TORONTO — On a Friday night their most explosive scorer sat, the Bulls’ offense showed signs of rhythm and relevance.
With Derrick Rose sidelined because of his sore right hamstring, Kirk Hinrich ably ran the show and all five starters scored in double figures in a 96-80 dismantling of the Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
The Bulls led by as many as 27 in winning their first road game in four tries. Of more importance, they established an inside presence early through Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer that allowed open looks from 3-point range late.
The Bulls have shot horribly from beyond the arc this season, connecting at just 26.3 percent before knocking down 7 of 16 against the Raptors.
“I thought we did a good job of being efficient in the paint early,” Boozer said. “They started coming with double-teams and we did a good job of moving the ball to our shooters.
“Kirk is a great player, totally underrated. He does a great job of running our team, gets us in our sets.”
Boozer got halfway to his second career triple-double in the first half before settling for 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 19 points. Hinrich was Hinrich.
“Kirk proved last year he’s more than capable of running the team,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I liked the rhythm we had. With Derrick out, we know that we have to play a certain way and we need everybody.”
Perhaps most encouraging, Jimmy Butler matched Deng and Hinrich with two 3-pointers and Noah continued his return to form offensively. Noah finished with 18 points and nine rebounds and made quick, decisive decisions with the ball.
“You knew it was going to come,” Hinrich said. “It seemed like early he was second-guessing himself. It seems like he’s starting to play more instinctively.”
Thibodeau said Noah’s offensive timing and tenacity has improved for three straight games.
“You can see it,” Thibodeau said. “He’s getting really good position. He’s taking his time. He’s getting a quality shot off. He’s making a second and third effort to the offensive board.”
DeMar DeRozan tied his career-high with 37 points for the Raptors, who shot just 35.4 percent.
As for Rose, he didn’t participate in Friday’s morning shootaround and still hasn’t practiced since suffering his first-ever hamstring injury on Monday. Though he will be a gametime decision against the undefeated Pacers on Saturday, it wouldn’t be surprising if he sat again.
“Just being smart about the situation,” Rose said. “There’s nothing like rest. The tightness just didn’t loosen up. If it’s still tight, there’s no need to (play Saturday).
“I want to play in every game because I really have to catch a rhythm. But management and the training staff really just tell me to take my time. We just have to be patient.”
His teammates agree.
“He has to take care of himself and be right because we’re going to need him for the long term,” Hinrich said.
Ultimately, the Bulls obviously need Rose’s rare combination of speed and strength to achieve their full potential. But in a young season where their offensive rhythm has come in fits and starts, seeing a more fluid game with Rose sidelined is encouraging.
“We have the same philosophy without him, but our transition is a little slower,” Boozer said, laughing. “It’s different with him out there. But we use each other. We set screens. We pass the ball. We move around.
“We do a couple of things differently. But for the most part, we still hang our hat on defense and rebounding, try to cut our turnovers down and take good shots.”
Those were more on target