Previous ArticlesBulls not taking the Jazz lightly
Bulls get to smile at the end of a game this time
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 9
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So long sad times, we are rid of you at last. You are now a thing of the past. Happy days are here again.
Let’s sing a song of cheer again. Happy days are here again.
Those are some of the classic lyrics from one of the great songs, Happy Days Are Here Again, an attempt at uplifting a stunned and depressed people from the depths of the Great Depression, which was either the world wide economic crisis that lasted more than a decade in the 1930’s or the Bulls 1-3 start which concluded with Friday’s 97-73 Bulls victory over the Utah Jazz.
“You just learn being in this league for so long, it takes a while for everything to come together,” said Luol Deng, who had one of the best all around games of his career with 19 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and five steals. “It would be great if it happened right away. But we’ve shown we can be good. We just had a few minutes when we haven’t been great and teams get a run on us. We just have to keep working on getting that 48 minutes. Everybody in this locker room is working so hard. That’s why I think it will come together.
“We really needed it being 1-3,” agreed Deng. “I thought our focus was great.”
Perhaps only for two letdowns, one a gruesome second quarter stretch when the Bulls had eight turnovers and a shot blocked in 10 possessions. Though it being the now 0-6 Jazz, they could only cut a 36-22 Bulls lead to 38-27. The Bulls recovered to lead 51-40 at halftime, and then blew the game open with a 15-6 spurt to open the second half to take a 20-point lead about five minutes in and pull away from there.
The Bulls also got 18 points and 10 rebounds from Carlos Boozer, 14 points and eight rebounds from a resilient Joakim Noah and 12 points and five assists in just 27 minutes from a restrained Derrick Rose. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 15.
“We’ll take any win,” said Rose. “It was good to execute some offense. I’m trying to do what the team needs me to do.”
That other sequence to take back was when Deng’s teammates were desperately trying to get him his first career triple-double when all he needed was one more assist.
Deng grabbed his 10th rebound with 7:45 remaining in the fourth quarter and the game within the game was on as the scoreboard showed everyone that Deng was a dime (chic basketball talk for an assist) away from the golden eagle of games.
Deng took the ball up and passed to Nazr Mohammed, who was about 12 feet farther out than his usual shooting range. Mohammed fired up a 16 footer with 18 seconds left on the shot clock and the Bulls leading 89-63. Bulls players leaped off the bench in anticipation, but Mohammed’s shot came up short.
Mohammed then rebounded a Jazz miss the other way, ran the court and got a nifty pass from Deng point blank at the rim. But Mohammed missed the layup to groans throughout the festive United Center. Former Bull John Lucas then made a three pointer, and with the next stoppage of play coach Tom Thibodeau took out Deng.
After all, Deng had played 38 minutes. Of course, Thibodeau, who often is criticized for playing Deng too much, was booed for taking Deng out of the game.
“It would have been cool,” said Deng, who was laughing on the bench with teammates as he left the game. “But there’s two sides to it. One side is that it took 10 years and the other side is that I’ve been close many times before. I’m really not worried about it.
“If I would have got it, it would have been great,” Deng added. “The biggest thing is that we got the win. It was good to see us play well and now we can just keep focusing on winning. I know people are talking about me being close. But to be honest, I’m just glad that I had a good game, we had a good game and you just move on.”
Having made two All-Star teams and an all-defensive team in the last two seasons, Deng doesn’t have to chase accolades even if he can be a free agent after this season. But it seemed mostly a relief to everyone for perhaps the first time since opening day more than a week ago not having to answer what’s wrong and why.
Sure, it was the winless, rebuilding Jazz. But they’d played close with Oklahoma City and Houston to open the season. They have big, active front line players. And most everyone had picked them to finish better, at least, than the Philadelphia 76ers. And we know what happened to the Bulls with a big lead against them.
But there were few slip ups this time as the Bulls delivered, if not perfect offense, their best and most engaged defensive effort of the season, holding Utah to 29.4 percent shooting, closing off the lane with a 56-22 points in the paint domination, made 12 steals and won on the boards 48-40.
“I thought the first quarter was terrific,” said Thibodeau of the Bulls 30-18 start. “That set the tone for the game. Our starters made sure that the group functioned well together. That was a big plus for us.
“I thought there was a lot of unselfish play today,” Thibodeau added. “Guys made the extra pass. Everyone was making a concerted effort to make the extra pass. We passed up a good shot to get a great shot. The screens were a lot better, hitting the open man, running the floor and great effort defensively. That is what it is going to take.”
It’s something of that chicken and egg thing.
Whether you choose Kentucky Fried Chicken or an Egg McMuffin.
Actually, that’s the other chicken and egg thing.
The basketball one for the Bulls was whether they played better defense because they finally played better offense. And why did the chicken cross the road?
OK, I’m getting off topic here.
It was the best Bulls offense thus far this season, which has been a pretty low bar.
The Bulls first play presaged what was to come as Deng laid off a terrific pass to a diving Noah for a score. Rose then made a three and followed that with a blow by driving basket. Deng made a 20 footer. The Jazz hung in there a bit. But after one dry Bulls possession, Deng found an invigorated Noah again on a runout for a layup, Jimmy Butler made a three, Rose turned a Noah steal into another fast break score and Deng scored on a back door cut after a slick Boozer pass to give the Bulls an 18-9 lead.
The Jazz got within six points later in the first quarter, but just for a few possessions and they trailed by double digits for much of the remainder of the game.
Though what was more significant was how the Bulls did it, and not just by actually making a respectable percentage of shots for the first time this season, 52.8 percent shooting and three of eight on threes as the Bulls weren’t standing around shooting long jump shots. They also were challenging them better, or at all, as Utah shot seven of 20 on threes.
But Noah was back diving on the floor for loose balls, saving balls going out of bounds like no seven-footer in the NBA.
“Jo was terrific,” said Thibodeau. “Those Joakim hustle plays, diving out of bounds, an incredible effort to get second shots, setting screens, high energy. That’s what makes the team function well. That’s what we need.”
Boozer was as usual—that’s right, as usual—efficient with seven points and six rebounds in the first quarter that helped the Bulls get going before foul trouble limited him much of the rest of the game.
But it also was how the Bulls were playing as much as how effectively. Sure, it looks a lot better when you make the shots.
But they really were going inside first this time instead of just talking about it. They worked to the post, making the Jazz defenders sink inside, which opened up the outside shooting but also helped spread the court better. They threw into Boozer and worked mismatches for Taj Gibson, who had 12 points and was taking advantage of Starvin’ Marvin Williams as soon as he’d enter. It was equally vital that the Bulls were actually recognizing the mismatches and taking advantage instead of seemingly running through a set number of pre-planned plays like they were in the NFL.
The Bulls were trying in their 1-3 start. But they didn’t seem as enthusiastic. It’s vital for this Bulls team, which doesn’t overwhelm opponents with their natural talent. After all, Noah has no post game and their shooting guard is still working on a shot, and Deng isn’t taking anyone off the dribble, and Boozer doesn’t remind anyone of Karl Malone. Even when he was wearing a Jazz jersey. And, oh yes, the point guard is still working on being himself.
“We’re just trying to run out the wrinkles and I still think we’re a good team,” said Rose. “I’m not worried. I can’t force anything. The worst thing to do is really try to go out there and force it. That’s just not my game. I’m going to let it come to me naturally, play the way that I normally play and, trust me, it’s going to come.”
Though Rose committed four more turnovers and the Jazz joined the chorus of teams trapping Rose on that side to side pick and roll the Bulls have had trouble with, Rose also had those five assists and five free throws in that limited time. His shot looked good as well.
“I thought Derrick was very very good,” said Thibodeau. “He had a very good rhythm, good pace. You can see it’s coming. The good thing is the win. Each game, every day he’s gotten better. The big plus is he’s healthy, explosive. His timing will come. It’s a matter of time. You can see it. The guys are getting more comfortable playing with him.”
But also the way the Bulls played is the strength of Thibodeau.
The Bulls’ excellence is based on being overachievers. Because that’s what they are. That’s what makes the defense work so well. So it was a surprise to see them without their figurative hard hats. Really just hard headed the way they were standing around expecting to be great to open the season. This group has to work at it all the time.
And Friday they did with their most complete effort of the season.
Boozer’s post play and Rose penetrating and pitching in the first quarter produced memories of an offense we hadn’t seen from the Bulls since before Rose’s injury. Noah served notice of his attendance diving on the floor to try to get a steal and then saving a loose ball late in the first. But Deng stood out, playing the passing lanes brilliantly and turning cross court passes into fast break scores, a terrific one midway through the third quarter that ended with a three-point play.
There was that gruesome stretch in the second quarter when Noah and Rose each had three turnovers and Deng joined them with one. Though a lot of it was trying to fit passes in a narrow openings with a double digit lead. It also was a symptom of the previous losses and all four games as the Bulls generally had played well enough to win but had one awful quarter that changed the outlook of the game.
It’s that 48 minutes cliché that Thibodeau uses. There are no perfect games as much as Thibodeau keeps planning for one. But it’s those long stretches of inefficiency the Bulls usually avoid that has hurt them. They recovered against the Jazz, playing defense well enough after their turnovers to become too scared. So it gives them reason to continue to come to practice.
“We got a big lead and kind of let them come back a little bit,” noted Rose. “But we hopped right back on
them. We’re just trying to learn every game and just trying to get together right now.
“Some of the (turnovers) are us trying to be unselfish,” said Rose. “That’s what type of team we have. Some of them you just have to play through it. I think I had like four or five. I could care less. We won the game. You can’t dwell on that as a basketball player. It’s onto the next play.
Super proud of (Deng’s) performance,” Rose added. “That’s Luol, playing hard and rebounding the ball. His assists were up, passing the ball, finding the open guy. He had a lot of nice passes.”
But he couldn’t get someone to convert for him.
“I think we tried like five times (for that 10th assist),” laughed Rose. “It didn’t work out and Thibs brought him out. The fans got upset.”
“I was just trying to get us to execute,” shrugged Thibodeau. “I’m not concerned with his triple-double.”
They could all laugh about it for a change this season.
Happy times, happy nights, happy days are here again. At least this one night, anyway. It’s a start.