Top 10 reasons why the Bulls beat the Suns


Nov 25

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This was the situation Wednesday in Phoenix for the Bulls: They’re trailing by 23 midway through the second quarter as they’re being sliced open again and again by Steve Nash and the Suns pick and roll.

Taj Gibson is out with an ankle injury, joining Carlos Boozer on the bench. They’re shooting under 30 percent and now with Gibson out, they’re playing at the scoring positions, small forward and shooting guard, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans, combining for 10 points per game.

The Suns are just blowing by them, shooting almost 64 percent in the first quarter and well over 50 percent through the first half.

Oh, yeah, it’s the second of a back-to-back after a tough loss in Los Angeles in which Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both played about 40 minutes, and, of course, it remains the dreaded “circus trip” during which the Bulls have not had a winning record since the Civil War. Or something like that.

No sweat, eh?

Not for the them, anyway, it seems as the Bulls came up with an improbable and inspired victory, going to double overtime—not taking their first lead in the game until the first overtime—and defeating the Phoenix Suns 123-115 behind 35 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists from Rose; 17 points, 15 rebounds and five assists from Noah; 26 points and 10 rebounds from Luol Deng; and a season high 24 points off the bench from Kyle Korver.

“I thought it was a great team win,” said Deng, who was unusually emotional as the game ended, pumping his fist with a strong Bulls contingent in the crowd chanting, “Let’s go Bulls” down the stretch.

“Man, it was fun,” Deng said with a sigh in a weary but relieved locker room. “I love the team this year. Coming back like that, man, basketball is fun. All we’re thinking about out there is winning, playing together.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” said Deng, who had a big three in the Bulls fourth quarter comeback from 12 down and stood posing as it went in. “I really believe we’ve got something special here. The way we practice. We practice so hard. Since I’ve been in the NBA I haven’t been on a team that practices so hard and that’s what prepares you for nights like this. The way we prepare. We have a great group of guys who just want to win.”

Desire is one thing; achievement is another.

“I never want to spend all this time and lose a game,” said Rose, who made the tying free throws at the end of regulation with 14.7 seconds left, a reverse layup on a backdoor cut with a beautiful pass from Noah with one tenth of a second left in the first overtime and then the first five points of the second overtime when the Suns would finish with just four. “It was tough. God blessed us with this win and hopefully we won’t be in this predicament again.”

Uh, oh. They really are going to be dangerous if they have help from Him. Or Her.

And we thought that win in Dallas was special.

The Bulls moved to 8-5 on the season with still another win over a quality team, the combined record of their opponents far ahead of the opponents’ records of the other top Eastern teams, like Boston, Orlando, Atlanta and Miami.

It was a terrific comeback and effort and put the Bulls in position at now 3-2 on this trip with games Friday in Denver and Saturday in Sacramento to have a winning record on this once feared road trip for the first time since Michael Jordan played.

No one is making any comparisons, but this was Rose’s fourth 30-point game in the five on the trip, carrying the team when everything else breaks down and doing whatever he has to, which Wednesday was rebounding with Gibson out.

So Rose got a dozen, more than anyone on the Suns, this despite being in foul trouble most of the game with what seemed like very suspicious calls with incidental contact.

The Bulls outrebounded the Suns 57-49 with Noah getting eight offensive and coming away with a deep bruise below his right eye that is heading for a big time shiner.

“I’m not feeling too good now,” said Noah, always the last to shower and dress as he slumped in his chair to meet with reporters afterward. “I’m feeling pretty beat up. I’m pretty low now, but mentally I’m 150 percent.

“It was a huge win,” said Noah, brightening a bit. “The thing that sucks about this league is we cannot celebrate for a week. That would have been great, to celebrate a win like this for a week.”

Yes, Jo knows party.

“We’ll eat some turkey tomorrow, I guess,” he settled.

In a sense, it’s all gravy now for the Bulls as at 8-5 with wins in six of their last eight they’re assured of coming home from the Western Conference and finishing their longest trip in a decade with a winning record. I’ll admit when the season started, I thought they’d be fortunate—especially without Boozer, and now with Gibson in and out of the lineup but saying he hopes to play in Denver—to be coming home 6-9 or 7-8. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were 5-10 and trying to get back to .500 by Christmas. After all, considering the Boozer situation, this was looking like a second half team, anyway.

But there’s much more to this team already.

“One thing about this team,” said Noah, “we can look ourselves in the mirror, win or lose, and know we’re giving everything we’ve got to try to win. It’s a great feeling.”

It seems easy and something you’d expect, though it is not so common anywhere, frankly. Forget just pro sports. You don’t see effort and commitment like this many places, and there was just so much going on and so many special moments that this game deserves a Top 10 list of Greatest Bulls Moments of the Most Improbable Win of 2010-11.

I won’t make you wait for the best, though.

1. Rose’s backdoor reverse cut for the tying score at 111 with .01 left in the first overtime. Frankly, it looked over, a fabulous comeback gone wanting as Channing Frye made two free throws with 12.4 seconds left for a 110-107 lead. Earlier, Jason Richardson had made what seemed like the decisive three. The Bulls came out of the timeout and the play usually would be a quick two and foul, but Rose shot a three. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said they simply were looking for the best shot. But Noah got the ball and tipped it in to get the Bulls within one with 5.8 seconds left. They fouled Richardson, but he missed the second. Coming out of the timeout with 4.3 seconds left after the miss, Noah got the pass near the free throw line with Rose supposed to come out from the baseline, get a dribble handoff and attack.

“(Grant) Hill (who led the Suns with 27) was playing top side, so I thought, ‘Why not cut,’” said Rose.

But there were just seconds.

“Me and Derrick, we’re pretty good at that play,” said Noah. “They didn’t want Derrick coming over the top to get the ball. It’s all about reading the defense. It should have been an and one; he got fouled. I didn’t look at the clock one time.”

The Suns even had a foul to give and didn’t take it.

2. Noah’s individual defensive plays. Remember, this is a Suns team that basically plays without a center, so Noah was out chasing guards and forwards, and with 14.7 seconds left in regulation and the game tied the Suns had one last shot to win. Steve Nash, who had 14 points and 16 assists and cut up the Bulls early with their pick and roll with Hakim Warrick, couldn’t lose Noah, so Nash dribbled and dribbled and dribbled, finally passing to Hill for a desperation heave at the buzzer. So much for the mismatch.

“Jo is a big, multiple effort guy,” marveled Thibodeau. “When his energy is high it’s hard to score on us. When you watch him rebound, it’s amazing. He gets hit but keeps going. You try to block him out, but he reads the ball and gets rebounds out of his area and his defense has come a long way.”

3. Thibodeau’s halftime adjustment. The Suns were just killing the Bulls with that Nash/Warrick pick and roll in the first half with Warrick getting 23 points in the first half. Without Gibson, the Bulls weren’t getting any backside help when Noah switched out and Warrick was dunking, getting fouled, making himself look more like Amar’e Stoudemire. But Thibodeau changed the defense to switch, all but when Omer Asik was in and with Rose and Noah switching spots at times, and with the Suns without a true postup scorer, Warrick returned to the Hakim from last season with passes slipping out of his hands and shots short.

“Nash is the best pick and roll player in the NBA,” said Noah. “He’s an unbelievable player. By switching, you make him more a one on one player and take away his little bounce pass. So we switched out and it worked for us tonight.”

4. James Johnson is alive! After not having played on this trip, Johnson went into the game with a reserve group late in the first with the Bulls down 33-12. He was big on the boards and down the stretch in the fourth quarter with the Bulls down five. With 2:29 left he walked effortlessly into a transition three and tied the game at 99 with 45.6 seconds left with a run out on the wing and dunk on a finishing pass from Rose. “J.J. was big off the bench,” said Thibodeau. C.J. (Watson) gave us a big lift. Omer. Those guys were the reason (in the second quarter) we got back into it.”

Johnson showed what having an athlete on the wing could mean. He finished with 12 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks, but he’s still prone to blockhead mistakes and gave Nash two free throws for no reason with the clock about to run out and the Bulls with a two point lead with 21.3 seconds left in regulation. Thibodeau almost collapsed on the sideline in exasperation.

“Everything I did positive went out the window with that,” said Johnson. “I hated it. I felt I let my team down. Everyone was fighting so hard if we’d lost because of that I don’t know what I’d do on the plane to Denver. I told my teammates (in the huddle) to look out for me. I’ve just got to learn.

“(I know) most people say (about me not playing), ‘I suck,’ or ‘The coach doesn’t like me.’ I try to take it in my own hands and do whatever it takes and stay ready. I tried the overanxious role and that’s what landed me on the bench. So learning from your mistakes works as well.”

For his part, Thibodeau said Johnson has worked hard and improved and he has confidence in him, but the rotation when Gibson returns is likely to remain the same.

5. Noah in the second overtime diving on the floor with two minutes left to get the ball from Nash and then after Rose fouled out on a highly questionable call when he was just standing in front of Korver shooting a three that was missing, Noah picked Nash clean as Nash tried to drive by him with 46 seconds left and the Bulls leading 118-113 in the second overtime. “He was dribbling, I stole it,” Noah said with a shrug.

6. Korver’s shooting. After a rough start missing his first three, Korver got going and led the Bulls with eight points in the fourth quarter, most coming early as a group with Asik, Johnson, Deng and Rose brought the Bulls back. Though it was a fast game you wouldn’t expect Asik to be able to play in, his size in the middle bothered the Suns as the Bulls got within 89-86 with seven minutes left as Korver either scored or assisted on the first seven Bulls points of the quarter. He basically is the shooting guard now as he played 47 minutes with Bogans the starter just in name.

7. Rose’s free throws to tie the game at 101 with 14.7 seconds left in regulation. Once again, the Bulls free throw shooting was poor, 17 of 27 after 11 of 20 in regulation. But Rose swished both as he was fouled by Hill when the Bulls got the ball back with 21.3 seconds left after Johnson’s foul gave Nash those two free throws.

“Tried my favorite hook shot and he fouled me,” said Rose. “My free throws had been terrible before today, but I hit them.”

8. Rose having had enough as he would play 50 minutes and Deng 54. Rose opened the second overtime with a bruising baseline drive for a three point play. Then Ronnie Brewer made two terrific defensive plays, blocking a Richardson layup and Hill on a jumper before Rose hit a 20 footer just as the shot clock was going off for a 116-113 lead with three minutes left.

“I can’t say enough about Derrick, the way he competed, the assists, points, the way he ran the team, but tonight his rebounding was fantastic.”

And then Deng rebounded a second Hedo Turkoglu missed tip, sprinted out and began jab stepping and with Thibodeau yelling, “No, no…,good shot,” Deng calmly made the 20 footer to effectively put the game out of reach. “After the first quarter in L.A., they were trapping and trying to run me off shots,” said Deng. “So coach told me to be aggressive.”

9. Noah getting a technical foul in the third quarter with the Bulls down 15 after a pair of touch fouls got Rose to four (Thibodeau would not take him out this time) and the Bulls seemingly getting the wrong end of the officiating. “That’s another thing that sucks about the league, technical fouls,” said Noah, running down his mental list of grievances. “Sometimes I’m emotional on a play. I’m not running at a ref or anything.” But from that point on, the Suns were called for two more fouls than the Bulls after being called for seven fewer before that.

10. The miserable start. It was 15-9 when the officials reviewed the Bulls first score of the game, a Rose three, and ruled it late and took it away, making it 15-6. Phoenix then went on a 14-2 run with the Bulls shooting quick jumpers that led to runouts. They were down 36-17 after one and 47-25 less than five minutes into the second when Thibodeau not only went to the bench, but in the fourth kept Asik in for Noah until five minutes remained.

“This is our team,” said Thibodeau. “There’s no quit in them and they’ll keep fighting.”

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