Bulls dominate Pistons behind Noah, Rose and Tyrus


Dec 31

C’mon. Tell me Joakim Noah’s not an All-Star. C’mon, step up.

Noah did Thursday on New Year’s Eve in Auburn Hills with 15 points and a career high equaling 21 rebounds, his fourth game of at least 20 rebounds this season. So did Tyrus Thomas, off the bench with 19 points as the Bulls won their third straight, 98-87 over the Detroit Pistons, which happened to coincide with Thomas being back three games from a broken arm. And there also was Derrick Rose with 22 points as the Bulls continued in their best stretch of the season.

“Joakim did a fantastic job on the glass,” said coach Vinny Del Negro. “I’m pleased with the effort. Got nice production off the bench, John Salmons with 17 points) and Tyrus. I liked the way Derrick kept attacking. A lot of positives.”

It’s a positive atmosphere around the Bulls all of a sudden in the midst of the ongoing furor over the fate of Del Negro. It doesn’t seem to be affecting the team as with Thomas back, Rose healthy and Kirk Hinrich in the starting lineup the Bulls have more balance, depth and even fire power.

“We’ve got to do this all the time,” said Noah. “We can’t control what’s going on upstairs and what a GM decision will be. Right now we’re playing good basketball and have got to keep improving and getting better and be happy with the result.”

And why not as the Bulls are now 13-17 finishing off 2009, basically the same record they had at the end of 2008 when they were four games under .500. But on New Year’s Eve a year ago the Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic, whom they’ll play at the United Center Saturday. The Bulls a year ago then went into their worst stretch of the season, losing 10 of 14 to fall to 18-27 as Managing Partner Jerry Reinsdorf condemned the season.

That is when questions first arose about Del Negro, though the Bulls regained control after the trades for Salmons and Brad Miller and ended the season on a high note in the fabulous seven-game playoff series against the Boston Celtics.

But it was a slow start to the new season with Ben Gordon gone to Detroit (he had 21 points off the bench Thursday) and a succession of early injuries. It’s led to a hysterical media reaction to Del Negro’s circumstance, which doesn’t seem to have affected the team at all.

“Our job is to come in and give our best on the court and get wins and make the organization look good,” said Rose. “It’s up to the front office (to decide what to do). While he’s here we listen to him and play ball. We don’t listen to that stuff.”

It’s really the motto of the true professionals in sports. They know coaches come and go. You job is to play, and the Bulls are putting on their metaphorical hard hats these days.

Though they had 24 turnovers, including eight by Noah, you can excuse that even if it was a concern to Del Negro.

“We don’t care,” laughed Rose when it was mentioned. “The coaches probably care about those turnovers. We’re going to play and play hard when we’re out there.”

The Bulls did play in outrebounding the Pistons 49-33 behind Noah. Thomas was flying all over the court chasing loose balls and misses and went to the free throw line for a career high equaling 14 times, making 11. Rose took over in offensive lulls with strong drives to the basket, drawing contact unlike last season, and also getting to the line, making eight of eight free throws as the Bulls were an impressive 30 of 35 from the line. The Pistons were 14 of 18 and held to 38.6 percent shooting as the Bulls also had eight blocks, three from Luol Deng.

“We are getting our confidence now,” said Noah. “It feels good to win three in a row. We’re playing a really good opponent next in Orlando, so it’s important (Noah is the No. 2 rebounder in the NBA and Orlando’s Dwight Howard No. 1) . We’re just playing better basketball for whatever reason. We’re playing together. No one is playing huge, huge minutes, it’s just better out there.

“I’m just trying to grab as many rebounds as I can,” Noah said. “Every time the ball goes up I try to put myself in position to get extra possessions for my team.  We’ve got to get to the line more frequently. It’s been one of our problems. We did a good job of that. Tyrus was huge for us today hitting the offensive glass and being aggressive offensively. He brings something we don’t have so it’s important to have him back.”

No one’s threatening the Celtics or Cavaliers, but the Bulls are gaining a stronger hold on seventh in the Eastern Conference, shooting a higher percentage, ranking in the league’s top eight in defensive field goal percentage and making a case for go to players like Noah and Rose.

Rose was tough in the second quarter when the bench hit a lull after the Bulls led by 10 in the first quarter. The Pistons tied it at 33 midway through the second quarter behind Gordon and Rodney Stuckey with 22 points, though the Pistons would go on to their ninth straight loss to fall to 11-21. Their team seems a mess with veterans Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince returning from injuries and seemingly in need of a major trade or shakeup. Gordon has been good, though fellow free agent Charlie Villanueva has been a major disappointment and looking like a poor man’s Donyell Marshall.

Rose closed the half attacking the basket, getting six second quarter free throws to give the Bulls a 44-39 halftime lead.

“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes for us to win,” said Rose. “I’m trying to hit shots and make contact with some people. When I shoot a layup if I see someone there I try to make contact so I can get to the line, but I’m going to try to make that layup. As a point guard, I’ve got to get the ball around. I’ve got to get people open so they can get a shot off.

But if I’m open and they give me the shots I’ll take them.”

Rose did because he has to at times with this Bulls team, still lacking a drop dead three point threat and inside post play. But Taj Gibson, who gets better every game, hit some jumpers out of the post and even was the first option out of the post coming out of a timeout.

The Bulls pushed a bit farther ahead behind Thomas in the third, even with a running left handed drive.

“The team started playing better before I got back, so I won’t take credit for that,” said Thomas. “But just to be out here to help feels good for me. I’m trying to stay active and play hard and it paid off today. I got to the free throw line a good bit of times.

And then Salmons had a big start to the fourth and the Bulls blew out to an 87-67 lead. They let down some, as they usually do, as the Pistons began to trap and forced a few more turnovers, though this time the Pistons never got within single digits.

“Sometimes when we get a lead we seem to not want to continually attack,” said Del Negro. “We’ve got to handle pressure better, but I liked the way we got after it defensively, got some deflections, got in the open court. Tyrus had some nice dunks and layups. We stress, ‘Don’t play the score and keep attacking. 

“We have a lot of young players. Young players make mistakes,” said Del Negro. “They get anxious and quick. We have to find a way to keep the turnovers down to give us an opportunity. Tyrus has done a nice job since he’s been back. He doesn’t settle and attacks off the dribble. It’s a big boost for us.

“(Joakim) did lose his balance a few times. He has a tendency to do that,” said Del Negro of some of Noah’s turnovers. “We did talk about that in a timeout: ‘Don’t leave Joakim alone. Everyone has got to get in and rebound the basketball. No leaking out.’ Jo’s been doing such a fantastic job we take that for granted sometimes to get out on the fast break.”

Perhaps we do begin to take him for granted now. But Noah has been a phenomenon on the boards to an extent nobody has seen here since Charles Oakley. Rodman? Sorry. Too many games taken off after hangovers. Tyrus has returned and been consistent with three good active games. Rose is pushing from the start and attacking and getting to the line. Salmons seems to have taken to the reserve role and is making shoots, seemingly with less pressure, Gibson has been dependable and even fellow rookie James Johnson got a highlight baseline dunk that had the bench up cheering and celebrating.

Happy New Year, Bulls. Maybe this will be a good year after all. Happy days are here again? Although I think they first sung that during the Great Depression.

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