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Bulls get a little angry and a lot of success against Boston
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 3
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There are certain rules of life to live by. You don’t take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same day. You don’t learn when your lips are moving. You don’t play pool with someone with their own cue, you don’t eat at a place called, “Mom’s.” And you don’t make Mike Dunleavy mad.
“Sometimes you’ve got to let people know when they are messing up,” the usually soft spoken Dunleavy said after the Bulls’ 94-82 win over the Boston Celtics Thursday at the United Center. “Whether it’s teammates, coaches or officials. For me, it doesn’t happen often. But tonight it did. It got me going a little bit.”
It was Dunleavy’s rare technical foul late in the third quarter, the Bulls’ third of the game, with the Celtics having sliced a 10-point Bulls lead to seven and on the way to four. Dunleavy, who would finish with 11 points as one of six Bulls in double figures, had enough after being smacked on a drive to the basket with no call and a turnover. Dunleavy had some suggestions for referee Scott Twardoski, and then he had some lessons for the Boston Celtics.
Like, “Get that weak stuff out of here,” with a block from behind on Jeff Green, a steal from Gerald Wallace leading to a Jimmy Butler dunk, another block, this time on Kris Humphries about to dunk the ball, and a short put back of a Carlos Boozer miss, all in a three-minute stretch to end the third quarter. Dunleavy then back peddled off the court as the third quarter ended with the Bulls ahead 70-62 waving his arms and yelling at referee Josh Tiven.
Then to open the fourth quarter, Dunleavy penetrated off a pass from D.J. Augustin and passed to Joakim Noah for a dunk. Noah then bounced a pass to a cutting Dunleavy for a layin. And after a Vitor Faverani miss, Dunleavy rebounded and dribbled up court into a pull up three pointer for a 77-62 Bulls lead with about 10 minutes left.
Dunleavy pumped his fist and the Celtics were KO’d.
“I thought we got energy from certain guys,” said Taj Gibson, who said he had no after effects from a hard, flagrant foul against him by Jared Sullinger late in the game. “Joakim playmaking like we need him to do. Dunleavy got mad and took over the game. I told him we need him to be angry all the time when he doesn’t get a call his way. Right after that technical foul he went off.
“That was one of the best things of the year,” laughed Gibson. “He iced that ref, stared him down. Went off. He was shooting, handling, knocking down big threes, mad, talking trash. It was great to see.”
No finger wag after the blocks, though.
“Maybe after I get to 1,000 blocks,” offered Dunleavy.
Yes, it was a time for the Bulls to have some fun after the win, which pushed the Bulls barely ahead of the Celtics in the conference at 13-18. Boston fell to 13-19.
Though progress seems to come slowly, it was the Bulls fourth win in the last six games. It’s also a building process as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said several players remain on playing time restrictions. He wouldn’t say whom, but Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich each played about 28 minutes and Noah 34.
Noah came up just short of a triple-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists while Boozer added 16 points and Deng 14. The Bulls had a fancy 26 assists on 35 baskets led by Noah’s nine and curtailed their lately troublesome turnovers to 13 while forcing Boston into 20 and gaining an admirer in Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“The Bulls are very physical and they are really impressive,” said the rookie coach from Butler University. “They’ve had their struggles, but that is not a 13-18 team. When they are fully healthy, they will continue to have success because they execute on both ends of the floor as well as anyone else in the league. Their offense is going to find itself. The shooting will find itself.
“He is just a good all around winning guy,” Stevens added about Noah. “I coached against Noah as an assistant in college in the Sweet 16. Obviously they beat us. He is a guy who always makes his teammates better. He makes some of the plays that will never be on the stat sheet by coming over and helping and being long. He forces us to make another pass or miss a shot. All of those things and then that shot. I’ve been really impressed by the way he improved his shooting since I coached against him in college.
“What these (Bulls) guys have is length and the ability to cover the perimeter, which is unique,” said Stevens. “You look across the league and those guys can guard one through five on any possession.”
The Bulls did a good job of it Thursday, holding the surprising Celtics, a top half shooting team, to 39.5 percent overall and two of 12 on threes. The Celtics were aggressive on their own, even outrebounding the Bulls 48-41 as Sullinger and Humphries each had 11. Jordan Crawford led Boston with 22 points.
But Kirk Hinrich practically took Avery Bradley out of the game with punishing and relentless play as the Bulls constantly cut off any Boston playmaking. The Celtics had 15 assists to go with those 20 turnovers while the Bulls, led by Noah, were opportunistic on the offensive boards with an 18-5 edge in second chance points.
Still, it’s a halting path for the Bulls. They’ve been outrebounded six of the last 10 games with one even, unusual for them, as Thibodeau also quietly works the players back into condition. Thibodeau gets second guesses at times for playing time. But this season he regularly takes out Noah early, first among the front line, leaving the Bulls unusually small early in the game. He’s massaged Deng’s minutes on his return from his Achilles injury and split Hinrich’s time with Augustin’s.
It gives up something here and there, but you get the sense the Bulls are building for a late run and perhaps some playoff positioning.
“It was a good win for us,” said Noah. “We’ve got to keep playing with energy, keep playing hard, not taking possessions off. We can’t play 70, 80 percent. We have to give everything we have every night. When you come in the locker room you’ve got to be tired. When you lose a player like Pooh (Derrick Rose) everyone has to give everything they’ve got. That will give us chances to win games.
“If everyone plays with high energy we have a shot to make the playoffs and once you make the playoffs,” noted Noah, “anything can happen. We’re getting guys back healthy. It’s been a tough couple of months, a lot of ups and down. We’ve got to find a way to play more consistent. We’re not there yet.”
But perhaps it’s coming a bit.
The shooting still isn’t very good as the Bulls did break 40 percent for a change, but were two of 15 on threes, both by Dunleavy.
“Threes have become a point where we want to get better,” agreed Dunleavy, who said the team should even attempt more. “If we can get the number up and in rhythm and find guys when they are open the three is a big weapon in this league now. Taking them opens things up and as we see more go in we’ll get better. We’re getting better with D.J., who likes to push and look ahead.”
Dunleavy and Augustin have become a good fit off the bench as they have been the biggest three-point shooting threats and open the court with better spacing when they play. So Thibodeau has been mixing and matching starters with those two throughout the game to try to get better combinations for shooting and creating better spacing. It helped result in Noah finding more seams for passes Thursday and the Bulls ball movement out doing the spunky Celtics’ game.
It helped with the Bulls getting an early lead behind more aggressive play from Boozer and Noah making some terrific plays, including directing a miss to Boozer for a score. The Bulls led 24-21 after one quarter. They fell behind in the second quarter as the play became rougher and Thibodeau drew his league most sixth technical among the coaches. The Bulls fell behind 32-26 while Thibodeau said he wouldn’t comment on his behavior or grammar.
Rookie Tony Snell has been having trouble in his play of late. Thibodeau gave him a look and he was casual with the ball. But the Bulls came back in the second quarter behind some solid shooting from Boozer and Noah and Deng working well in two man games. The two are close off the court and continue to have an excellent chemistry on the court.
The two Bulls veterans were strong in the third playing off one another to get a 61-51 lead midway through the quarter before the Celtics made headway beating the Bulls on the boards for second and third shots. It was then Dunleavy began to boil over and it was the Celtics covered with the hot lava of his smooth all around game.
“Mike made a lot of big plays,” said Thibodeau, “whether it’s a rebound or a hustle play, a big three, all winning plays. He makes the team better when he is on the floor. I think we have a team full of guys like that. Guys who are unselfish.”
So much so the Bulls apparently tried to get Noah that last assist for the triple double despite that 12-point lead. Though they did have a possession left and had to shoot with about nine seconds left. But Butler missed a corner jumper.
“Jimmy messed it up,” said Gibson.
Gibson also told a funny story about as a high schooler with his buddies running into Dunleavy on a New York City subway train at night, Dunleavy an NBA player riding the subway alone.
“I knew he was a tough guy when I saw him on the train,” said Gibson, a native of Brooklyn. “Late at night, on the train by himself. There was like 10 of us. I said, ‘Dunleavy, what up?’ He was not scared or anything. It’s stuck with me to this day. We were shocked to see an NBA player on the train, especially at night. That’s how gangsta he was.
“A New York guy,” said Gibson, who added he and Dunleavy have laughed about the chance meeting. “Taking the train, walking around the city, playing in the street tournaments. He has that gridlock mentality. You foul him; he’ll foul you back twice as hard.”
As for Gibson, he said he fell on his wrist and thought he was hurt when he suffered that brutal takedown with 6:47 left and the Bulls ahead 81-68 on his dunk. But he said he was lucky and felt fine after laying on the court for a minute.
Asked about whether he’d seen fellow New Yorker Noah on the subway, Gibson cracked, “Never saw Jo on the train. He was one of those guys that got driven around.”
Perhaps the Bulls will take everyone for a ride before this is all over.