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Bulls pick selves up and take down Dallas
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 20
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Derrick Rose was bloodied, but Taj Gibson would not be bowed. So in the end, it was the Dallas Mavericks who were beaten 88-83, clearly the Bulls’ best win of the young season and a rare winning trip through the feared NBA Texas Triangle.
“What was exciting was we’re playing good basketball against an elite team like Dallas,” said Joakim Noah, who inspired a comeback from a 12-point third quarter deficit and finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. “To come here without one of our monsters (Carlos Boozer), our potential is pretty scary.
“Everyone feels it and everyone knows it,” said Noah. “It’s up to us now to live in the moment and focus on getting better. Our bench is going a great job. It’s all showing we’re pretty close.”
It was a terrific victory in a tough place to play against a Mavericks team, now 7-4 like the Bulls, that has hopes of playing for the NBA championship. Now, the Bulls take three days off before playing the champion Lakers Tuesday in a continuation of the two week circus trip that seems a lot less daunting, not surprisingly, with better players.
Rose suffered a deep cut on his nose late in the game and had to come out twice with blood dripping. Still, he finished with 22 points and six assists, including eight fourth quarter points and four of five free throws down the stretch.
But the hero, almost in an old time Western movie sort of way, was the guy who refused to stay down, Gibson, who shot one of 16 the last two games and seemed shaky on the draw.
“We were watching film (Thursday) and I was bad,” agreed Gibson. “I was waving players away (so I could shoot). That’s not me. But coach said to keep shooting, but get in the post and be relentless on the glass.”
Gibson, whom my son says performed better than any Taj since blues legend Taj Mahal, played a tune on the heads of the Mavs with 17 points and a monster career high 18 rebounds, eight offensive in just 29 foul plagued minutes, and the first three pointer he ever hit in a game in his life, a long haul off a loose ball scramble with just under three minutes left that put the Bulls ahead 79-77, and they never trailed again.
“It was my first ever,” said Gibson, who ran back like a soccer player after a goal. “I had to celebrate. I remember so many players hitting threes on me and their reaction and it (upset) me. So I had a chance and a nice moment to celebrate. Never had a three pointer at USC or in high school. Coach lets me shoot them in practice. He said one day I will have the confidence to step in and shoot one and tonight I stepped in and shot it.
“When it went in, it was a huge sigh of relief,” said Gibson. “I thought, ‘He’s not going to take me out now.’”
The Mavs, led by Dirk Nowitzki with a season high 36 points, but just six in the fourth quarter when the Bulls began blitzing him aggressively with a double, tied the score at 79 on two Caron Butler free throws after Butler posted Kyle Korver.
So it was timeout, 2:36 left, and you figured a Dallas win as they’d ride Dirk home.
But the Bulls were simply brilliant as coach Tom Thibodeau’s plays and strategies worked to perfection and the Bulls outhustled the home team to every ball.
First coming out of the timeout, Korver missed on a an open three, another good play out of a timeout, which is becoming routine with Thibodeau. But Gibson extended his arms over Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler for a tough rebound. And Rose found Korver, who had 14 points, along the baseline for a 20 footer.
Gibson then took on Nowitzki as the Bulls didn’t bring the help. But Gibson didn’t go for the pump fakes and Nowitzki missed a 20 footer that Rose gathered in.
Then came a huge play with the Bulls leading 81-79 with a minute left.
The Bulls looked like they were going to lose the ball on a Rose drive. Gibson leaped out of bounds and flung it back, where Jason Kidd seemed to have it. But Rose just took it away quicker than a pickpocket and turned toward the basket where he was fouled hard and pushed down, laying on the floor for about a minute.
But he got up and made both free throws.
“My swag is a little down as you can see,” Rose said in a relaxed but not too celebratory locker room. “I don’t like getting my face touched. I’m just mad right now. Because I’m easy on the eyes. I didn’t get any stitches, not that I was going to let them.”
Gibson then committed a reach in on Nowitzki to foul out, but Nowitzki only made one of two to bring Dallas within three with 52.3 seconds remaining.
C.J. Watson, who had 13 points in his best game as a Bull and finished the game playing alongside Rose, missed a three, but he tracked down the miss and was fouled, coolly making both.
“It was a big confidence booster, the coach having trust in me to put me in the fourth quarter and letting me handle the ball,” said Watson. “It’s a chance to get better.”
It also was a strategy that worked well and we’ll perhaps see more of.
One issue with the two shooting guards the Bulls have, Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer, is neither is a very good passer. It’s also why the Bulls miss Kirk Hinrich, though that couldn’t be avoided. Hinrich was able to handle the ball playing with Rose last season and then have Rose coming off baseline screens and attacking more, which is what Thibodeau went to in the fourth quarter.
Watson, though he’s struggled some at point guard, is a much better passer than the shooting guards. Friday, he also ran the offense well with Rose slashing into the seams off the weak side. The Bulls with Watson could employ that backcourt enough with the Mavs playing a small backcourt and the offensively challenged Kidd. But it’s also a backcourt that helps move the ball better as the Bulls did a good job of not only moving the ball but putting Nowitzki in pick and rolls often, where Nowitzki is generally not a good defender.
It also was effective against the Mavs zone as the Bulls had less trouble than usual breaking the zone when the Mavs would move in and out of it quickly.
Watson’s free throws effectively clinched the game as Terry missed on a three. Rose then split a pair of free throws before Terry hit a three with 6.9 seconds left to get the Mavs within 86-83, one possession as they say on TV.
But after a second timeout, the Bulls got the ball into Korver, their best free throw shooter, and he made both and the Bulls were getting ready to fly to L.A. without the plane.
I know regular season wins aren’t supposed to mean that much, though that’s said more by losers.
It wasn’t a typical Bulls game with zero fast break points, really more of a halfcourt playoff type game against a high quality team—and don’t fool yourself, the good teams really want to win at home—already with wins over Boston and New Orleans. The Mavs came in having won 21 of the last 24 against the Bulls and twice in this preseason.
But even with another disastrous third quarter start in which they were outscored 15-2, the Bulls came back against the league’s best defensive team in opponent field goal percentage and league leading defensive rebounding team with a massive 59-34 rebounding edge, 20-9 on the offensive boards and 25-8 in second chance points.
It was as the new saying goes, a physical and hustle shellacking.
“Taj Gibson had a great game, hit big shots and finished strong around the rim and he rebounded the ball great,” said Mavs center Brendan Haywood. “You’ve got to tip your hat to him, but at the same time you can’t get outrebounded like that.”
But the Mavs did and couldn’t do anything about it. It looked at times like a schoolyard nerd taking candy away from the bigger kids.
Gibson is smaller than the Mavs three seven footers, Chandler, Haywood and Nowitzki, the size the Mavs believe they’ll use to challenge the Lakers. Though maybe they have some work to do first. And Noah, who hasn’t been as lively in the last week of games, is somewhat thinner.
But the duo outrebounded the entire Mavs team on their own, grabbing what seemed like every loose ball and wrestling rebounds away from the Mavs.
“There were a few that we had and they ripped out of our hands,” noted Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. “Those are simple plays that we have got to make and we didn’t make them.”
They weren’t good enough on this night.
“I thought we kept fighting,” said Thibodeau. “We were aggressive against their zone (a staple of the Mavs defense). We did not settle for jumpers. They started Terry in the second half (for DeSahwn Stevenson) and they were quicker.”
And it did set the Bulls back as it looked like another debacle similar to the collapse after halftime against the Spurs Wednesday.
“C.J. came in and played really well and Kyle did lots of good things,” said Thibodeau. “The bench is getting more comfortable and playing well. I feel we have a very good bench. C.J. and Derrick matched that quickness of Terry and Kidd and we controlled their dribble penetration and Dirk walking into those jump shots.”
The Mavs had just 26 points in the paint to 42 for the Bulls as one of Thibodeau’s defensive keys is the control of the lane, a so called no middle defense or building what they call a shell around the lane with defenders helping in. Thibodeau thus changes pick and roll coverages according to position and it’s made the Bulls interior defense much stronger.
And then came Noah.
“When he plays with high energy like that and goes after the ball, to me there’s not a better guy in the league in terms of activity,” said Thibodeau.
And Noah probably did turn around a game that seemed headed for a blowout loss.
His stretch in the third quarter after the Bulls fell behind 55-43 was terrific.
He flew in to tip in a Rose miss and on the next Bulls possession rolled toward the basket off a screen and slammed in a beauty of a Rose pass, and suddenly it was 55-51 Dallas with the Bulls defense holding.
“I was not happy with the way I was playing the last two, three games,” said Noah, still second in the league in rebounding coming in. “Sometimes I get caught up in the game. I can’t go through the motions. I’ve got to go after the ball all the time.”
Perhaps Noah had spoiled everyone. He had 39 rebounds the last four games, an average of just under 10. Good, but he’d been setting a higher standard. And he knew it. The coaches knew it. They’d told Noah he was taking short cuts on defense, playing loose, letting himself get taken out of plays. Noah knew it, but he needed a push.
“We’re a team that’s going to fight,” Noah said. “We’re not gonna give up. We were resilient tonight and played real tough and we executed down the stretch.”
After getting within 55-51 late in the third, Noah wasn’t done. He picked up a loose ball on the floor and handed to Luol Deng for a slam and did it again after Rose was pushed by Nowitzki late in the third and got that cut near the bridge of his nose that required a bandage and two times leaving the floor to stop the bleeding.
“At that time, I hate coming out of the game, but my teammates came through,” said Rose.
The Bulls entered the fourth trailing 59-56, now long over that third quarter meltdown. They did slip back initially after a Nowitzki three. But Rose hit a runner on a beautiful double pump fake for a three point play, Korver picked up a loose ball with the clock running down and hit a 30 footer, Korver ran the baseline for a big corner jumper and Watson broke down the defense and scored on a jumper, some of the big plays to put the Bulls into the lead. The Bulls also did a good job making Nowitzki give up the ball and seemed to confuse Nowitzki with doubles coming from various spots as the Mavs offense broke down and Taj finished them off.
It was a sweet recovery for Gibson after that miserable start to the trip in Houston and San Antonio.
“It was real frustrating the last two games,” said Gibson. “I felt I let myself down and I let the team down, lackadaisical jump shots. It wasn’t good basketball. But my teammates were supportive. Derrick said to keep shooting, Jo. Carlos told me to go after it. Coach said to be relentless on the glass and in the post. I’ve got great teammates. They understand what I can do and I just wanted to be solid and get myself going.”
And so off to L.A. the Bulls head 2-1 on the long road trip that doesn’t seem so daunting if you just play and compete. Which this team seems to understand well.