Bulls keep it going with ice and icy resolve


Feb 27

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Another game. Another six buckets of ice.

The mood was light in the Bulls locker room after the game, something of a mixture of satisfaction for the impressive 115-111 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers and relief that at least most were still walking.

Luol Deng, who had 23 points, including a team high seven in the overtime, laughed about Derrick’s Rose’s attempted winning layup at the buzzer that rolled tantalizingly around the rim and off.

“I thought it was definitely in,” said Rose, who led the Bulls with 33 points, 23 in the second half. “Right after I saw it hit the backboard I said, ‘That’s game.’ Then I saw it come out and I’m like ‘Man, we’ve got to go to overtime.’ That’s something I didn’t want to do with this team, but we pulled it out.”

Deng laughed at the recollection.

“I was thinking,” Deng said with a laugh, “‘Yeah, thanks Derrick, overtime. I needed that.'”

Deng, actually, has a terrific ironic sense of humor, though he prefers a serious tone in his interviews. His knee is so sore and swollen from banging it earlier in the week he didn’t think he’d play before the game. He later could not bend his knee to step into his slacks. So he straightened his leg and pulled the slacks up.

Deng ended up playing 45 minutes, including the entire overtime.

“Overtime is great for the knee,” Deng joked as he was walking off for more post game treatment. “When your knee hurts you have to up your minutes. That’s what the doctors are missing.”

Joakim Noah generally takes the longest showers and is out of the locker room last, and after Deng returned from treatment and got ready to leave, Noah came out of the shower and went over to Deng. He told Deng he wouldn’t be traveling with the team to Indiana Friday night despite—and probably because of–his longest stint in weeks, 27 minutes with eight points and 11 rebounds and the crucial defense to control LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the Trail Blazers with 32, though just two in the fourth quarter.

Deng appeared mildly shocked, but concerned, and wondered if Noah should rest until healthy. Noah shrugged and said he couldn’t, then elaborated for reporters.

“I feel like everybody has an opinion of whether I should play or shouldn’t play,” said Noah. “There’s no right or wrong answer. As a player, I want to be out there. I guess it depends on the game. Right now I don’t even now what to say.

“It’s the time of year,” said Noah, obviously distraught. If (it were) October or November, I’d probably sit out for six weeks. We don’t have six weeks. I want to play (if it were my decision). It’s painful.

It’s no joke.”

And so the Bulls march on, going four games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2006-07 season, but with a brutal stretch coming up after playing Indiana Saturday without Noah with nine consecutive games against playoff teams, including Dallas twice, Utah, Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland.

“We definitely needed this game for our confidence going into those games,” said Rose. “When we’re playing like this, it’s hard to beat us. When we’re moving the ball and playing an uptempo game. But we’ve got to keep it that way.”

Though the Bulls are being coy about Noah and the plan of use and treatment, it seems more apparent what they are doing. After Noah had played about 26 minutes combined in the last three games, the Bulls Friday used him for 27 minutes as Brad Miller was being dominated by Aldridge.

“He came in when our energy was down and using his energy, he was able to shut Aldridge down,” said Deng.

My guess for now is the Bulls are trying to save Noah for games with bigger players. The Pacers play small a lot and don’t go to inside to score, so he’s skipping that game. Noah said he’ll look toward playing Monday against Atlanta, and then with two days off he figures to try against Memphis. But I could see him passing on Dallas, which doesn’t have a big interior scoring game and perhaps Miami. Of course, all that depends on his pain level. If the Bulls feel he cannot contribute enough, they’ll likely bring back Chris Richard from the D-league and cut someone as they have an excess of guys not playing now since the deadline trades.

They are hoping to nurse Noah through this, though it doesn’t look like the playoff run will give anyone much chance to breathe as the Bucks and Bobcats are playing well and putting pressure on the Bulls, Heat and Raptors. One of those teams will miss the playoffs.

So they all are big games, and Friday’s was a bit of a statement or measurement game as the Bulls had just come through a stretch of six straight games since the All Star break against teams with losing records. The Trail Blazers, now 34-27, have star players in Brandon Roy and Aldridge and added Marcus Camby, who has had big games against the Bulls.

“We enjoyed the challenge,” said Kirk Hinrich, who shot well again and combined with Rose to shoot 22 of 36. “Portland is a good team. It was a chance for us to measure up against them. We played good in stretches, We were exchanging baskets. It was frustrating the way we finished it out, but we’ll take it.”

Actually, it was a heck of a finish because even with some missed free throws and turnovers, the Bulls defended aggressively, holding the hot shooting Trail Blazers to 33 percent in overtime and taking a big lead to open the overtime and hanging on by beating Portland’s aggressive traps on Rose that minimized him throughout the overtime.

As teams like to say, they’ll let the other guys beat them. And the Bulls’ other guys did.

“We can beat some of the best teams who are out there,” said Rose. “They were trapping me, making me give the ball up. Joakim was making great plays with my passing. The first one (a key turnover with the Bulls up three near the end of regulation) nobody knew it was coming. They really surprised us with that one. After that, Joakim (rolled) short and he passed the ball well.”

Though it would almost get away in the overtime after the Bulls had taken a 112-107 lead on a beautiful Taj Gibson reverse layup on a pass from Noah.

But then with Portland throwing two big man at Rose near midcourt and Rose dropping the ball to Noah, whose man was doubling Rose, Noah was fouled and missed both free throws. Noah then committed consecutive turnovers, one after a defensive rebound, and the Trail Blazers had a shot at a win after Deng made one of two free throws for a 113-11 lead with 20.9 seconds left.

Roy, who had 23, went at Deng as he had to tie the game with a 10 footer with 16 seconds left and the last score in regulation. This time Deng, despite his stiff knee, stayed in front and headed off Roy, who was going again for the tie.

Roy backed out and tried a handoff to Jerryd Bayless. But Rose stayed in front of Bayless and denied the pass. Roy than passed to a cutting Nicholas Batum, who handed back to Roy now above the three point line on the right wing. Deng was in front. Roy raised up for the win with seven seconds left. The ball came up short off the front rim. Flip Murray went high to grab it near the free throw line and pitched out to a streaking Deng who dunked it for the winning margin.

“It felt good,” said Roy. “It just fell short. My shots were short all night. I thought I had a good look. (Deng) was kind of backing up. I just didn’t make the shot.”

Though it was not only a tribute to guys like Deng and Noah and Rose, it was appropriate as it was a night the Bulls remembered the loss a year ago of Johnny “Red” Kerr and Norm Van Lier.

It was the one year anniversary of the passing of Kerr and Van Lier, and it was a game that would have made the Bulls legends proud.

With Noah playing with the painful plantar fasciitis that will keep him from playing Saturday in Indiana and Deng playing through a swollen knee that almost kept him out of the game, the Bulls repeatedly fought back against a bigger, deeper Portland team behind the attacking play of Rose and shooting of Deng and Hinrich.

The Bulls outrebounded the Trail Blazers by 14, shot 57.5 percent and moved to 31-27 against a Portland team which had defeated the Bulls the last three times by 24, 14 and 42 among five straight.

It was a game with 16 lead changes and five ties and won more with the heart and 48 minutes Norm demanded and the spirit and joie de vivre that Red reveled in. Though if I ever spoke French to him he’d ask me what position that guy played.

“It was a crazy game, kind of a circus out there for a while,” said Hinrich. “It seemed like we were a play or two away from sealing it and couldn’t do it. We’ll take the win and move on.”

The Bulls again got off to a smoking start with a 31-22 lead on 65 percent first quarter shooting behind Rose and Hinrich, a combined seven of 11. Murray had six of his eight points in the game late in the quarter with a jumper and drive for a foul and another foul as he beat his man on the perimeter with a behind the back dribble and then took the contact and almost made the shot over his head. Hakim Warrick, who has been coming in the rotation with Murray off the bench, added 15 points.

“The new guys are just basketball players,” said Rose appreciatively. “They don’t care about their stats. They just want to win games. They are veteran players. They came in and helped this team.”

Warrick finished a Bulls run early in the second for a 37-24 lead with a runout dunk. But the Trail Blazers began to pound it deep to Aldridge, who drew limited resistance from Miller and with four straight scored helped Portland get within 52-51 at halftime.

Aldridge was getting deep position, and it’s unfair to continually ask so much of Miller with Noah out so long at a time Miller has played much better than expected. But he was no real match for Aldridge’s size and quickness.

Portland continued the onslaught after halftime, taking a 73-64 lead before Noah reentered and began forcing Aldridge farther from the basket and into more difficult shots.

The Trail Blazers also tried going small several times to get Roy on what they felt would be a mismatch with Deng. But Deng held his own and several times gave Roy trouble shooting with his size and long arms.

“He (Noah) was a big difference,” said Portland coach Nate McMillan. “They put him on LaMarcus  and he gave him a lot of problems down there low. They also used Deng on Brandon, which gave him problems as well. They did a good job defensively and made it tough for us. Defensively, we couldn’t control Rose. They were just much more active and aggressive on the boards (despite Portland’s size advantage) than us. They were able to get their hands on them all night. Even when they didn’t we just couldn’t do anything with the ones we controlled.” 

With Noah battling Aldridge, Rose took over late in the third with a driving score and pull up banker. Noah was fouled for the three point play battling inside, and Warrick got a runout on a crossmatch when Aldridge missed a long shot and Aldridge committed a flagrant foul trying to stop Warrick. That enabled the Bulls to ease ahead 80-79 after three, and it was a terrific finish.

It wasn’t always as efficient as the early part of the game, but it made you sit there and say it was a heck of a game to watch no matter who won.

Portland jumped out with threes from Rudy Fernandez and Andre Miller, and midway through the fourth led 95-90.
Deng then hit a big baseline jumper and was fouled on a jump stop.

“The knee swelled up a lot,” said Deng. It’s not so much pain. It’s real tight there, so much inflammation in there. It’s how much I can bend it.”

The Bulls then moved ahead as Rose took an easy pass on the wing and just exploded past everyone for a layup and 96-95 lead with 3:54 left.

Aldridge responded with a 22-footer when Noah dropped off to help on a drive. Rose then knocked down a 22 footer for a 98-97 Bulls lead. Roy drove and was fouled and made both. Deng drove and was blocked by Camby, but Noah followed in the miss, the kind of activity play Noah provides.

“Jo’s been doing all year,” said Deng. “We know he’s hurt. He came in with so much energy it helped us. Our energy was wearing down. He came in and gave us a big lift.”

Aldridge then missed and Rose made one of those drives that leaves you gasping.

Batum is the Blazers’ best defender and they moved him onto Rose late. In the overtime, he teamed with a big on Rose. But Rose blew by him like he couldn’t move, went into the lane and launched himself up so high his knee was at the height of Camby’s face. Camby didn’t have a chance to even react Rose exploded at the rim so fast and laid the ball in for a 102-99 Bulls lead with two minutes remaining.

Deng then did a great job staying in front of Roy and forcing a bad shot and miss. Gibson then missed a short baseline shot. But Rose held firm as Miller tried to post him, forcing Miller into a turnover. Hinrich picked off the bad pass and drove in. He seemed to be hit by Roy and missed the shot. Rose one handed the rebound and looked to dunk for what figured to be the win, but the ball bounded hard off the rim, stunningly.

Fernandez then traveled as Hinrich and Gibson trapped him in the corner. But with 45.5 seconds left,  Rose got trapped near midcourt and no one among the Bulls came to help. Camby deflected his pass and Roy got it and drove for a score to get Portland within 103-101 with 23 seconds left.

The Bulls came out of a second timeout and got the ball to Miller, who as fouled but made only one of two. Roy then isolated against Deng, drove into him and bounced off and hit the short jumper to tie in regulation before Rose’s drive dribbled teasingly off at the buzzer.

But the Bulls closed this one out Deng’s two jumpers and a nifty reverse drive from Hinrich getting the overtime going and Noah and the Bulls hanging on.

And so as the locker room emptied Noah was the last one left as he wasn’t going for the plane to Indianapolis. He was getting ready to put on his walking boot, which makes him hobble like the Peter Boyle monster from Young Frankenstein.

“I’m not feeling great,” Noah finally offered. “My foot is hurting a little bit. I’m happy we won the game. I don’t want to come out of the game. I want to play. I have to be smart about when I can and when I cannot. The best decision now is to not play tomorrow and try to do as many treatments as I can.

“When you come back you back you lack conditioning,” Noah continued, his toes spreading out in the icy, hopefully curative, waters in his bucket. “The first two games I felt like I couldn’t breathe out there. All the biking and water cardio things. For me, the only way I get my cardio back is playing basketball.”

How much of it Noah will continue to do remains uncertain. So now they all just go one treatment at a time.

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