Rose and Noah save Bulls with last shot magic


Feb 29

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Richard Hamilton is back in the Bulls lineup, Derrick Rose still is really, really good, and the Bulls Tuesday beat the New Orleans Hornets 99-95.

Other than that there wasn’t much positive to say about the Bulls’ start of the second half of the NBA season.

“Defensively, I don’t think we did as well as we wanted to,” said Joakim Noah. “It just shows the resilience of this team. Down four with a minute to go (1:26), you’ve just got to find a way. Just because we’re the Chicago Bulls doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game by 30. We know we have a ways to go. We have to play better to get to where we want to go.”

Oh, yeah, Noah was really good as well with 15 points and 16 rebounds coming off his triple double before the All-Star break.

But it was a sputtering effort against an 8-26 Hornets team — which really has played better of late, really — as the Bulls’ bench was poor, blowing a double digit first quarter lead, and then again a fourth quarter double digit lead. That was before Rose, with 32 points and nine assists, and Noah made big offensive plays in the last minute, Taj Gibson had one of his five blocks and the defense finally held for more than a minute.

“I thought we played well in the first quarter and then got loose and hung on in the end,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “You’ve got to find different ways to win. The good thing is to have the resolve and not pack it in. That part is encouraging. Preparing for (Wednesday) we know we have to play a lot better down there.”

That would be in San Antonio, where the Spurs open their second half at home as the league’s hottest team with 12 wins in their last 13. And they basically threw away the one they lost by resting Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.

Yes, the Bulls are 28-8, though they certainly did not look dominant. Or impressive. It is difficult to gauge games coming out of All-Star break, especially given Rose and Luol Deng were in Orlando. So was Thibodeau, though he looked especially sharp, I thought, when he kicked the scorer’s table in the second quarter when Chris Kaman rebounded an Xavier Henry miss and scored easily for a 43-39 New Orleans lead.

The Bulls were then in the process of losing that 28-18 late first quarter lead gained when Carlos Boozer swept down the lane and power dunked left handed in the face of Kaman. Boozer stared at Kaman in his best LeBron James imitation, drawing a technical foul. The Hornets then sent Kaman home again. Nah, but they may have been thinking it.

“We wanted to play much better,” said Boozer, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. We’re super happy with the win. We know we’ve got to play a lot better to get where we want to go. But, you know, first game back a little rusty but we’ll shake it off.”

The Bulls should have lost this one the way they gave the Hornets that 13-0 fourth quarter run to find themselves trailing 95-91 with 1:26 left after a Gustavo Ayon baseline jumper over Noah.

There’s an old NBA saying about not messing with Gastavo Ayon down the stretch, but most know that already. It’s easy to make jokes about the Hornets with half their team out injured or selling season tickets. They do those TNT comedy bits with Charles Barkley to see if he can name where guys play. Really, Ayon, Lance Thomas, Solomon Jones, Marco Belinelli and Greivis Vasquez not only are regulars, but three are in the Hornets’ starting lineup. My guess is six of the nine playing Hornets could not make the Bulls rotation.

The Hornets Tuesday were getting outshot, outrebounded and committed more turnovers. They had fewer assists, fast break points and were outscored inside 60-46. They had fewer blocks and steals. And they’re about to win the game.

Calling Derrick Rose!

“Derrick was Derrick,” said Thibodeau.

And we did know what he meant.

Although the Hornets weren’t shooting particularly well, though mostly because they have poor shooters, the Bulls defense wasn’t quite formidable. That would soon change. They did have a minute or so in them, as it turned out.

Rose took a high screen from Noah and then cut across the lane where he was bumped by Kaman on a runner to get to the line. Rose would make both to get within 95-93 as he made his seventh consecutive free throw of the game and began to increase his aggression after being angered failing to get some calls earlier in the game.

“I was going to try to make them (officials) make the calls,” said Rose. “I see that’s what I have to do now. I’ve got to put it in my own hands and be more aggressive.”

Jarret Jack then threw the ball away as Ronnie Brewer did a nice job holding up Belinelli coming over a screen. Noah retrieved the loose ball and threw ahead to Rose. I thought Rose made a mistake then in throwing to the wing to Brewer, who isn’t a great finisher and got cut off. I thought Rose could have gone all the way and was surprised he didn’t. Brewer then threw back to Rose, which gave the Hornets’ defense a chance to set. Rose then got a screen from Noah and got the switch with Kaman taking him. But Kaman did a good job coming out as Rose tried a floater from the right baseline.

The ball hit the front of the rim as Jack also went toward Rose. That left Noah a lane to the rim and he went in, reaching back over his head as the ball came off and tipping it back in to tie the game.

“Incredible tip,” said Boozer. “Had to reach all the way back. Monster on the glass (Boozer dropped his articles, though I think he was rushing for the team plane). Anchors our defense. Scoring the ball. His jump shot is getting better. His offensive game is scary. Been playing amazing.”

Joakim Noah

We’d often say Noah’s offensive game was scary, though more to the fans with good seats the way he shot. But playing as he has of late we hope Roy Hibbert enjoyed his last All-Star game.

That tied the game at 95 with 52.1 seconds left as the Hornets called time.

“Fool’s gold,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams in stealing the favorite phrase of the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. “We should have won that game… Derrick Rose had to play 41 minutes to beat us tonight.”

It’s something, though I might not use that as the top point in the proposed sale of the team.

Ayon then at the top of the key faked a handoff to Jack and tried to drive down the lane. But Gibson, who also had five points, seven rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes as the best player off the bench, blocked Ayon’s attempt and it went to Noah.

“We understood that we needed to get a few stops,” said Gibson. “We were talking good to each other on defense and that allowed us to get the stops.”

The Bulls couldn’t run out. They went into a halfcourt set, but Rose couldn’t shake Jack as Noah couldn’t get in position to screen with Kaman lurking behind. Rose tried to make a play, but Thibodeau called time with nine seconds on the 24-second clock and 25.7 overall.

“Normally, I like to let him go to see how he sees it,” said Thibodeau. “It looked like it was bottled up pretty good and I wanted to make sure we were going to get a good look at the basket. It looked like not a lot of space and I wanted to get a timeout to see if we could get a good shot.”

Rose admitted he was surprised by the timeout, but he said he trusted Thibodeau implicitly.

“I’ve got trust in him and believe in him as a coach,” said Rose. “I went back to the bench and told him if they overplay me I’ll back cut. Joakim made a great pass and I just tried to make something happen. I knew if I went up hard and shoved him a little bit, I would have some space. I just tried to shoot as high as I could on step back.”

It’s a play the Bulls run often and Noah said one they practice a lot. When asked how often, he said more than anyone imagines.

Deng took the ball out in front of the visitors’ bench. The Bulls beat Atlanta on a variation of the play in early January, only with Deng cutting behind Rose after his inbounds pass to Noah. Deng, who had a rough shooting night with 14 points and 11 rebounds, took the ball out with Noah setting up at the elbow for the pass. Rose was stationed in the lane ready to cut over Noah’s screen. Noah came out to get the ball as Rose went over and to the sideline to screen for Deng. That was the Atlanta play with Deng coming open at the basket. The Hornets obviously had seen that as Williams is a very good coach. Jack switched onto the cutting Deng as Rose popped out.

Trevor Ariza, the Hornets best defender, switched onto Rose after guarding Deng out of bounds. Rose moved toward Noah and as Ariza stepped in between Rose gave Ariza a little nudge to get some space. Rose then retreated along the sideline toward the right baseline with Kaman following but a few feet off. It gave Rose the chance to get space for 19 footer that hit the front rim, rolled into the backboard and back into the basket for a 97-95 Bulls lead with 19.4 seconds left.

“I take crazy shots like that in practice all the time,” said Rose. “It gives me confidence to take those shots. We work on that in the end of practice. I stepped back and tried to shoot the ball up as high as I could. We definitely held it together. Other teams I guess would have folded. We played toward the end I think the best defense we played throughout the whole game. We rebounded the ball, made great plays on the ball. We gave ourselves a chance. I want to… take those shots.”

“I’m just trying to get ball in his hands in that situation,” added Noah. “I know how much he wants to have the ball in his hands down the stretch. He does what he does. He wants the ball down the stretch.”

Though there was more defense to play with a Hornets’ three a potential winner.

The Hornets went to Jack on top. Kaman cut across but didn’t set the screen, which was a surprise. It seemed Jack was too high. Jack then got his shoulder just past Rose and there appeared to be a lane for the tie with Noah trailing Kaman and Brewer tied up in the corner following Belinelli. But Rose made a great recovery with his speed and gained a step back on Jack. Rose then leaped to block Jack’s layup attempt, one of two Rose blocks along with three steals. And he would have had a half dozen more assists if the Bulls weren’t three of 18 on threes.

“Derrick figures out what you need and that what he’s going to provide,” said Thibodeau. “If it’s playmaking, he’ll do that. If it’s more scoring he’s going to do that. He also made some good plays down the stretch defensively. That’s who Derrick is.”

Noah got the rebound and immediately handed to Rose, who the last time in this situation missed two free throws.

Not this time as Rose went up and swished both for the 99-95 lead with 10.6 seconds left.

The Bulls defense, finally engaged, wasn’t done as Deng deflected the inbounds pass to Brewer, who threw ahead to Rose. Rose pulled the ball out and the Hornets fouled him with 4.3 seconds left. Then with the usual sellout crowd rocking in anticipation of free McDonald’s hamburgers for 100 points, Rose embarrassingly missed both. Though the Hornets missed a last one at the buzzer.

“I felt like Jackie Moon off Semi-pro,” Rose laughed. “I saved McDonald’s a lot of money, so they should be happy. I hit the ones that counted.”

Unless you were hungry for a late snack, I guess.

Richard Hamilton

It was a nice bite into the second half of the season for the Bulls as Hamilton finally returned after missing the last 13 games. It made for just the sixth game (5-1) the Bulls had their regular starting unit together this season (9-3 overall with Hamilton playing).

After twice going out after recurrences of groin and thigh injuries, the Bulls want to be careful with Hamilton as they were back at full strength with C.J. Watson back from concussion and Rose and Deng no longer discussing injuries. But Hamilton may be the key to the rest of the season. He was held to 17 minutes with one segment in each half. He had five points and five assists.

“When he’s out there, he’s definitely, I think, the X-factor for our team,” said Rose. “He’s a guy that could post the ball if it’s a smaller guard on him. Shoot the ball great. Knows how to get fouled, a smart player when he’s out there. Plays smart, good passer.”

And the Bulls need that, or something. It seemed ever more clear, though the shooting was generally poor, that the Bulls need that additional offensive option to play off Rose. Deng’s shot was flat and awry Tuesday, which posed problems. Korver was missing as well as they combined for two of 10 from threes. For the Bulls, it’s who’ll make those kinds of shots in the playoffs, and Hamilton is probably the second best option to Rose. If the Bulls lose him again it’s difficult to see them going very far in the playoffs.

They want to integrate his play as well as being careful. Hamilton said he felt good and could have gone longer but is being patient.

“I felt as though I was ready,” he said. “It’s hard sitting. I want to be out there. I missed competing. It’s frustrating, but I’m happy to be back now. I’ve got to listen to my body. I want to get out and play the whole game, but it’s not the case. I’ve got to take my time and get out there and get back in the swing of things.

“I felt good tonight, energetic,” he said. “I felt I was able to get to all my spots on the floor, to get where my comfort zone is. I felt good doing that. “I’m a player whatever the defense gives me, that’s what I’m going to take. Scoring, passing, or whatever. I think the biggest thing was, for me, getting my cuts, moving without the ball, hitting my screens hard when I wanted to. I thought I could do that tonight. I felt great out there.”

It was Hamilton mostly moving the ball early as he’s an excellent passer. The Bulls took that early lead and 30-26 after one with Noah getting 11 first quarter points, both hitting the boards and beating Kamen down court.

“Jo was terrific,” said Thibodeau. “He picked up right where he left off, rebounding, playmaking, scoring. He’s playing at a very high level now. He’s a catalyst for the team, a multiple effort mentality. His activity is what separates him.”

The reserves went cold in the second quarter as Xavier Henry had a strong run and the Hornets took a 50-47 halftime lead with Rose growing frustrated with a lack of foul calls. The Bulls began to edge ahead late in the third quarter as Deng got going, though the Bulls while dominating inside continue to fail to finish strong often enough with a lot of missed tips and follows. They seemed in control when Gibson and Rose scored to open the fourth and take an 83-72 lead with about 10 minutes remaining. But New Orleans made that run and Rose was able to save the Bulls this time. He’ll need more help to continue.

“We’ve got to knock the rust off,” said Rose. “We’re going to have open shots the way we’re passing the ball. The shots should go down.”

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