Noah leads Bulls to win going two by two for 20 points


Oct 13

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The NBA preseason is a matter of perspective. One can look at things like the Bulls’ 87-86 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center Tuesday as the glass half filled.

You get a win without Derrick Rose and Tyrus Thomas once again–Brad Miller also was out with the flu–as the two starters may play toward the end of the week or early next week.

Or you can look at the glass shattered on the floor and shards sticking out of your foot as the Bulls hung on to split with a team that might have one, perhaps two, legitimate NBA starters on its entire roster.

We’re going with half filled.

Actually, there were some very good moments in Tuesday’s win, which gave the Bulls a 3-1 record. A quick look at the box score will tell you why with Joakim Noah getting 20 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.

Yes, you could say it was against a bunch of smurfs as the Bucks held out Andrew Bogut and Noah was defended by the likes of Hakim Warrick and even Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

“He got to the glass and just caused us a lot of problems all night,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. “We didn’t have anyone who could stay with him. I thought Dan (Gadzuric) did the best job on him.”

But Noah was impressive, and I’m glad I had him among my breakouts for the season in my Monday NBA notes package.

The numbers were perhaps a bit inflated given the defenders. But Noah’s floor game was impressive the way he hit cutters out of the high post. He ran the floor impressively, beating even quicker players down court and on two of his blocks he controlled the rebound instead of a Mutombo-like swat out of bounds for show, started the fast break and then finished with a tip in.

It was really good stuff, and the stuff we saw of Noah in college. Or pre-Ben Wallace.

“It felt pretty good, but then I started the second half and I started to cramp up,” said Noah. “I’ve never cramped up before in my life. It did feel good to get that many minutes (34 with Miller and Thomas out). I really think I have to take what the game gives to me. I’m not sure (having) eight points and 12 rebounds is especially a bad game. But I also know there are high expectations. I do have to take what comes to me. I know it’s a little bit cliché, but it’s true.”

It was difficult to gauge the starters otherwise, as it’s clear Luol Deng needs Rose pushing the ball to move and get open. Deng struggled to get good shots in the half court sets and was just three of 10 shooting and little factor as the starters were outplayed in the first half other than Noah’s strong second quarter that brought the Bulls back from eight down. Noah had 16 points and 11 rebounds by halftime.

The other relative standout for the Bulls was rookie Taj Gibson, again doing it with activity. It’s nice that Gibson and Noah were able to run into so many plays and scores. But you can only get so much on hustle in the NBA. You need someone to make plays and put the ball in the basket, and without Rose that’s obviously an issue.

John Salmons has yet to really get going after missing the London trip and trying to adjust to his new shooting guard position without his regular point guard.

The other first rounder, James Johnson, had some nice moments in shot making. But you can see he tends to get lost on defense and in one obvious occasion late left shooter Jodie Meeks wide open on an obvious out of bounds play that almost enabled the Bucks to steal the game at the end. Johnson also remains an erratic free throw shooter and with Noah missing five of nine, the Bulls are going to have some difficulties from the line this season if those two are making plays.

But it’s OK as Noah, for the first time, really, began to look for his shot. It still looks like he’s imitating the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. But he threw up some effective jump hooks that will make the defense think twice about leaving him as they’d done previously. If Noah and Thomas have to be guarded, it’s going to open the floor nicely for Deng and Salmons, which will be crucial for the Bulls this season.

“He is building on his success from the end of last year,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said of Noah. “With his success he gained confidence and he really worked hard in the off-season. He is still a young player even though he’s been in the league a few years. The same with Tyrus. We expect more from them especially in the starting role. There is responsibility that comes with that. They need to perform at a consistent level. You can learn the nuances as a pro, but the real successful veterans find a way to contribute even when they are having an off night. Veteran players find a way to contribute to the team by doing the little things. That is how you become a real pro.”

Warrick, with 25 points, had another nice game against the Bulls and even seems to have developed a shot. Though he went at Gibson right away and drew him into a foul with the same pump fake move he used on him Saturday in Milwaukee. But Gibson began to recognize it later and came up with a pair of good blocks.

The rookie isn’t big for the position. But he is relentless, and if you play like that in the NBA you are going to have success.

Noah was impressive right away with a nice drop off pass to Kirk Hinrich on a give and go and though the shot was blocked, the pass was perfect. Noah followed that with a high post pass for a score and Gibson did a nice job helping, which he always does, and got a block when Hinrich was beaten off the dribble.

But the Bulls fell behind 30-22 in the first quarter as the Bucks ran out on some Jannero Pargo long misses with poor backcourt coverage and lost Michael Redd early in coverage.

Noah brought the Bulls back to a 44-43 halftime lead with a huge second quarter that included a jump hook for a score, a rebound and dribble into the front court to lead the break, a follow tip in on a Salmons miss and another on a Hinrich miss. Noah also seems to have learned not to bring the ball down so much as he’s rebounding high and holding his position much better against physical play.

It was, for him, a textbook quarter.

Gibson also looks comfortable shooting the 15 footer popping out on the pick and roll and it was a back and forth third with the Bulls ahead 65-62.

“It was really nerve racking,” Gibson said of his first game in the United Center. “My heart was beating 100 miles a minute. When you look up and see those banners and think about Scottie Pippen and some of the other guys who played here, you’re bound to get a little bit nervous. I’m a city kid from New York who really loves basketball and follows basketball so it was definitely special to play here tonight. It’s been helpful to get Tyrus’ minutes in terms of playing time (31 Tuesday). Plus, he’s really been a lot of help on the sideline. He and Brad Miller are really willing to share things with me, to help me get better. I’m just trying to get better every game. I told people when I got here that I’m a gym rat, I’m in the gym 24/7 and getting these minutes has been helpful.”

Johnson seems to have gotten his high arcing shot in better control and hit a three and a jumper early in the fourth as the Bulls looked like they’d pull away. Noah had a terrific play blocking Brandon Jennings, running the length of the court to rebound a miss and taking the ball up on the other side of the rim to avoid the defense. It looked like the Bulls would ease in when Johnson was left alone on a defensive breakdown and went in to follow a miss for a slam.

But Jennings was blowing by Pargo, the Bulls got stuck with the ball for a 24-second violation actually trying too hard to get the ball into Noah (who would have expected that?), and Pargo and Johnson free throw misses down the stretch gave the Bucks a chance to steal the win. Mbah A Moute and Dan Gadzuric had jumpers to win it in the last five seconds and missed.

“We are missing three of our key guys,” said Del Negro. “We are trying to get some kind of rhythm, some kind of flow. The guys who are out are so key to what we are trying to do. The guys who are in there are working hard. I thought our pick and roll defense was a little better tonight. We protected the backside a little bit better, those are good signs. Our turnovers are down and our assist numbers were better. Neither team shot it well. It was a low scoring game.”

Deng, Hinrich and Salmons didn’t play in the fourth quarter, so the result was relatively meaningless. And until Rose and Thomas begin to play, we won’t know just what this Bulls team is about. It seems a bit better than the Bucks for now. Which must mean something.

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