Bulls win and Noah's no ordinary Jo


Nov 8

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The Bulls figured they might have an All Star this season for the first time in a decade.

They didn’t figure it could be Joakim Noah.

But Noah Saturday again was indispensible, scoring a career high 21 points and grabbing 16 rebounds to help lead the Bulls to a 93-90 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats and raise the team’s record to 4-2.

Noah is averaging 11.3 points and 11 rebounds and shooting 60 percent, and it was his inspirational full court playoff Game 6-like drive that kicked off a 16-0 Bulls run late in the third quarter into the fourth that wrestled the game away from the Bobcats.

With Charlotte controlling the game through most of the first three quarters and leading 70-61 with just over three minutes left in the third, Noah rebounded a Raja Bell miss and took off down the right side of the court, running the fast break with John Salmons running the left wing.

Noah dribbled about 80 feet to the free throw line, where he slipped a pass to Salmons for the layup.

From there the Bulls shut off the Charlotte shooting and Kirk Hinrich scored six straight points before Noah waved for the ball in the post and drop stepped to the baseline for a lefty hook to give the Bulls a 71-70 lead. He then tipped in a Salmons miss to put the Bulls ahead 73-70 going into the fourth and the Bulls opened the fourth with two more scores to go ahead 77-70, Tyson Chandler ended the run with a dunk, but Noah matched that in the tricks-for-kids portion of the game when Brad Miller took a pass from Kirk Hinrich and wheeled a bounce pass behind his back to Noah for a dunk. Noah then grabbed a Bell miss and Luol Deng followed with a a 20 footer to give the Bulls an 81-72 lead with just over nine minutes left.

And then they had to hang on down the stretch when they missed five consecutive free throws.

“I’ve been impressed by Jo this season,” said Salmons, who broke out of his slump with a game high 27 points along with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals. “He gave us 21 points tonight and that’s like, extra. It’s all the other stuff he does for us. He has been one of those glue guys. One of those guys that once you have him, it’s hard to play without him.”

And it wasn’t long ago we were saying it was hard to play with him.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Noah, who often talks about his “shwag” at times like this, and I think it is a good thing. “We did what we had to do. In the scond half we really picked up our defensive intensity. We got out there on the break and we got a lot of easy baskets in transition. That’s the way we want to play. We don’t want to be a half court team. Tyson Chandler got into foul trouble early, so I took advantage of doing what I do–that’s offensive rebounds and tip-ins. That’s the way I play.”

Though there was one huge red flag that was waving in all of this.

Deng, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds, played 47 minutes. Salmons played 42 minutes and Noah played 41. Coach Vinny Del Negro basically played a seven-player rotation with James Johnson and Lindsey Hunter each playing under five minutes. The Bulls are down a regular with Tyrus Thomas having undergone what was termed successful surgery on his left arm Saturday after his weight room accident before Friday’s practice. Thomas is listed as out four to six weeks, and it remains uncertain if the Bulls will add another player.

You don’t add another player if the coach won’t play him, and it seems Del Negro is hesitant to expand his rotation as Taj Gibson played just 19 minutes, though he had some foul trouble.

Del Negro seems like he is trying to get some wins as a cushion against the tough Western Conference road trip coning up, which isn’t a bad idea. But, at the same time, you have to use your bench and can’t run down your starters in the first month of the season. Plus, the West isn’t as strong as in previous years, and you can get wins, as Atlanta did last week in Portland and Sacramento, two teams on the Bulls trip.

Plus, the way the Bulls play, they are likely to be mostly in close games.

This team is much better defensively, but doesn’t have as much perimeter shooting as they are near the bottom of the league in three point attempts. They were four of nine Saturday.

It doesn’t seem like the kind of team that will be blowing anyone out, which means not only will the Bulls likely be in more close games, but harder fought games because to win the Bulls will have to keep their energy high and their defense relentless. You cannot play long that way using seven players.

Though for now, it was a nice win over a surprising Charlotte team that is 3-3 and was coming in after a blowout win over the Hawks.

“We just had a tough start in that third quarter,” said former Bull Chandler, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. “That is the time where the game was decided. They just came out with more energy than us. They hit shots and we didn’t, and that decided the game. We had the game under control until that spurt they went on. We turned over the ball a lot and they were just livelier than us that whole quarter.”

The Bulls, with an odd habit at home, came out being outplayed and might have been in a huge hole early if not for Salmons’ 14 first quarter points. It’s been a struggle for Salmons to open the season with the unsaid pressure on him of stepping in for high scoring Ben Gordon. Salmons came into Saturday’s game shooting 29 percent and 19 percent on threes.

But he was nine of 16 and two of four on threes, including a huge one with 5:07 left when the Bobcats had pulled within 83-82.

“I’m just trying to stay with it, not getting down and keep trying,” said the taciturn Salmons. “ Lots of practice putting shots up. Actually, the game started out pretty shaky. I got a steal, then kicked it right off my foot. But, I got to the free throw line. I hadn’t been doing that. Tonight I was taking the ball to the rim more instead of settling for jump shots.”

After that three, Deng stole the ball from Vladimir Radmanovic, but Derrick Rose, who had a brutal game with seven turnovers, including three in six fourth quarter minutes, whipped a pass over his shoulder out of bounds. Rose did score on Boris Diaw soon afterward as the Bulls got a good switch. But Ray Felton blew past Rose to bring Charlotte within 90-85 with 3:26 remaining.

Noah then took a nice pass from a driving Salmons for a layup and after a Felton miss, Rose dropped off the ball at the top of the key for a Deng 22 footer and 92-85 lead with 2:40 left. It seemed enough, though this Bulls team still seems to lack that closer, and would not score another field goal.

And the team seems to lack pressure free throw shooters. The Bulls came into the game near the bottom of the league at 70 percent on free throws after ranking seventh last season at just under 80 percent.

Noah actually has made some jump shots this season, and hit another 15 footer from the elbow earlier in the game. But he’s missed some big free throws late in games, and would do so again Saturday.

Rose tried to force another pass into a double team and lost the ball, another of the Bulls 21 turnovers for 28 Charlotte points.

“We got a nine-point lead and then we had four possessions when we turned it over,” said Del Negro. “We have to be smarter than that. We have to protect the basketball. We have to value each possession. Derrick got caught in the air a few times. Kirk (with four) and Derrick, our point guards, turned it over too much, and they know that. Overall, we will take it. That’s three wins in a row and we’re back here on Tuesday (for Denver).”

Felton ran out with the ball for layup to bring Charlotte within 92-87 with two minutes left. Deng missed a runner and Noah ripped away the rebound, but was fouled and missed both. Noah then blocked a Felton drive and Chandler missed a tip. Deng got the ball and was fouled. Then he missed two free throws.

They were playing all the happy music in the United Center. But this puppy hadn’t gone to sleep.

Felton drove and was fouled and made one of two. Hinrich and Gerald Wallace dove for the second on the floor and went to a jump ball. The Bobcats got possession on what seemed like a questionable Salmons lane violation. Chandler was held by Rose off the ball, and Chandler, of all guys, stepped up and swished both free throws.

Suddenly that sure win had the Bulls ahead 92-90 with 21.3 seconds left.

The Bobcats fouled Salmons on the throw in, and he missed the first—now five straight for the team under pressure—and made the second. One possession game, as the TV analysts like to say.

You knew Charlotte coach Larry Brown would get someone open for a good shot, and he did. Why he put Ronald “Flip” Murray in to take it was curious. Anyway, Murray took a down screen and popped open on top with Hinrich tied up. Murray’s tying three missed. Diaw, who led the Bobcats with 20 points, got the rebound, and threw back to Murray for another fairly open shot, which Murray missed again.

Phew! Finally! Ball game.

It was a masterful second half for the Bulls, shooting 60 percent and outrebounding the Bobcats 28-18 while holding Charlotte to 29 percent shooting and four of 14 on threes. Bell, Felton and Murray combined for three for 23 in the second half. Noah had nine rebounds and three blocks after halftime and Deng has eight rebounds and a steal. The Bulls worked hard for it, and it looks like they’ll have to every game.

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