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Bulls leave Warriors in a not very good state
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 26
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You want to listen to a man when he’s an All-Star. Because then he’s achieved the respect of his profession with the assumption he embraces the gravity of a situation, the need to express the proper thoughtfulness and solemnity to inquires about performance.
“Kirky Worky, huge for us,” Joakim Noah was enthusing in the Bulls locker room after the Bulls Friday dominated the Golden State Warriors 103-87 led by Hinrich’s season-high 25 points and team leading point total for the second time in the last three games. Hinrich also matched a career-high with six three pointers as the Bulls converted nine.
“Jimmy Boy, huge for us,” Noah went on about Jimmy Butler, starting his fourth game for the injured Luol Deng. Butler had a peripatetic effect on the Warriors with 16 points and 12 rebounds as all three front court Bulls players for the first time this season had double-doubles.
Carlos Boozer had 15 points and 13 rebounds and his conference leading 24th double-double and Noah with 14 points and 16 rebounds had his 22nd double-double.
“That’s the beauty of this team,” Noah said. “A lot of guys are stepping up. Everybody came in with the right mindset, right edge. We just went after the ball (56-37 rebounding edge). We knew they were playing some really good basketball. We played with the right edge and probably played one of our best games of the season. And our horses are on the way back. It’s exciting.”
That would be Derrick Rose, who really is more than a month away from playing. And Deng, who probably returns from his hamstring injury early next week as he was moving well in shooting before the game. Still, you can start to get excited about this Bulls team as Noah was in addition to his first All-Star appearance, joining Deng among the coaches’ picks announced Thursday.
“It’s a great honor,” said Noah, who outplayed his college teammate and fellow All-Star David Lee, who had 23 points but just six rebounds. “But it’s not going to make me change my game. I know what the identity of this team is. I’m really comfortable with it and I know my role on this team. I feel that’s one reason I was voted in, because of my hustle.”
No, it’s not like Noah lacks enthusiasm much and neither do the hard working Bulls, who moved to third in the Eastern Conference at 26-16 with their sixth win in the last seven games over a Warriors team that is not your father’s Warriors and maybe only your grandfather’s. Golden State dropped to 26-16 after wins this week over the Clippers and Thunder. But the Bulls blew them out with a 31-13 first quarter start and dominated them in style and substance if not also in talent.
The Warriors have a strong offensive group with Lee, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They probably play the best defense with a tough, physical bench since the 1975 team that beat the Bulls in the Western Conference finals in the most disappointing game in Bulls history. Despite playing small with Andrew Bogut enjoying another half season injured, they’re in the top five in the league in rebounding. It’s led to coach Mark Jackson being considered the front runner for coach of the year as they’re 26-16 in the tougher Western Conference.
But Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls stood up for him Friday with a didactic basketball fundamental session, especially the first half that saw the Bulls leading 54-28 midway through the second quarter. Yes, we saw the Bulls blow one of these this season at home, though it was difficult to imagine the same Friday given the exertion, effervescence and efficiency put into the game by the Bulls. It served as another accomplished rung on their ladder to excellence. OK, I’ve used up all my literary devices for now. Whew, that was exhausting.
“I’m tired,” admitted Noah. “I didn’t sleep much last night.”
Oh, right, the All-Star thing.
You’d excuse Noah as he added 39 minutes and the suddenly indefatigable Butler played another 43 and a half minutes, basically demonstrating that Thibodeau isn’t allowed to substitute the small forward position. See, it had nothing to do with Deng.
“He’s is a pro,” Thibodeau said of Butler. “He is a good player and he’s been playing really hard. I think he can do a lot better. I love his toughness. He competes on every play. He’s not afraid. Guys like that continue to get better. He has shown even last year in opportunities he got he played well and he’s doing the same thing now. He has shown this year and last year with the opportunities he got, what he can do on the floor.”
Butler, indeed, has been impressive, perhaps mostly for his consistency is playing well in every game he’s started for Deng. He’s averaging 15.5 points and 9.3 rebounds and 95 percent on (20) free throws since starting. Butler also has become a United Center fan favorite in a community which loves the backup quarterback. Is he the Chicago Colin Kaepernick? No, Deng will start when he returns and surely Richard Hamilton will remain starting shooting guard backed up by Marco Belinelli. But the minute distribution will be even more scrutinized, which Thibodeau does love, while Butler continues to set the table of sorts with strong board work, including offensively with four Friday as the Bulls had 16 and a shocking 30-6 edge in second chance points.
“I like him a lot,” said the Warriors’ Jackson, who declined to give me a “There goes that man” on Butler, however.
“He competes, defends, is in attack mode,” said Jackson. “He doesn’t need the basketball to be effective. I really like him.”
Butler is resolute about his play and his refusal to take credit for much anything, which is fairly typical on this Bulls team. It’s also why Butler is so popular among his teammates. But, really, it was difficult to see this coming, a 30th pick in the 2011 draft who averaged 2.6 points last season and you had to look fast as he didn’t even get to play in 24 of the 66 games. But Butler has come in playing aggressively, defending the best scorers, like Kobe Bryant and Rudy Gay the past week and taking some time on Curry, who had 21 points.
“I don’t say this to sound cocky,” said Butler, who hardly gets accused of that. “I feel I’ve been ready. My teammates put me in great positions (basically everyone on the Bulls says this to most questions). When I’m beat they’re always there. A lot of praise goes to those guys. I pride myself on my energy and defense. I feel when you do that your offense comes, like everyone does on this team. I feel I’ve been doing OK. I feel my teammates will tell me when I do something wrong so I can correct it.
“I like being an under the radar player,” said Butler. “You can look over me if you want.”
Sort of like his best buddy and former college teammate, Wesley Matthews, who developed quickly as a high level NBA shooting guard after being undrafted.
Butler brightened when I mentioned Matthews and he eagerly showed me a few texts from him Friday. He said Matthews always counsels him to not worry about not being noticed or a being a big name but to jump on your opportunity when it comes.
“When he had his chance he capitalized,” said Butler, “I feel it’s something I have to do.”
He’s been doing it well, and Friday it was a bit of a different look with Golden State generally playing smaller and fast, Thibodeau went more often than usual with a three guard lineup with Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. Hinrich and Robinson combined for 47 points and eight threes, working well off one another and giving the Bulls still another playmaker in a basketball floor filled with them as the first half the Bulls went mostly through Noah and pretty much evenly divided 22 assists to 12 for Golden State.
“I thought Kirk and Nate were terrific together,” Thibodeau said. “They played well off each other. It’s one of the reasons we signed Kirk. He has played both of the positions and played both well. He and Nate can go back and forth.”
Thibodeau used the look some against the Pistons Monday as they played multiple guards as well, though the strength of the Bulls is the ability as well to play strong while also making plays.
It was what differentiated them in a big way from the Warriors Friday and many other NBA teams. Obviously Rose is the most important player for the franchise and an amazing all around talent. And the Bulls have to do things well to succeed without him. Though they set an unusual team record Friday with their 40th straight win when scoring at least 100 points, according to Bulls public relations. The record is the Spurs with 41 from 2003 to 2005.
But without Rose the Bulls have to concentrate more on moving the ball and making plays for one another, which was a difference with the Warriors. While Curry and Thompson are a higher scoring and athletically superior backcourt, neither is much of a playmaker. Playing rookie Harrison Barnes at small forward gives them a nice developing scorer, but also not a playmaker. So Jackson has done a good job with what he has. The Warriors were known for decades as a fast playing, no defense Don Nelson type of entertaining team. Jackson has pushed defensive effort, which is more manifested in the likes of Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack and Draymond Green off the bench. Since they don’t really have playmakers, they run a lot of two-man, pick and roll game, shooting out of transition often and really making them an easier target for an active defense like the Bulls’.
“We just got outworked,” said Jackson. “We did not have the right mind set from the start of the game. It snowballed from there. That’s a very good team; they played very well. I’m disappointed in the way we played. That was not Warrior basketball. They just out worked us across the board. Rebounding, aggressive cuts, They got what they wanted. We didn’t respond until it was too late. It was just a very disappointing performance by us. Normally we out rebound the teams we play, and we didn’t do that tonight. We usually get stops and then push the ball.”
Coaches routinely blame being outworked or shots missing. But more often it is the other team countering what you do and not allowing you to perform.
The Bulls did that especially well. They had size on Golden State, so Noah kept Lee outside and trying to shoot over Noah inside. They’re close personally Noah said as he said Lee tutored him when Noah was a freshman and Lee a senior at the University of Florida.
“It’s important to try not to think about match, to focus on the right rotations, do the right things for the team,” said Noah.
Yes, Thibodeau has him on board as well.
That is the game the way coaches approach it. It’s not about who you are playing as much as doing your job, as Thibodeau says. That means you help and rotate back, get out to the three point line to run shooters off (Golden State was four of 19 from three). Golden State is a bit less of a troubling team to defend, it seems to me, as they don’t move the ball that much. Though individually Curry and Lee are tough to cover when playing their pick and roll. They are athletic and can work their way to the free throw line as they did with 33 free throws to 18 for the Bulls. But as a team rotating, helping, staying in front, being physical and going for the boards with your size is why the Warriors shot 34.6 percent while being second in the league in three-point percentage and seventh overall in shooting.
Conversely, the Bulls without a great individual scorer with Rose out like to work the clock, moving the ball. Watch as they come out of timeouts and end up shooting with four seconds on the shot clock, which also sets their defense better. They did respond to the Warriors’ smaller game with their own three guards, and it worked this time because both Hinrich and Robinson were making shots. The Warriors want to get you into a faster paced game with quicker shots as they average more than 100 points per game. The Bulls are 25th in scoring at about 93.
But if the Bulls make threes while they also dominate the boards with second shots and hold off the shorter possessions the quicker shooting Warriors will have—the Bulls still had just five fast break points—the Bulls can run the score up as they did with a season-high 60 first half points.
Curry kept getting wrapped up in the Bulls screens and then caught inside trying to help as Hinrich had 11 in the first quarter and the Bulls moved the ball around for eight assists in the sort of quarter you’d like to capture in art. The Bulls gave up about half the big lead in the second on a 12-0 Warriors run as Robinson launched a few too many long threes. But Hinrich came in with another three, the Warriors tried some zone without success and the Bulls pulled away again in the third, frustrating Curry and taking Lee out while the officials enjoyed a reverie of their own calling four consecutive offensive fouls in one stretch and then three straight traveling calls.
It was almost as if they wanted the challenge the Bulls special moments.
“Things are going well for us,” said Noah. “There’s going to be a lot more adversity, but we’re excited. We’re playing good basketball. If we keep out mindset on improvement, the sky’s the limit.”
Better run that by the Thibberoooski.