Bulls enjoy Phoenix so much they stay an extra quarter


Nov 15

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It was Joakim Noah who made the “arrive home safely shot” for the Bulls Wednesday, the clinching 18-footer with 29.5 seconds left that sent the home fans to the exits in a Bulls’ 112-106 overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Yes, Noah of the counter-clockwise spinning “tornado” jump shot, of the hook shot launched sometimes from his waist, the guy who isn’t being asked to many clinics on offense.

And the guy with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists who made the two closing baskets to assure the win after the Bulls had blown an 18-point third quarter lead.

“Hey, (stuff) happens,” Noah shrugged as he slowly dressed in an upbeat, if not celebratory Bulls locker room. “That’s the way I’d put it. It’s getting to the point where there hasn’t been much I haven’t seen as an NBA player. I’ve been up 35 points in a game in the NBA and lost. So when you are on the road and a team makes a run at you, it’s how you handle it. They played hard in the fourth quarter and got a lot of offensive rebounds, so there are things we can correct. You’d rather correct them after getting the win.”

Carlos BoozerAnd so the Bulls did with one of their better offensive games of the season, with Carlos Boozer excellent with 28 points and 14 rebounds and Luol Deng with 21 points, his third game of at least 21 in the last four, and now averaging 19.1 on the season.

But it was more than just the numbers. It was the 5-3 Bulls finishing strongly in overtime after blowing a huge lead, a building block for a team searching for a closing kick without Derrick Rose. And it was a veteran presence showing it wouldn’t crack with the likes of Noah, Deng, Boozer and Richard Hamilton mostly finishing and showing the worth of veteran experience.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau likes to rely on defense and defensive players. But he rode his veterans and they delivered.

“They made their run and we stayed calm,” said Deng. “The way we’ve played the last two years and what we’ve been through, there was a calm out there. No panic even away from home. And we got the win.

“It was huge, especially Carlos,” Deng added. “When Booz plays like that we are very hard to beat. I felt it would be a good trip for him. When they made their run, he was making baskets, and that made it easy for us. Everyone in this league knows how effective Boozer is, how good he is when he is scoring.”

I thought it interesting Deng noted how the road would be kind to Boozer. I wondered if there’s less pressure on Boozer on the road given the way he is measured at home. Deng shrugged and said he didn’t know. He said to ask Boozer. Of course, Boozer doesn’t dwell on those things, at least publicly. Though you know the criticism has to hurt. But he never says anything about it.

And Thibodeau credited Boozer for playing through the bad times. Though he also stuck with Boozer, who is prone to quick Thibodeau hooks after mistakes or dry spells. Boozer played just under 40 minutes, and joked his legs gave out a bit coming up short on a late dunk attempt. But in the overtime as the Bulls scored the first eight points and never trailed, Boozer got a big offensive rebound on a Hamilton miss at 102-100 and made two free throws, getting four rebounds in the overtime, which matched the Suns’ entire total. And this on a night the Suns outrebounded the Bulls 51-46.

“I thought he started the game aggressively,” said Thibodeau. “I thought he played well throughout. You know what he’s going to give you. A lot of plays are called for him. This is something he probably doesn’t get enough credit for. If a play is called for him it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s his shot. It’s his play. His responsibility is to make the right play. If a second defender comes, he has to hit the open man, which he always does. If you cut and you’re open, Carlos will hit you with a pass. He plays the right way and doesn’t press. If things aren’t going his way, next day he comes in, works on his game and gets ready for the next game.”

It’s that veteran experience which is perhaps the best thing the Bulls have going for them without Rose, and it was good to see Thibodeau have faith in that group to the end. And they delivered with that dominant overtime.

It also helped Boozer that Kirk Hinrich, though still slowed a bit, was back. Boozer plays far better off him as well as with Hamilton than he is able to with less experienced or talented point guards, like Nate Robinson or Marquis Teague.

“Everything was going, to be honest,” said Boozer. “I was able to play off Rip with corner passes. He got me going. Kirk did a great job with pocket passes. He was getting me open jump shots and I could be aggressive. Hey, I was even making my free throws (six for six). It felt good.

“We did not lose our poise,” Boozer agreed. “This group of guys has seen a lot of things. Even though we had to go to overtime, I thought we did a great job moving the ball. Rip got shots, Lu, Joakim. I got shots. That’s how we’re going to win. We don’t have Derrick, so we have to find ways. It did feel good to be out there.”

There’s been much talk about the bench this season, whether this one was good enough, how good that one was. Robinson had 11 points in relief of Hinrich, who was feisty enough in a game that was growing rough late that he drew a fourth quarter technical and ripped off his glasses after being called for an offensive foul and confronting the official.

“Don’t know what I said,” offered Hinrich. He agreed it probably wasn’t good.

Once again, Taj Gibson couldn’t get anything going with four points and two rebounds and Marco Belinelli had just three points. Nazr Mohammed had a brutal time with Luis Scola in seven minutes, and Jimmy Butler did have a nice sequence in the second quarter with six points. But given Thibodeau has hives when Deng leaves the game, Butler only played about eight and a half minutes.

The starters had to do it, which really is a positive. Perhaps more so that Thibodeau rolled with them. Especially on the road, he’s going to have to. He should, and it shouldn’t be a big issue as the Bulls have two days off before playing the Clippers Saturday. Then after the back to back with Portland Sunday another two days off before playing Houston on Thanksgiving eve.

“They showed a lot of toughness,” Thibodeau said of his group. “In the end, you have to find a way to win. Whatever is necessary you have to do it, and I thought we did that tonight.”

Boozer had a high level all around game, including controlling Marcin Gortat, who had just 11 points and eight rebounds. Thibodeau likes to play Noah against the more mobile big man, which was Scola, who led Phoenix with 24 points and 14 rebounds. But Scola did a lot of damage against Mohammed when Noah was out in the second quarter. If there’s a knock on Noah’s defense, it’s that he’ll over help at times. It’s both a strength and weakness. Yes, it can leave him out of position. But his ability to switch and guard much smaller players is unique in the NBA. There’s no big man as versatile defensively.

And now Noah is showing an offensive game hardly anyone could have imagined. He scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and while he’ll occasionally not grab the miss and follow, he’s constantly knocking balls away on the boards and now shooting a reliable jump shot. In fact, I wish he’d take it more as it’s one of the better mid range shots on the team. And defenses give it to him. Often he’ll hesitate. But he clinched Wednesday’s win taking that last 18 footer right up.

Joakim Noah

“He’s shown he’s a lot more than just a hustle guy,” congratulated Thibodeau. “He’s been playing this way throughout the season. He’s healthy. He’s working hard on his game, studying, preparing to play. He’s doing a great job of making his moves a lot quicker. He probably could have had 30 tonight if he had made his dunks.”

That’s the way the night ended: Thibs doing Henny Youngman. He doesn’t do Dave Chappelle.

“I feel more comfortable doing it (shooting),” Noah conceded. “I wasn’t as comfortable before. I always felt I could do things offensively, make plays off the dribble. I don’t feel too many guys my size can do that.”

The other rock is Deng, who has morphed into the 20-point scorer many believed he would be but since became convinced he couldn’t be. Now as much as anyone in tough situations, the Bulls look for him. He makes more plays off the dribble than ever. And opening the overtime, it’s where the Bulls went for their first points.

“I’m more aggressive,” said Deng. “I know when to get guys going or the time for me to go. I’ve been doing that the last few games. I never go in thinking I have to score 20. But right now my confidence is high and I want to keep playing like this.”

The Bulls certainly need it.

Though it didn’t seem like they would after they began to take control of the game in the second and third quarters.

Though Hinrich was expected to miss perhaps a few more games with his strained hip, he did enough to work himself back into the game. And it was no surprise Boozer started hot with 10 in the first quarter. Hinrich admitted he’s “still not ideal.” And he did have some issues early with much improved point guard Goran Dragic, who had 10 in the first quarter.

You’ll remember Dragic from perhaps Rose’s most spectacular dunk ever over him a few years back in a huge Bulls overtime win in Phoenix. Suns coach Alvin Gentry say the players still kid Dragic about it and often show it in film sessions.

“That’s part of the game,” said Dragic. “I always say if I have the same opportunity I’ll try to block it again. I’m not the first one it happened to.”

The Suns have an odd tendency to fall into deep holes in games and have trailed by double digits in eight of their nine games. But they came back and won down 26 earlier this season. The big reason is an unbalanced and odd roster with slow post men Gortat, Scola and Michael Beasley starting, all of whom view passing as a sin.

But the Suns stayed in down 29-27 after one. Again, Boozer also worked well with Noah, once early passing on a wide open 15 footer to slip Noah a pass for a layup.

Scola took advantage with Noah out early in the second. But Butler and with a strong close to the half from Boozer, the Bulls took a 57-51 halftime lead shooting 58.5 percent.

It looked like it was going to be a blowout as the Bulls got on the offensive boards in the third quarter, grabbing seven as Deng, Boozer and Noah turned them into baskets as the Bulls went ahead 79-61 with 3:05 left in the third and closed the quarter leading 83-69.

But as Gentry often does, he went with a smaller, quicker lineup that was more aggressive, and happened to have the good fortune of non shooter Sebastian Telfair — though he has been picked up twice on gun violations — making four threes.

“I thought we did a lot of good things to get to 18,” said Thibodeau. “The fourth quarter the thing was (P.J.) Tucker was crushing us with second shots. We weren’t finishing our defense. And their ball pressure, they got into us. Sometimes on the road, you’re not going to get calls. You have to be strong. There was physical play. We should enjoy that. It’s a good part of the game.”

Easy for him to say.

The Suns scored on six straight possessions, Hinrich unraveled for a technical as he was being fouled and got a foul for pushing back, and suddenly the Bulls were leading 91-90 with 4:28 left on a Shannon Brown drive.

“Tucker was physical,” agreed Deng. “At one point coach screamed at me about all the offensive rebounds he was getting. I said, ‘Coach, the ball is going to him.’”

It was a time it seemed the game would go to the Suns.

But Noah, the Bulls’ new Kyle Korver, made a 17-footer.

“Usually, when I catch the ball I’m thinking pass first,” Noah admitted. “I have to keep my eye on the rim. I try to make a quick play first. If they try to take that away, that’s when I get into my shot. I feel (now) if my shot is there I’m going to shoot it. I’m feeling more and more confident with it. I missed a few early, some bad ones. I hit the backboard with one that wasn’t too pretty. But they went down when it counted. So I was happy.”

Telfair tied it with a three. Robinson then literally ducked under a defender for a layup and 95-93 lead. Back came Scola to tie it, but the Bulls wouldn’t buckle.

Rip Hamilton

Robinson made one of two after being fouled and Telfair missed a three. Hamilton, playing big fourth quarter and overtime minutes with Boozer, went into his shot and was fouled and made both: 98-95 with 1:16 left.

Telfair missed another three as he cooled. Hinrich got fouled on a defensive rebound and made one of two as the Bulls free throw shooting still was spotty at 18 of 25. Leading 99-95, Brown drove and was fouled for a three point play to bring the Suns within 99-98 with 52.1 second left.

Boozer missed a 19 footer, but Brown missed a drive. Hamilton was fouled, but only made one of two before Tucker tied it with 9.4 seconds left as Noah deflected a pass that went to him. Brown blocked a last shot for Hamilton to go to overtime.

And then the Bulls dominated.

“I thought we let them off the hook,” said Hamilton. “We played an extra five minutes I thought we shouldn’t have. But we came through when we had to.”

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