Bulls and Noah turn Philly boos into boo hoos


Dec 13

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It was the same old story for the Bulls Wednesday in a 96-89 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Perhaps fatigue is setting in on the second of a back to back with a late home game to accommodate TV and then an early start in Philadelphia. The Bulls open the fourth quarter with seven misses and a turnover as the 76ers take the lead after trailing by three entering the final quarter.

So what does Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau do? The obvious, of course, which is go to his bench guys and rookie to make the big plays and close out the Eastern Conference rival who knocked them out of the playoffs last season.

Go to his bench?

Yes, it was Taj Gibson spotting Marquis Teague for a 16-footer with 7:43 left to bring the Bulls within one, and then Gibson again setting up Jimmy Butler for a 17-footer with 5:56 left to put the Bulls ahead by one, 79-78. Then it was Butler again with a big pull up three to keep the Bulls ahead at 82-80 with 4:32 remaining. And then it was Teague with a driving reverse layup with 3:32 left for an 86-80 Bulls lead.

Can we get a hallelujah for the new bench brigade!

Nah, no need to go there yet. Of course, Thibodeau wasn’t about to go down the stretch without Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, his two talismen. But after Nate Robinson delivered a crucial three midway through the third quarter when it looked like the 76ers were going to take the game in building up their biggest lead of the game at seven points, Thibodeau stayed with the heart of his bench to help deliver the victory.

“I think we’re a resilient group,” said Noah, who worked off a personal reprisal with 21 points, seven rebounds, a team high five assists and three blocks.

Noah was particularly animated with several episodes of his pantomime pistols, which produced the expected scorn. Noah said he was upset, actually thinking about it often during the summer, about how the crowd cheered when Noah suffered that severely sprained ankle in Game 3 of the playoffs.

“I couldn’t wait to come back here,” Noah said afterward. “I just felt like when I went down last year just people cheering. I felt like that was real disrespectful and it was definitely motivating. I’m going to do it for the rest of my career. Every time I come here. I’ll never forget what happened in the playoffs.”

So that takes two cities off his vacation list, Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Joakim Noah

But Noah, a true international citizen, just doesn’t understand Philadelphia that well. The spectators at sporting events boo all the time, or what sounds like booing to most people. But since the city is most famous for those oversized doughy pretzels and cheese steak sandwiches which have neither real cheese (actually Cheez Whiz) or any steak anyone has ever heard of, most people wander around there with a perpetual case of borborygmi. That is the grumbling and growling sound you hear emanating from someone’s stomach. It’s also why Homeland Security rarely allows people from Philadelphia onto airplanes because of the radar interference that might result.

So Noah probably shouldn’t have been that upset. But his own irascibility benefitted the Bulls as even after a 4 a.m. arrival in Philadelphia and early Central time start, Noah was a relentless foe the 76ers could not tame.

“We’ve been fighting all year, and we feel like we let some games slip away,” Noah added. “Especially, you think of three or four games we could’ve had. But I think we’re getting better, growing as a team. Back-to-backs are no joke. But we fought hard. A lot of guys stepped up. Jimmy Butler hit a huge shot for us, a huge three. The rook played huge for us, and that’s what we need. We need everybody.”

Deng also had a big bounce back game after the loss to the Clippers Tuesday with 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to go with 12 rebounds. Deng did add after the game to Comcast Sports he had a slight hyperextension of his knee but felt it wasn’t serious.

“We showed a lot of toughness, dug down,” said Thibodeau. “I thought a lot of guys stepped up. Luol and Joakim set the tone right from the start of the game. The thing that I like about what they did is they didn’t play their best yesterday, but they set the tone for today. They bounced right back. We had a lot of guys come in. Nate did a good job for us, Marco was huge, and Marquis came in and played terrific defense, made two big free throws down the stretch.”

But the revelation was the reserves, the new guys so many have doubted since the breakup of the beloved and fabled “Bench Mob” of reserves. But consider the Bulls were closing a big road game with the three low first round picks, Gibson at 26, Teague at 29 and Butler at 30.

Teague ran the offense effectively and defended, demonstrating even at 19 he’ll be a good backup for Derrick Rose when he returns from injury. Butler with nine points and three rebounds continued to show he can make shots with another crucial fourth quarter three pointer. And Gibson with six points and seven rebounds began to show some of the spirit of his previous season and with Butler the athletic ability which doesn’t inhabit much of the roster.

“The way the game was going (was why I kept them in down the stretch),” Thibodeau said. “I felt that unit was playing well on the floor. I thought (Teague’s) quickness matched up to the speed of (Jrue) Holiday. You’ve got to make guys work for their points. Marquis got over screens and got in front of the ball. He was hustling and I thought that was important.”

A word about Holiday first.

Does he believe in practice! Because he sure revived the ghost of Allen Iverson taking 28 shots to get 26 points. Yes, the 76ers had him trying to take advantage of mismatches at point guard with Nate Robinson subbing for the ailing Kirk Hinrich. And Teague, a 19-year-old rookie who hadn’t played much. But the point guard isn’t supposed to take almost double the amount of shots of the next biggest shooter.

Oh, and Hinrich. Yes, a tweak again. Hinrich seemed OK after Tuesday’s game, except for the beating the Bulls were taking. And then his knee swelled on the way to Philadelphia, which I think also happened to British General Howe in 1776. Anyway, Hinrich’s issue took him out of Wednesday’s game. It was another frustration for Hinrich, who has had previous minor elbow, hip, thumb and hamstring injuries this season. And now with Richard Hamilton out with his foot injury. So counting Derrick Rose, that’s the Bulls top three guards all missing.

But Marco Belinelli continued to fill in well with 16 points and Robinson added 14 with a pair of threes.

“The big challenge in the NBA is whatever is in front of you you’ve got to attack,” said Thibodeau. “Sometimes the schedule is in your favor, sometimes not. Sometimes an early or late start, travel, getting in late. Readiness to play is huge in this league. The first quarter is huge in this league. You’ve got to have toughness or bounce back no matter what happens. Learn from it and be ready for the next opponent. I felt we showed that today.”

And with a sturdy defense that has the Bulls tied for second in opponents’ shooting, second and just two tenths of a point out of allowing the fewest points per game and now 12-9.

“Jimmy, Marcus, those guys were huge for us,” said Deng. “Taj, also. Those guys came in and helped us through. They really won the game for us.”

As Gibson said, the way things have gone the last few years with regular injuries to starters, players being out is nothing new. And perhaps fortuitous, in a sense, though not counting the Rose injury, as players readily step from the bench with no hesitation.

So there was Robinson back in the starting lineup with Hinrich out. Of course, the 76ers have their own injury issue with Andrew Bynum, whom they counted on to develop an inside/outside game. He hasn’t played this season and no one seems to know when or if he will. So the 76ers remain primarily a perimeter team, though difficult to defend because they have multiple perimeter creators.

The 76ers led 24-21 after one period, but Thibodeau said he was pleased as Deng and Noah accounted for 15 of the Bulls’ points.

Luol Deng

“Lu and Jo set the tone right from the start,” said Thibodeau. “Jo responded well because of what happened last night. I did not think he played his best and I felt today he had a determination and energy to play well.”

And you could see it early with a beautiful Deng assist for a Noah slam dunk in the opening moments, Deng assisting on two Noah scores in the first two minutes. Deng followed with a nice rip through move to draw a three point play and Thibodeau gave Teague his initial first quarter time of the season. Holiday was going at both point guards and the Bulls were having a little trouble early finding Thaddeus Young, who scored a pair if dunks.

The Bulls broke into the lead early in the second with the highlight a Deng lob to Butler for a score. Yes, a Bulls lob dunk! Teague then had the play of maybe the game with a Magic Johnsonesque no look pass on the run to Butler for a slam dunk and 33-28 Bulls lead midway through the second quarter.

“They got good play out of their bench tonight,” agreed 76ers coach Doug Collins. “Jimmy Butler did a nice job for them. Taj Gibson, as I said before, Teague gave them 20 minutes.”

Carlos Boozer had a quiet night with five points and six rebounds, but the Bulls didn’t really go through him much. He even earned his first technical foul of the season, and no, not for holding the ball away from the official that earned Amir Johnson a technical and suspension the other day. Boozer likes to touch the ball as well after free throws and dead balls. Whatever.

The Bulls trailed 44-41 at halftime, and then seemed to become victims of expected fatigue as the 76ers took a 60-53 lead. Robinson then made that high arcing three and later in the quarter Gibson scored on a nice spin move and battled on the boards, getting fouled and making both as the Bulls free throw shooting remained sharp with 24 of 26. The 76ers were just five of 11. Noah then closed the quarter with a fancy pump fake score and foul to give the Bulls a 69-66 edge.

“I thought we put ourselves in a position there when we went up seven,” said Collins. “Looked like we had a little bit of grip on the game. I thought Nate Robinson hit a huge three to cut it to four. Jimmy Butler later hit a big three to put them up one, and those bigs, their bigs are good. On a night like tonight, when you go to Gibson late in the game, defensively, he and Noah out there make it very difficult. I thought we got a little tired. I played Evan [Turner] 41 minutes tonight, Jrue 40, and I thought fatigue was a factor.

Noah, by the way, played 44:21 after more than 42 and a half minutes Tuesday.

The 76ers regained their edge early in the fourth with that ineffectual Bulls opening to the fourth. But then it was Teague and Butler with big scores, Deng with back to back baskets with Evan Turner in his face, and then Noah find Deng on a nifty back cut for a layup and 88-83 lead with 2:21 left. And then it was Noah with a 17 footer for a 90-83 lead with just over a minute left, pounding his chest and acknowledging the contempt as the 76ers called timeout with no longer enough time to save a win.

“They’re a scrappy team,” said Thaddeus Young. “They definitely outplayed us toward the end of the game and they willed themselves to a victory. They’re a tough team, they’re a playoff team, they’re a contending team each and every year. So we kind of knew it was going to be a close game. We know the Bulls are not going down without a fight. They start off early just pretty much pounding the ball inside, trying to post up, trying to get fouls, creating a lot of contact, and just trying to impose their will with the basketball. They’re capable of coming out and competing with anybody each and every night. They just came out and played.”

No matter who was called upon.

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