Bulls win another classic in Boston


Jan 19

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Bulls’ game savers Friday in an unlikely and equally remarkable 100-99 overtime victory in Boston: Marco Belinelli with a falling down 14-footer with 3.1 seconds left in overtime for the winner, Kirk Hinrich with a 15-footer with two seconds left in regulation after Belinelli had the ball poked away from him, that coming after basically all the Celtics had to do was get the ball in with 9.4 seconds remaining and an 88-86 lead.

But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called a tie up play, and Jimmy Butler subbing for the injured Luol Deng and Joakim Noah forced Paul Pierce into a jump ball that would end in Hinrich’s shot to force overtime.

Bulls celebrate in Boston“Obviously,” said Thibodeau, “We found a way to win.”

How isn’t quite as clear.

It was a heck of an entertaining game. Perhaps not quite with the drama or marvel of the great playoff series 2009, but a thrilling and ruggedly played regular season game in which the Bulls won their seventh in nine games this month to go to 23-15 while the Celtics dropped to 20-19. The Bulls got a game-high 20 points from Richard Hamilton, 19 points and 20 rebounds from Carlos Boozer and 14 points and 13 rebounds from Joakim Noah. But the Bulls got some bad news as Deng pulled up late in the third quarter with a strained right hamstring after Deng first tweaked it in Wednesday’s overtime win in Toronto.

“We’ve got to have him examined (Saturday before a home game against Memphis),” said Thibodeau. “He wanted to come back. But he was not able to do it. So we’ll see where he is. I’ve got to wait till the doctor examines him.”

“It’s swollen and painful,” Deng told reporters. “The percentage (of playing Saturday) is very low.”

Although Deng obviously hasn’t followed through with team doctors yet, it seems obvious he’ll be out at least a few games.

But this remarkable and unexpected Bulls team figures to find a way, and though we generally don’t take it too seriously when Thibodeau constantly says they have enough to win, maybe there is something to that. This is the defensive lineup that had been out on the floor late in the game for the Bulls: Marquis Teague, Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Noah. They didn’t stop a Jason Terry 16 footer with 12.5 seconds remaining in overtime. But the Celtics may have erred a few seconds before, calling their last timeout with 20.6 seconds left after Belinelli had dribbled himself into a trap and threw up a bizarre 23 footer off the top of the backboard, the kind of late shot you might be fined for taking. Unless you soon hit the game winner, that is.

“I know it’s a crazy shot,” Belinelli said about the one later that actually went in, the fallaway.

So what was Belinelli doing dribbling around, anyway? He was the point guard with Hinrich having fouled out and Thibodeau not trusting Nate Robinson to make plays at that time of game. Better, yes, to put it in the conservative hands of Belinelli, who shot it off the top of the backboard.

But that’s the difference between genius and the rest of us. Yes, Thibodeau knew.

Yes, that first truly crazy shot Belinelli took with a bit more than 20 seconds left in overtime and the Bulls trailing by one was a shot that effectively should have ended the game against a veteran Celtics team. But this is not those Celtics, just a slightly more ancient version without Ray Allen and seeing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combine to shoot 10 of 33. The Celtics looked like they actually could have run out on that wild Belinelli miss with Pierce and Terry out in front on the wing. But coach Doc Rivers had called that final timeout, which it turned out the Celtics could have used with Belinelli’s eventual game winner with 3.1 seconds left.

“Down the stretch (we’ve) got to win that game before overtime,” said Rivers. “You have to win those games. We made a lot of little mistakes and they won the game. But they did make some unbelievable shots.”

This was how unbelievable: The Bulls are the first team to make a game tying shot with five or fewer seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and a go ahead shot with five or fewer seconds remaining in overtime since Vince Carter did it for the Nets on November 21, 2008.

Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli. Vince Carter. Yup, sounds about the same.

“It was fun,” said Hamilton, who played his most minutes since returning from his plantar injury with Deng going out. “That’s no a problem. That’s just something that he talked about when I first came back, asked me and I was like ‘I can play, I’m good.’ And he was like. ‘I’m gonna keep your minutes down. So I was just like. ‘Hey, whatever you need me to do, that’s what I’m gonna do.’ It was crazy because after the third quarter usually I’m done. It was a dogfight. It’s one of those games that was a war from the beginning. We thought that we had the game. They came back and thought they had the game. It was kind of like a roller coaster ride. We’re just happy that we made the last shot.”

It has to be a game the Celtics are kicking themselves about given the Bulls committed 21 turnovers, though the old war horse Celtics turned them into seven points. The Bulls also got just three points from Deng before he left for the night and, of course, had to watch Derrick Rose do all his shooting in warmups before the game. But the Bulls also got six consecutive points among his 13 from Butler in the overtime and that incredible forced jump ball against Pierce that saved the game in regulation.

Rivers said the officials, who the NBA announced before the game missed a foul Wednesday which would have enabled the Raptors to shoot two free throws to tie the game in overtime, missed Rajon Rondo calling a timeout before that key jump ball at the end of regulation. Rondo, by the way, was terrific with a game high 30 points as the Bulls’ strategy was to lay off Rondo and push him to shoot. That just about backfired as Rondo made 12 of 21 shots and six of nine free throws before fouling out colliding with Butler with 1:16 in overtime.

“We had the game in our hands a couple of times and it just slipped through our fingers,” said Pierce “Just the little things. I came out with a busted lip (on the tie up), but the ref didn’t see it that way. It was definitely a huge play. We went out and got the lead, and all we had to do was get the ball in, maybe get a better position before we could get fouled. Then we wouldn’t be talking about a loss.”

“I told our guys in the time out ‘They’re going to trap,’” said Rivers. “Even on the play before that, I just said, ‘Guys, they’re going to trap. They never foul right away. They’re going to trap and then foul.’ I thought they did do a little bit of both. I thought Rondo actually called a time out before the foul was called as well. If you watch the replay, Rondo was right in front of (official) Marc Davis and did time out signal and then the foul was called. But we’ve got to expect that and not from the refs. You knew they were going to trap and you’ve just got to do whatever you can not to get tied up.”

And Butler who teamed with Noah to make the crucial play said Thibodeau did, indeed, plan it that way.

“Me and Jo just trapped,” said Butler. “(Thibodeau said) ‘don’t foul. If he shows the ball, grab it.’ And that’s what Jo did. (Thibodeau said) ‘make them throw the ball in the corner and me and Jo go and trap win the jump ball.’”

“Thibs called it. It was a great play,” added Noah. “We executed it perfectly. We wanted to catch it in the corner and it was a good trap. It was a huge play and I think that the basketball gods were definitely on our side. It was a competitive game and we got a few bounces go our way, but the great thing is a lot of people stepped up tonight and we competed as a team the whole way. It was a great game to be a part of. We’ve been kind of rocking them on the glass 3 of 4 times we’ve been playing them.”

Yes, Noah was enjoying it as he took the brunt of the several usual Garnett cheap shots and both drew technical fouls on one occasion. But Garnett typically doesn’t like to take on players who will challenge him, like Carmelo Anthony did last week as well. Garnett usually goes after much shorter players.

“He’s always on some bull just trying to throw elbows, cheap shots, trying to get you off your game,” Noah told gathered reporters afterward. “He has been doing this a long time. It’s all right. Since we’ve been beating their (butts) I’m cool with it.”

Indeed, it was a game the Bulls fully enjoyed with Belinelli getting a nice post game ice bucket showed in the winning locker room and the Bulls now 12-5 on the road with at least three fewer road losses than any Eastern Conference team. The Bulls win was their 14th straight road game on a Friday. I’m not sure what that meant other than being motivated during the Jewish Sabbath.

The Bulls got off to a fast start even with eight first quarter turnovers as Boozer had eight points and six rebounds in the first quarter. Boozer continued his hot play with his 22nd double-double of the season, fourth in the NBA and first in the Eastern Conference. Since Christmas, according to ESPN research, only two NBA players, Boozer and DeMarcus Cousins, are averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds and Boozer is best averaging 22.3 points and 12 rebounds.

Hamilton was active, adding seven points, and his effort would be required with his additional playing time with Deng’s injury. Deng was a game time decision after having treatment on his hamstring Thursday, but he pronounced himself good to go. He’s been an ironman for the Bulls this season and along with Noah the inspirational leader with Rose out.

Boozer continued strong in the second quarter mostly against Garnett and Robinson added shooting to send the Bulls into halftime with a 45-39 lead. Rondo continued to bedevil the Bulls, though it was their plan having Hinrich go under screens to cut off his passing angles to other players. It was holding the Celtics’ All-Star’s playmaking down. But he was still making shots. The Bulls, however, led 68-62 after three quarters in what was becoming another of the brutal, physical games these two teams play.

“We played good defense, we didn’t play great defense,” said Rivers. “The numbers look good because the pace was so freaking slow. Chicago holds it for 23 (seconds). When you play Chicago, you’ve got to know they’re going to use 24 seconds. And you have to be ready to defend for 24 seconds.”

Richard HamiltonThe Bulls do play a deliberate offense under Thibodeau, especially without Rose. Actually, even with Rose they always have tended to hold the ball as Thibodeau likes to have his defense set on the offensive end. And, frankly, it’s not a bad way to go. You do want to take shots when your defense is set to get back, and Friday even against a slow Boston team the Celtics had a 14-2 edge in fast break points, though mostly because of Rondo.

“He was aggressive in transition,” Pierce agreed of Rondo. “I think that was a weakness of theirs. He got the ball and coach said he could push it. They are a good team and they like to go to the offensive rebounds, so it’s a must that he use his speed and I thought he did a good job of doing that. When he got the ball he got out on the break and got to the basket and I think it started to open things up for us the more and more the game went on.”

Especially in the fourth quarter as the Celtics after trailing 79-74 with 6:15 left and Deng gone scored six straight points with Rondo beating the Bulls to take their first lead of the game, 80-79. Hamilton answered with a nice seal inside for a score. But Pierce went at Butler, the Bulls offense faltered, and when Rondo hit a 20 footer with 36.6 seconds left for an 86-84 lead, the Bulls looked to be in trouble.

The Bulls went to Boozer. He was fouled with 22.5 seconds left, but made just one of two to trail 86-85. The Bulls fouled Garnett and he made both for an 88-85 Boston lead with 20.1 seconds remaining. Rondo grabbed Hinrich to force two free throws with 12.1 seconds left, which seemed like a smart play at the time as it kept the Bulls from attempting a tieing three. And Hinrich made just one to leave the Bulls trailing by two.

Pretty much no chance, right?

Two point lead and you just have to get the ball in bounds. Most teams actually foul right away because who actually gets a jump ball?

“We work on situations like that,” said Butler. “Jo being aggressive it was bound to happen.”

Kids, eh?

Pierce came for the ball with Butler on his back. Noah had been defending the inbounds. He turned and reached in to tie up Pierce and get the jump ball. Thibodeau watching pumped his fist downward. Yeah!

Noah jumped with Pierce and got the ball to Belinelli with 9.4 second left. Belinelli ran up trying to score or draw a foul. Rondo tipped it away. Hinrich leaned in, picked the ball up and made a 15 footer from the left elbow to tie the game in regulation at 88. Garnett missed at the buzzer.

And then in the overtime, the athletic Butler frustrated the Celtics and kept the Bulls in the game against a Terry three for a 93-92 Boston lead with 1:57 left and Garnett 20-footer with 1:08 left to bring Boston back within 96-95 after a pair of Butler free throws.

“I thought Jimmy was terrific, terrific,” said Thibodeau. “I thought his defense, his offense was very good. Hustle plays, energy. We needed every bit of it. And he’s not afraid of the moment. You can throw him in any situation and he’s ready to go.”

“It was really fun being out there with my guys,” Butler told reporters as teammates yelled “Yaaaa, Jimbo.” “I love this team and its crazy that they have faith in me to be out there. They want me out there with them and when I scored a basket, they’re cheering. ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’”

With 50.1 seconds in the overtime, Belinelli made two free throws to give the Bulls a 98-95 lead. But Pierce drew Hinrich’s sixth foul and made two free throws to bring Boston with one with 43.7 seconds left. That’s when Belinelli had that awful possession and Terry followed with what appeared to be the winner, giving Boston a 99-98 lead with 12.5 seconds left.

But then came Noah unable to find Belinelli, who was played tough by Terry. Noah finally threw to Boozer in the left corner. Boozer then threw to Belinelli, who bobbled the ball briefly and then falling 45 degrees toward the floor threw in the game winner.

“He bailed us out,” agreed Thibodeau. “Big shot, big play.”

Fun game.

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