Bulls crush Nets as Noah continues dominance


Mar 3

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The Brooklyn Nets are supposed to be good. They have the NBA’s second highest payroll and are committed to the biggest for next season. They have four current and former All-Stars in their starting lineup. And Saturday at the United Center the Bulls absolutely dominated them in a 96-85 dismantling that included a paralyzing 19-0 run.

So just how good are the Bulls? And what chance do they have in the Eastern Conference as they moved to 34-25, tied for fourth with Atlanta and three games behind the Indiana Pacers, whom the Bulls visit Sunday night.

Carlos Boozer

“They’re (Indiana) playing very good basketball,” said Joakim Noah. “It’s going to be a big game tomorrow. So I’m excited for it.”

Which is good because nobody in the NBA, at least in the last few games, has been playing better basketball than Joakim Noah, who Saturday tacked on 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals to his dominating 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks Thursday against the 76ers.

“In the last two games he has played unbelievable,” marveled Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo. “He was always super active with rebounding and defense. Now he is playing a lot better offensively. He is making good decisions and shooting well. He makes his free throws (14 for 14 for the team) and he is just putting up unreal numbers.”

“He brings so much energy,” agreed Brook Lopez, who led the Nets with 22 points, but had a typical just three rebounds as he repeatedly was beaten to the ball by Noah. “He scores the ball, rebounds, passes, blocks shots. He does everything. You just have to come in and match his energy. He just keeps coming.”

So much so that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau agreed Noah’s play is perhaps the team’s main source of leadership with Derrick Rose out.

“Anytime you see a guy make great effort plays it not only inspires but unites,” said Thibodeau. “Makes everyone get on board with it. Anytime you see a big time hustle play, that’s what motivates a team. Oftentimes people talk about emotion. I think emotion comes from that. When you see a multiple effort, a great effort play, it’s all the small things that can lead to winning or losing, a loose ball here, a loose ball there (here a loose ball, there a loose ball, everywhere a loose ball). What he’s doing on the floor is the best type of leadership you can have.”

Of course with Thibodeau and his hoop warriors there’s always that other question of playing time as Noah added another 41 minutes, returning to the game with 6:35 left and the Bulls ahead 86-66, and Luol Deng, coming from a brutal day at the dentist and facing a potential root canal and a long time with soft, mushy food, added 44 minutes along with a strong floor game with two blocks, three steals and five assists. He played the entire fourth quarter.

Though as many times as Thibodeau explains that this is the way he coaches and this is the way these guys flourish in his view and he’s not going to change, the questions popped up again as the Bulls got sloppy late in the game.

“I saw the way the game was going,” said Thibodeau. “You’re jogging back. They’ve got a lot of three point shooting on the floor. A 10-point lead can dissipate in a minute. You knock down three threes, you get a foul, boom. And then we were in the penalty; we’re recklessly fouling. We’ve got to do better.”

It’s not like the players have an issue or complain. But they are asked and there’s usually a grin and a shrug and usually the most forthright response from Noah.

“What do you want me to say? Yeah, I’m tired, pretty tired,” Noah offered with a shrug. “Working on (his plantar fasciitis) every day, massages, lots of treatments, doing everything possible to keep it under control. It’s not really right after the game (you feel tired). It’s the next morning that’s the roughest.

“We’ve got a great coach,” Noah said as he began to smile and let out a laugh and you know one of those subtle, understated zingers was coming. “But he doesn’t understand the whole rest thing yet I don’t think. But it’s all good. We all want to win. It’s good.

But how good?

Richard Hamilton remained out with back problems and didn’t travel with the team after the game to Indianapolis. Taj Gibson is out with his knee sprain, though he was in good spirits after the game and said he was traveling and progressing well. He could play on the upcoming road trip in California next week, but no return date is set. Nate Robinson took a hard fall late and left the court early but said afterward he was fine. Kirk Hinrich with 12 points and badly outplaying the faded star who used to be known as Deron Williams is doing well with his elbow injury. He teamed nicely with Robinson at times while the Bulls bench with Jimmy Butler adding 13 points and a highlight lob slam dunk from Hinrich had a solid 26 points.

So if they get healthy, whether Rose returns or not, they’re not in a psychological media induced funk over Rose’s status and unconvinced they cannot make their mark.

“I don’t have a choice,” Noah said about the way he plays. “This is my job and this is my life. Everything is built around this. There’s nothing better right now than winning basketball games. It’s been an up-and-down year, but I really feel like when we’re playing our best, we can beat a lot of people. The potential is definitely there. I think when we’re playing confident and we’re playing together, I think we can make some noise and there’s no better feeling than doing that in the playoffs,

“It doesn’t matter [what others say]. It really doesn’t matter,” added Noah. “I know our building is always packed and they show us a lot of love in Chicago. It’s up and down. But I know that when we’re playing good basketball, we’re tough to beat. We can beat anybody. We’re tough to beat.”

The Bulls demonstrated that nicely Saturday against the 34-26 Nets team, one with its own lofty aspirations and certainly more star power than the Bulls. Yes, the Nets beat the Bulls last month in Brooklyn. But that was down the stretch with three starters out in addition to Rose.

When the Bulls play like they did Saturday with Noah’s dominance–who says a second star has to be a shooter–Carlos Boozer with 20 points, eight rebounds and a career equaling five steals and six players in double figures with their relentless defense then perhaps more is possible.

It was a good start toward that if not as good a start to the game as the Bulls quickly fell behind 15-4 and seemed distracted by the officials. There were a few calls they disagreed with somewhat vehemently and Noah picked up a technical foul, his 10th to move into a tie for fifth most in the NBA behind leader Kobe Bryant with 13. But after the game, Noah made a point to shake hands with all three officials before leaving the court.

Though Lopez got going with 14 first quarter points, having success backing down Noah, who now was being cautious about more fouls, and hitting from the outside, the Bulls quickly got back in behind Noah with nine points. Boozer added eight points and four assists in another strong start. The Bulls now are 13-2 when he and Noah score at least 20.

Hinrich had a beauty of a bounce pass off a pick and roll to Noah scoring to get back within 19-12, Noah tipped in a Deng miss and then Noah flying out of the backcourt as he did several times in another highly emotional and energized effort finished with a pass from Boozer and suddenly it was 21-20 Brooklyn. Then the Bulls closed an unusually high scoring quarter for these usually deliberate teams at 27-27 with Robinson finding a cutting Noah for a slam dunk and Robinson going all the way and by Williams to end the quarter with a finger roll with a tenth of a second left.

A word about Williams, the former Illinois player.

He stinks.

Ok, that’s two. But he is worse than you can say in few words.

Perhaps what’s worse to watch about Williams is how little he seems to care about playing. Yes, I’ve heard all his whining about his ankles and maybe he is hurt. But he plays now with a studied indifference and several times when Joe Johnson penetrated—and you know when Johnson is driving he isn’t passing the ball—Williams has to get back. But even Boozer beat Williams down court for layups.

I know Mark Cuban is lucky, but how lucky can you get not having to pay Williams these next four years at about $20 million per year. That really is the death of the Nets with Johnson and Gerald Wallace also with three more years each after this one, owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s prediction of a title in five years having as much chance of being realized as any of those five-year plans that were so celebrated under Stalin and Khrushchev that mostly scared the world and did nothing for the home folks.

Sort of like the Nets. They sound like they should be good with all those big name guys and big contracts. Until you see them up close.

“We have to play a lot better to get into the playoffs,” said Carlesimo.

It turned out that first quarter was the high point for the Nets, though they did hang in with a 39-38 lead about seven minutes into the second as the pace slowed and Thibodeau used his deep bench with Daequan Cook, though newcomer Lou Amundson didn’t get into the game.

Jimmy Butler began to find the range and was a bit less hesitant. Butler still shoots that Frank Thomas double-to-left-line-drive. But he makes it more often than not. Of late, he’s been a cautious shooter, but he feels he’s breaking out of that again.

“My teammates are telling me to shoot the ball and be aggressive,” said Butler. “One play I passed up a three and Nate screamed at me to shoot the ball. Things like that you want.”

Kirk Hinrich

It’s actually wild to sit close to the floor as there’s a cacophony of sound around the Bulls, and not the expected trash talking you associate with many NBA players. The Bulls are not talkers to the opposition, though they are renowned around the league for their teamwork talking on defense, calling out switches and screens with the best. But they also are talking to themselves a lot. Boozer is going all game, yelling for fouls and three point plays, shouting his favorite motivational “hol dat” when he shoots and various other imprecations, blue and otherwise. Robinson, of course, was telling Butler to shoot because it’s what he always does, and he was good Saturday with a pair of threes in the second quarter that got the Bulls going. But Robinson has a conversation going just about all game and I enjoyed when he had a laugh to himself as he deflected a rebound off Reggie Evans head. And given Evans was scoreless for a second consecutive game with double figure rebounds, a feat last achieved by Ben Wallace, a deflection off his head seemed about the only way Evans could score.

Perhaps the Nets were contemplating that as the Bulls basically put the game away with a 15-0 run to end the second quarter and four more to open the third, the Nets going 7:25 without scoring—someone figure the cost of $90 million failing to score for a half hour—enabling the Bulls to build an 18-point lead early in the third quarter.

“The thee minutes before the half was the worst part of our game,” said Lopez. “I thought we were good after that. We were just not able to cut their lead down. Those three minutes definitely killed us.”

Well, it was almost eight, but there is a time change coming west. Actually, the Nets are now on their circus trip with Ringling Brothers in Brooklyn and they are about to take a big fall in the standings.

Then it was tricks for kids for the Bulls as Deng bounced a pass to Noah for a poster dunk over Lopez, Noah had blocks on Wallace and Andray Blatche in a 20-second sequence and Hinrich absolutely blew by Williams for a layup to close the third with the Bulls ahead 77-59.

“This is an important stretch for us. We’re shorthanded. We haven’t been playing well. He’s kind of just willed us these last couple of games,” Hinrich said of Noah. “We talk all the time about picking each other up. When you see a teammate playing like that, it’s hard to dog it because it would make you look pretty bad. When you’ve got teammates around you who play hard like Jo that kind of energy makes you play harder. We’ve been playing better basketball the last few games and we’re trying to keep it going.”

The Bulls did in the fourth quarter with Butler running out on the somnambulant Nets, signaling with his finger up to Hinrich—the pointer one–and taking a lob pass for a spectacular slam dunk and foul for an 82-63 lead.

“I just pointed up and he knew I could go get it and he made a perfect pass,” said Butler, who also wanted to talk about Noah.

“He dominated in every aspect of the game,” said Butler. “The way he scores the ball, passes the ball, defends. He always has at least two or three in every category, not to mention 20 points, 20 rebounds. It is amazing to see the energy that he brings and how it transfers from the offensive end all the way back to the defensive end. An aspect of his game is to get real excited when a big play goes down. Not only if he does, but if somebody else does it. That’s part of being a leader, which he is great at being. Everybody feeds off of his energy, and everyone feeds off of his emotion. To see him yelling, something in you says I’m gonna do it, too. He does more for this team than just rebound and score points.”

Heck, Noah even banked one in left handed late in addition to a cool 20 footer over the dazed Lopez.

Speaking of dazed, you also have to credit Deng, who was still feeling the effects of that elbow he took from Spencer Hawes Thursday that gave him a day at the dentist Friday. And all I can ever think of is the Nazi dentist scene from the 1970’s movie Marathon Man and the sound of that drill. C’mon, you know what I mean. A little love for Lu.

“It was a tough day,” Deng said. “I’m still having eating wise a hard time. “I got to wait a few days to see how stable my teeth are and how the recovery is and see if I need a root canal. The whole bottom of my jaw, my teeth are kind of out of line. They think I have some internal bleeding a little bit around my jaw.

“I’m just glad,” Deng added with the upper teeth still in tact smile, “my teeth are still in there.”

The Bulls are still in there, too. With all this, the distractions, the injuries, the scoring droughts and personnel changes. So who really knows.

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