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Bulls complete sweep of Knicks and Nets
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 16
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Back in Brooklyn, we used to call them “the M&M Boys.” They weren’t actually beloved by all, but we respected them. The Dodgers and Giants had left and the Mets hadn’t come yet. So it was M&M, Mantle and Maris, making the big plays when they were needed.
They’re not likely to be as celebrated, and certainly not in Brooklyn. But it was M&M to the rescue Saturday–Marco and Marquis–in the Bulls’ 83-82 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Marco Belinelli, the mercurial shooting guard scoring in double figures the last six games playing for the injured Richard Hamilton, led the Bulls with 19 points, including the improbable game winner with 22.1 seconds left.
And Marquis Teague, the rookie point guard who’d only played 37 minutes all season before Wednesday and had scored a total of seven points all season, had eight points playing down the stretch and holding off Deron Williams with defensive pressure. The duo combined for 10 of the Bulls 16 fourth quarter points and the crucial plays that enabled the Bulls to move to 13-9 and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
“Obviously we struggled through most of the fourth quarter,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I liked the mental toughness we had. We were down six, 77-71 (with 5:44 left) and we just found some ways to get stops and reciprocate on the other end. Marquis stayed ready to play, going out there knowing what your job is, and doing your job. He gave his team what they need, and played well defensively. I thought he did an excellent job for us. Marquis has made some significant strides defensively.”
And then it was Belinelli taking advantage of C.J. Watson and Brook Lopez colliding in an attempted double team and Belinelli racing down the lane for a floater with Gerald Wallace coming hard to block. The score gave the Bulls an 81-79 lead with 22.1 seconds left with Belinelli then leaping into the waiting and excited arms of fellow bench mates Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson.
Can we finally put to rest that myth of the Bench Mob?
In this latest installment of the Bench Mob reunion tour, Watson had three points for the Nets and Keith Bogans was scoreless. Last week in a victory over the Knicks, Ronnie Brewer was scoreless and zero for five shooting.
New York basketball domination? It’s just a myth thus far.
“That’s a great feeling,” said Belinelli, who averaged 5.2 points and shot 37 percent in November. “It was amazing. I’m happy for me, but I’m happy for everybody. It was a team win. We played good defense, we played good offense and the fans here are amazing. So we won the game for us and for our fans. Everybody knows if you play defense, you stay on the court. So everybody wants to play defense, wants to be aggressive. I just tried to be aggressive (on that winning layup). I was wide open to the basket. We played great defense in the last three, four minutes, so that’s why we won the game.”
Yes, he’s already a Stepford Thibodeau.
And Belinelli also became the athletic shooting guard who could put the ball on the floor and attack the basket we’d heard about but hadn’t seen much of until moving into the starting lineup.
The Nets were playing their fourth game in five nights after a double overtime win Friday. But with that six point lead late and with a rare 41-33 rebounding edge over the Bulls, the Nets were in excellent position to win.
But then after the Nets fell behind on Belinelli’s score, Teague, who was the league’s best Teague Saturday night as his brother was three of 11 for Atlanta in a loss to Golden State, had to face Deron Williams about to tie the game.
Williams got the ball on top of the floor and went into an isolation against Teague. But Teague, who earlier had fouled Williams on a three point attempt, squared up and refused to let Williams get by. Williams went right, crossed over left, and what do you know, Teague was still there right in front. So Williams faded back for a jump shot which came up short and to Luol Deng for the rebound.
Belinelli went over to Teague as Deng was fouled and gave Teague a playful, encouraging pat on the head. Teague then got the ball in to Belinelli, who made a nice catch and was fouled. Belinelli made both, which was vital as Williams threw in a three at the close for the one-point margin.
But consider this ending: In the last five minutes with the Nets leading by six, Teague and Belinelli accounted for 10 of the Bulls 12 points. Deng had the only other score, a layup as he ran the wing on a sharp pass from Teague.
“I was just trying to take what the defense gave me, creating for my teammates,” said Teague. “I had a few fouls I shouldn’t have made, I have to do better and learn from it. I was just trying to contain (Williams), just keep him in front of me. It is hard to keep a player like that from scoring. I just wanted to make it as tough on him as possible and contest his shots. I watch these guys (teammates) everyday in practice, I know what they like to do, I know their strengths, and where to give them the ball where they will be most effective. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and good to know your coach had confidence in you (to be finishing the game).”
And it has to be exciting to the Bulls to know they seem to have a reliable backup point guard to develop when Derrick Rose returns from injury.
The Bulls also got another double/double from Joakim Noah with 12 points and 10 rebounds along with five assists, those numbers of a double/double with at least five assists now eight times, which ties LeBron James for the most in that category, according to Bulls radio statmaster Jeff Mangurten. Thus Noah also leads all centers in that category.
Iron horse Deng in more than 45 minutes added 17 points and seven rebounds. And Carlos Boozer with a strong start had 15 point and six rebounds. The Bulls also had an impressive 19-4 edge in fast break points in an entertaining, if not artistic, exciting game with 14 lead changes and seven ties.
With Williams scoring 13 points in the first quarter, the Nets took a 24-23 lead, though the highlight was Robinson racing from behind to block Marshon Brooks about to lay the ball in early in the game. The crowd pleasing block certainly pleased the energized home crowd and ended up the No. 1 play of the night on the ESPN statistics show.
With starter Kirk Hinrich still out and hoping to play Monday in Memphis, Thibodeau gave Teague a long run in the second quarter as the Bulls went on to take a 46-41 lead. Neither team got much going in the third as the game ground down and the Bulls held onto their five point lead.
But behind Joe Johnson’s shooting and Lopez at the rim, the Nets took control with that 77-71 lead with about five minutes left.
And then it was a child who, surprisingly, would lead.
With Hinrich out and Robinson committing his fifth foul, Thibodeau was running out of point guards. So he went back to Teague, and the kid may have grown up in a matter of moments.
Somewhat hesitant to shoot this season as Thibodeau tends to be harsh on youngsters, Teague hit a driving layup and then a 20 footer to bring the Bulls within 77-75 with 3:52 left. Belinelli, also, was cracking down on Johnson, who then missed a three. Deng missed, but then so did Williams. Teague then committed that foul on Williams, which looked like a bit of a flop.
“They called it, so I guess it is a foul,” said Teague.
Williams made two of three for a 79-75 Nets lead with 2:01 left.
Teague then rifled a pass too hard to Noah and it went out of bounds off Noah. It was not looking good for the home team down four with 1:48 left.
But Noah then stole a baseline pass and blew out with his dribble, hitting a streaking Belinelli for a layup as Belinelli continued to show himself to be a strong finisher. Noah and Deng then trapped Johnson, who lost the ball and it went to Teague.
“They surprised us with a couple of double teams and we had 18 turnovers,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “Had we done a better job of taking care of the ball, especially down the stretch, we could have come out on the winning end. Those guys draw a lot of attention. We have to do a better job of getting into our spots.”
Teague then made a terrific play on the break, drawing Williams to him and then at the last second passing to his left to Deng for the layup and 79-79 tie with 1:01 left. Williams’ only fourth quarter field goal would be that meaningless three at the close.
Lopez missed a short jumper along the baseline and then came Belinelli’s strong drive as neither Wallace or Johnson could get to him at the rim, either.
“Our pick and roll coverage was not good,” said Johnson. “There was miscommunication there. We did not get in the right coverage and he turned the corner on us.”
And perhaps the Bulls new group of reserves players turned their own corner in carrying the Bulls to victory down the stretch. Maris and Mantle couldn’t have done it any better.