Bulls get defensive in win over Nets


Dec 30

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

Now what was that I saw watching the Bulls beat the New Jersey Nets Monday 100-87? What’s that called again?

You know, like when Vince Carter couldn’t get anywhere and launched a 30 footer with the Bulls leading 88-86. Then there was that scrambling movement across the floor back and forth until Jarvis Hayes had to fire off a jumper with about a second left on the shot clock.

By the way, I just loved the previous Bulls possession, when Andres Nocioni, who combined with Derrick Rose for 18 straight Bulls fourth quarter points in a six and a half minute stretch, was fouled hurling himself at the basket and after the whistle blew followed through and smashed Josh Boone in the head. This is what you call a cumulative effect and makes guys a bit tentative on further drives. Yes, that’s our Noce.

“Sometimes I can do it, but I think I was filled with confidence today,” said Nocioni. “I took my open shots. I didn’t do anything special, just take my open shots when Derrick (Rose) took it to the basket and couldn’t make a layup.”

Anyway, back to that thing I just can’t put a finger on.

Those two Nocioni free throws gave the Bulls a 90-86 lead with 3:10 left, and after the Hayes miss, the Nets settled into a somewhat passive zone-not a great idea with the Bulls firing away at almost 50 percent from the perimeter, and Ben Gordon downed a three for a 93-86 lead.

Then, there it was again, that, uh, you know, that thing.

Vince Carter drove and was smothered into a miss and after a Rose turnover, Hayes drove and had his layup attempt smothered, after which Gordon effectively stuck the knife in with another three. Dagger!

Oh, yeah, defense. That’s the ticket. By Ben, they’ve got it. The reign of pain stayed mainly on the Nets this time. Bulls players moving, staying in front, fighting over screens, challenging penetrators. Who knew that was possible? Certainly not the way things had gone this month before Monday with seven straight road losses and opponents averaging 106.4 per game in the last 13. Heck, opponents were averaging 104.2 in the games the Bulls won.

Which is why the loss to Atlanta Saturday looked like one of the better efforts because it seemed like it was becoming clear this team had either no intention or ability to defend, and that it just preferred to match jump shots and quick shots.

But this time, the Bulls climbed on top (by 13) quickly with some nice first quarter shooting from Gordon—who finished with 24 points—; Derrick Rose with 21 points (on nine of 15 shooting) and a career high 13 assists; Larry Hughes with 17 points off the bench to match Nocioni’s 17. The Bulls bench outscored New Jersey’s 44-16.

“I think we played better defensively,” said Nocioni. “When we needed (to play good defense), we did it, in the fourth quarter we did it. I liked our attitude; I liked how we played the last quarter so that is good, this is how we need to play.”

Though jump shooting teams generally don’t do blowouts, and especially not the Bulls in New Jersey, where the last time the Bulls won here before Monday, 13 games ago, Ron Artest was making a clinching basket after a run of scores from A.J. Guyton with his 24 points.

An aside here for those thinking free agency bonanza.

That was the Bulls in 2000, the summer of Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady which became the winter of Ron Mercer, Brad Miller and six draft picks who didn’t know the meaning of the word quit, and a lot of other words. Like win. They got 15 of them that season, including the last two, one in New Jersey. There weren’t any more to come, especially when Jason Kidd got there and Scott Skiles got to Chicago, as I recall once being near the Nets bench in New Jersey and overhearing Kidd late in a game saying, “I ain’t losing to that guy.” Of course, being a coach and having Kidd mad at you was hardly unique.

So, seven years later these Bulls apparently had enough.

Could that have been Joakim Noah chanting, “Win one for Dalibor?”

I’m pretty sure Noah doesn’t remember the forgettable Bagaric or any other of those Bulls. It seemed Noah was becoming forgettable himself getting benched Saturday for Cedric Simmons. But Noah Monday had likely his best game of a forgettable season with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a season high 32 minutes he deserved to play.

“Got some good performances from a lot of guys when we needed it,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “I thought the ball moved better. We attacked the zone better. Just a really good solid win when we needed it, especially when we had guys out. We were aggressive defensively.”

Noah doesn’t make himself a threat when he gets the ball, though he did finish hard with slam dunks twice and a layup once on pick and rolls, and several times made the kind of hustling offensive rebounds and defensive energy plays which make a difference.

Noah beat the Nets to a Gordon miss in the first quarter and got it back to Gordon for a three and 13-7 quick start. He got another off a Nocioni miss and fed it back to Nocioni, though it was a miss. But it kept the Nets standing around as the Bulls went ahead 38-24 early in the second quarter.

The Nets got back into the game then when Rose went out for Lindsey Hunter and the offense went stagnant. Rose was, again, absolutely brilliant on offense, repeatedly flashing by the quick Devin Harris and outplaying Harris a second straight time this season with drives to score or sucking the entire Nets defense in for easy kickouts.

“Too many lay-ups, too many points in transition,” said Vince Carter. “Gordon, Rose and Nocioni hurt us.”

But with Rose out midway through the second, the Nets went on a 15-5 run as Harris finally began to get going after a scoreless first and no one, like in Chicago earlier this month, could do anything with Carter, who finished with 31 on 11 of 19 shooting.

“I tried to set the tone by coming out strong,” said Carter, who had 10 of the Nets’ 20 in the first quarter and wore out Thabo Sefolosha, who had a scoreless game and never seemed comfortable. “I felt like I had to provide a spark.”

Noah did for the Bulls, who led 54-49 at halftime with a Noah follow on a Rose miss for the Bulls’ last score.

Aaron Gray also had some nice moves in the post and big body boxouts, but the game got too fast for him and he was drawing fouls again reaching in late on plays, giving Noah more opportunity with Drew Gooden and Luol Deng still out with ankle injuries.

Gray was part of nine straight empty Bulls possessions to open the third quarter that enabled the Nets to take a 60-54 lead. Rose then angled left across the lane for a layup through four Nets and on the next possession Noah caught a laser pass from Rose and slammed it and the Bulls pulled within 72-70 after three.

It’s the kind of play from Noah that had been much expected and curiously missing.

He’d probably say for lack of opportunity in averaging 17.3 minutes this season.

Though hardly anyone in Chicago would know because for a supposed outgoing free spirit, Noah has been consistently uncommunicative and relatively spiritless.

We’ve heard of the curious lack of conditioning, certainly a head scratcher, and seen the weakness of him being bullied around the basket while trying for position.

But he’s mostly been a mystery.

I was looking forward to him joining the team, supposedly an iconoclast with a wide variety of world wide interests.

Though from the start Noah has been difficult to reach, frequently avoiding interviews, leaving the locker room so early sometimes you wondered if he showered and so late sometimes the clubhouse kids were cleaning out everyone’s dirty socks. Likely some of that was caused by the curious incident when he lambasted an assistant and his teammates asked his suspension be doubled.

Noah could laugh about it now, though it took an interview I saw with a Palm Beach reporter when the Bulls were in Miami. Noah rarely talks to Chicago reporters, which isn’t a good way to reach Chicago fans.

Noah admitted he never thought your image mattered, but conceded to writer Chris Perkins, “It does matter. People don’t really know who you are, so when those are the only things people know, you’re automatically a bad guy. I had a situation happen to me in the summertime (open container of alcohol and marijuana possession in Gainesville). You’ve just got to be careful and understand about people’s perceptions. I had never experienced anything (before last season). I had never experienced the coach getting fired. I had never experienced the magnitude of the media. You’re kind of like a target, especially when you’re in the NBA because everybody knows who you are. You have to be careful, and at the same time realize this is a wonderful opportunity. Not a lot of people get to say they’re a professional athlete.”

Now that’s a guy I’d like to spend some time with.

Not that it matters if he plays like he did Monday.

The fourth quarter looked like it would be a shootout between two teams probably fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the East. The Bulls now are 14-17 and the Nets 15-16 with two games left, but the Bulls ahead 2-0 for that potential tiebreaker. Eight or bust!

The Bulls seemed inspired by Noah’s effort and opened the fourth moving the ball through him. He can set the high screen, and this time was ready for those passes. He did miss a pair of free throws after one, but was helping keep the Nets defense from squeezing the perimeter players.

With the Nets ahead 75-72, Rose took charge, blowing by Harris yet again for a score, though the Bulls gave back a three-point play in transition when Hughes missed a drive and fell trying to draw a foul and Harris ran out. Rose again scored on a drive and after Harris hit a jumper off a dribble handoff, the Rose-Noce show continued with Nocioni hitting a three as Rose drew double coverage in the Nets’ soft zone.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” said Rose. “Right when they would step up a teammate would be open so I was just making the open passes. In the second half they were (double teaming me), but I adjusted to them.”

Like an expert tailor fitting a fine suit. Just making it look easy.

Rose then blew by Harris and Josh Boone at the basket to make it 81-80 Bulls with 7:39 left.

“Their guys were on the same page, getting easy buckets and we were struggling to score,” said Harris, who had 26 but on eight of 20 shooting.

Yes, the Bulls. Carter hit consecutive jumpers, but with the game tied at 86 with 4:35 left after Boone got a dunk when Noah was leveled on the offensive end and couldn’t get back, the Nets scored just one point the rest of the way.

The Bulls scored on seven of their next eight possessions with the two Gordon threes and it was one mostly forced shot and done for the Nets.

“In the fourth quarter, our inability to guard the pick and roll caused some problems,” said Nets coach Lawrence Frank. “Rose getting to the paint, Nocioni stretching the defense. You have to give a lot of credit to the Bulls. Once we switched to zone we got a couple stops, then Gordon hits the three, then another, and on the other end we just ran out of bullets.”

And ways to score against the Bulls defense. Hello, old friend. Will we see you again?

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