks is important. That's because they were the most vocal about their frustrations regarding the Bulls' inconsistencies. Chicago didn't win Friday night, but the aftermath didn't feel like a loss. In the long and winding road of an 82-game season, some defeats are used as building blocks for a better future. Friday could prove to be one of those stepping stones for this group and its new coach.

"It's been really good and that's what got us four straight wins, is playing with that type of effort," Hoiberg said. "Again, we had it tonight, we were right there down the stretch, we just didn't make the necessary plays to get us over the hump and win the game. But yeah, the effort's been there -- especially the last five. If we can keep that consistent we're going to be a good team."