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Noah with historic night in win over Pistons
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 8
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The basketball world little notes nor long remembers an early December Bulls 108-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls 16th consecutive over Detroit.
The Bulls moved their record to a pedestrian 10-8 with a Saturday matchup in the United Center against the East leading New York Knicks.
But Friday’s win was more a moment in time to savor, a bit of Bulls basketball history as Joakim Noah carried the Bulls to victory with one of the best individual performances in franchise history, 30 points, 23 rebounds and six assists, an effort so relentless and consistent that Noah had double/doubles in each half.
History is said to repeat itself, though only occasionally as Noah’s spectacular game is unique in Bulls franchise history. In the last quarter century in the NBA, only Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett have produced games with similar totals, according to ESPN research.
“It is crazy to have numbers like that,” said Noah, who battled more than 43 minutes, coming within six of outrebounding the entire Pistons team and doubling the Pistons in offensive rebounds with 10. “I am happy we won and we just have to move on. I was just going after the boards. I rebounded the ball well, got a lot of tips. I did not do anything I don’t normally do. The ball just went my way.”
The ball don’t lie, as one historian says, and that it ended up in Noah’s hands so often was not unusual except for the extent.
“Just flat-out effort,” marveled Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. “He had 30 points and 23 rebounds, and they didn’t run a single play for him.”
It makes it that much more remarkable, and the Bulls really needed all of it after falling behind by 17 points with 4:30 left in the first half.
“I just felt like our energy was low from the start of the game,” said Noah. “It’s just human reaction when there’s not a lot of people in the stands to kind of put your guard down. I think we regrouped pretty well.”
It was the Bulls’ third game in four nights with a fourth Saturday, and we’ll find out whether Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau endorses the Gregg Popovich strategy and sits out his top players with the Knicks having been off and in Chicago Friday. We’re guessing he won’t even as every Bulls starter Friday played more than 35 minutes with Marco Belinelli, Luol Deng and Noah at 40 or above.
And if you are a half empty person, you note the Bulls had to have a career game in points and rebounds from Noah and top efforts from Kirk Hinrich, Belinelli and Carlos Boozer to defeat a 6-15 Pistons team. But the Pistons have been playing much better, around .500 since a 0-8 start.
But it’s going to be this way for the Bulls, as has been often noted, with Derrick Rose out, a regular mystery to determine where the offense will come from and how much grind will be necessary to get out with a win.
But Friday with Noah cleaning up every miscue, the Bulls got perhaps the best all around games of the season as well from Hinrich with 13 points and a pair of huge, momentum changing threes, Belinelli with 16 points in a second straight strong game and Boozer with 24 points and one of the biggest plays of the game when he dove on the floor between Pistons players to retrieve a loose ball.
The Bulls were hanging onto an 89-87 lead at the time with about six minutes remaining. Boozer wrestled the ball away and then slid a pass to Hinrich, who made the three pointer.
Though Charlie Villanueva answered with a three, that Boozer play seemed an inspiration as Deng cleverly faked shooting and instead lobbed the ball to a cutting Noah for a layup.
That made it 94-90 Bulls. Boozer then posted up deep and scored from five feet and offset a Tayshaun Prince free throw and basket with a 17 footer from the baseline and a throw down left handed dunk as he and Noah continued to pass well to one another. Noah would be all over the floor in the fourth quarter with a dozen points and eight rebounds. And then when Hinrich was blocked and skipped a pass cross court for a Luol Deng three, the Bulls were ahead 103-93 with just over two minutes left and not nearly enough left for the Pistons to gather themselves.
“We played really well in every area,” said Thibodeau, who did add that the first half defense was an “abomination. Defense, rebounding, scoring, passing, playmaking, mental toughness, digging down got us out of the hole, a great all around game.
“I thought the starters were terrific (the bench played about 40 minutes combined for nine points), all of them,” said Thibodeau. “Luol played extremely well, all around defense, scoring, playmaking. Kirk ran the team. Their guards got going (Rodney Stuckey led off the bench with 24 points) and we had to battle back. We hit timely shots. Carlos was terrific in the paint. Obviously, we have to win games different ways.
“I was not pleased with our defense at all,” Thibodeau added. “The rebounding was OK (huh?). We’re going to have to do a lot better. The second quarter was an abomination. We gave them everything, pick-and-rolls, cuts, ball watching. We allowed guys to play to their strengths. So we dug ourselves a hole. We kept within striking distance. The start of the third was very good, the fourth we showed a lot of toughness.”
It was an impressive victory, and not only because of Noah’s remarkable play.
It was as good an all around performance from the starters as the Bulls have gotten this season. Which is what Thibodeau has been hoping and pushing for, even if it seems too much to ask or expect. Without Rose, the Bulls need more high level, if not exceptional, play from more players, especially the starters to offset those 25 points the team generally gets from Rose.
Friday in Auburn Hills was that sort of effort, even if it began with uncertainty.
After a tough home loss to Indiana Tuesday, the Bulls came back Wednesday with a solid end to end win in Cleveland in this only four in five nights set of the season. This and January are the heaviest play months of the season for the Bulls with 16 games. So they’ll be tested with Rose’s potential return still a long way off. Although there have been moments, the play of the reserves has been uncertain, which is to be expected given seven new players on the roster. And Richard Hamilton remains out with a torn plantar fascia. He said before Friday’s game the team estimated a potential four weeks out, though he said the timing could move up.
So it was serendipitous that Belinelli began to show the stroke he’s exhibited in previous stops. He had 23 against Cleveland Wednesday, just his fourth double digit scoring game of the season. But he’d been averaging just 15 minutes with plenty of quick hooks.
He came into Friday’s game shooting with a pair of threes in the first three minutes. But the Pistons guards were giving the Bulls trouble, first Brandon Knight with a dozen in the first quarter and then Rodney Stuckey with 10 in the second quarter.
“Obviously, we did a lot of good things to go up 17,” said Frank. “But obviously not so many good things. They owned the paint tonight (58-38).”
After the Bulls took an nearly 12-7 lead behind Belinelli’s shooting and Boozer dunking on Jason Maxiell, the Pistons scored on nine straight possessions to take the lead. And it wasn’t an impressive Noah yet. Noah often tends to tip the ball at the rim on second chances instead of grabbing it and going back strong. That’s hurt the Bulls at times, and it did early as Noah was one of five on tips. And he was beginning to realize as well.
“I knew I was missing a lot of tips in the beginning of the game,” said Noah. “Some arenas they count as rebounds and some arenas they do not. I am happy they counted.”
Jimmy Butler, who’s been strong as a defensive stopper, came in late in the first and had difficulty with Stuckey, who was strong attacking the rim as the Pistons led 30-26 after one. The Bulls were unable to halt the Pistons’ firing to open the second as Villanueva came open for several jumpers. Pistons guards were going mostly unhibited to the rim as Thibodeau was furiously reprimanding players as they came off the court in timeouts. The Pistons scored in eight straight possessions this time, taking a 53-36 lead as Villanueva spun inside around Noah for a score.
But Noah came right back with the play you’d like to see, dodging Villanueva to score left handed. The Bulls are not a strong team for internal leadership as they tend to be a quiet group. With Rose out, and his leadership is more with his acts, this group could use someone who fires back, and Noah could be the one.
The Bulls began to tighten up late in the second, though the Pistons were hitting difficult, well guarded shots often. High scoring is not always the result of bad defense. These guys can play. But the Pistons finally started to spin some in and out, and the Bulls had a strong close to the first half with Noah scoring on a beauty of a dropoff pass from Boozer and Hinrich, as he did in Cleveland, working the ball for a shot to end the half and scoring.
That left the Bulls trailing just 55-50 at halftime, and back in the game.
“They just played harder than us,” said Greg Monroe. “They have always been a good defensive team. I don’t think we had a difficult time scoring, but he (Noah) gave them a lot of extra possessions.”
The teams matched scores to open the second half with Knight taking advantage of Hinrich helping inside. But the Bulls matched everything the Pistons had this time, the highlight another Boozer slam dunk on a laser Hinrich pass down the middle, another Boozer slam on a runout pass from Deng, a Belinelli jumper and Deng following a Noah miss. Noah used that awkward looking but effective left handed hook a few times and the Bulls went into the fourth leading 78-74.
Then it was Noah grabbing everything off the boards, going back with misses, hitting a baseline jumper at the end of the shot clock and until that Boozer/Hinrich connection for the three started the 14-6 run that essentially put the game away.
“He has been huge for us every night,” Hinrich said about Noah. “He goes to the boards all the time. He is high energy and every game he brings that intensity. We knew he was getting almost every rebound.”
Perhaps it wasn’t the right time, but Thibodeau’s not one to be too happy.
Asked about Noah, Thibodeau proudly said, “He was everywhere, a great all around game, multiple effort, rebounds, defense, playmaking. He played hard every minute. It’s in him. He’s got to continue to push himself. He’s worked at his game. He can do better than he is doing. I still think there are things he can get to he hasn’t gotten to yet.”
Well, maybe, but I’m fairly sure Thibodeau would take what he saw Friday, a piece of history. Actually for Noah, his story.
Here’s in no particular order one view of maybe the 10 best individual performances in Bulls franchise history.
Nate Thurmond’s quadruple double. Oct. 18, 1974 with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks.
Michael Jordan’s most points with a triple double. April 13, 1989, 47 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.
Tom Boerwinkle’s franchise high 37 rebounds along with 22 points Jan. 8, 1970 against the Suns.
Charles Oakley with 35 points, 26 rebounds and seven assists March 15, 1986 against Milwaukee.
Michael Jordan with 69 points, 18 rebounds and six assists March 28, 1990 against Cleveland.
Michael Jordan with 63 points, five rebounds and six assists April 20, 1986 in playoffs against Boston Celtics.
Artis Gilmore, 35 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assist Dec. 20, 1977 against Atlanta.
Marcus Fizer, 30 points, 20 rebounds and one assist against Orlando April 12, 2004.
Scottie Pippen, 39 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against Spurs March 5, 1993.
Joakim Noah, 30 points, 23 rebounds and six assists against Detroit Pistons Dec. 7, 2012.