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Bulls new three headed monster is roaring
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 27
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They have been three amigos, even if they don’t exactly spend all their time together. They have been good, bad and ugly on occasion, but hardly stooges. They have become the Bulls Big Three, the current version of the team’s Three Headed Monster: Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer.
“We bring the juice for this team,” Boozer said following Tuesday’s 103-83 win over the Golden State Warriors when they combined for 44 points and 35 rebounds. “We’re very loud and passionate and try to hold the fort down inside.”
And that’s what the Bulls’ three interior big men have been doing as Chicago heads into Dallas Friday 8-4 in February and 19-8 since the beginning of January, one of the league’s hottest teams the last two months.
Noah has been getting a lot of attention with his All-Star appearance in which he was crucial down the stretch for the winning Eastern Conference. Noah is averaging 13.5 points, 12.1 assists and six assists in February and overall for the season 12.1 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
But it’s been more than Noah in what arguably is the league’s top three-man interior rotation.
All are averaging in double figures while Gibson and Noah are in the top 15 in blocks and Noah and Boozer are in the top 20 in rebounding. There really is no three-man center/power forward group that is a true rival. The Pistons’ Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith also place players among the leaders in blocks and rebounds. But all start as Smith plays small forward.
The Warriors have Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Jermaine O’Neal, though O’Neal doesn’t average double figures in any category. The Clippers have DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, but no other true support. Which is why they brought in Glen Davis. The Trail Blazers have LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez, but little reliable otherwise. Indiana has Roy Hibbert and David West, but no longer a high level of production from Luis Scola or Ian Mahinmi. Andrew Bynum hasn’t played yet for them. There really hasn’t been a front line threesome this season to match the all around production of Noah, Gibson and Boozer.
“Taj is playing at a really high level,” said Noah. “Carlos gave us some great minutes (against the Warriors). Teams plays small against us, we have to find ways to punish them inside and a lot of guys stepped up.”
It’s been a big month for Noah, Gibson and Boozer, one that started warily as Boozer, during the road trip before a blowout loss in Sacramento, asked for more fourth quarter playing time. Noah was ejected during the game. Was this team splitting apart?
Instead, the Bulls won eight of their next 10 to move to a season high five games over .500 at 31-26 as they prepare for the Mavericks. The Bulls lost to Dallas Dec. 28 at the United Center, 105-83. Shawn Marion and Vince Carter gave Dallas big games in support of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis and the Bulls weren’t able to match Dallas’ scoring. But the Bulls have turned into an offensive force of late, scoring more than 100 points in three of their last four games and averaging 100 points the last seven games even with that 79 points in the loss to Miami last Sunday.
A lot of it has come thanks to the efforts on the offensive boards to provide second chances as well as defense that’s produced turnovers and open court opportunities.
Noah, Gibson and Boozer have been responsible for a lot of that in a balanced scoring game that has the top seven players in the Bulls’ rotation all averaging double figures this month.
They’re led by Gibson at 16.7 per game in February. Then it’s Noah at 13.5; Jimmy Butler at 13.4; Boozer at 12.9, D.J. Augustin at 12.8; Mike Dunleavy at 11.1 and Kirk Hinrich at 10.6.
But it’s been the regular contribution from Noah, Gibson and Boozer, averaging a combined 40 points and 27 rebounds in February.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, calling them all starters, has settled into a rotation with Gibson off the bench and then being the first substitute in the first quarter for Noah. Boozer generally plays the entire first quarter and Gibson will play the entire second quarter. Nazr Mohammed, who had a strong eight points in nine minutes in the Golden State game, starts the second quarter. Noah subs for him to join Gibson, and Boozer will later sub for either Noah or Gibson.
The starters open the second half and Boozer’s third quarters have been crucial with his scoring. Gibson will again sub for Noah in the third and then Gibson and Noah generally will play the fourth quarter. Boozer does only when some late scoring is needed, but he made his point and being pushed by Gibson has seemed to make him more aggressive on offense.
The result has been a highly versatile and effective triumvirate, the Three Bulls.
The so-called Three Headed Monster was a vital component of the last three Bulls championship teams from 1996-1998 with Luc Longley and Bill Wennington and then being supported by James Edwards, Robert Parish, Brian Williams or Joe Kleine. It was initially to deal with Shaquille O’Neal, but it became an important part of the team. But that group was merely depth at center compared with this group with all around contributions.
“We’re taking advantage of mismatches, going at them when we see them and Jo is making great plays off the post and in the post,” said Gibson. “We’re going inside out, getting the ball in the post and kicking out. Just trying to take advantage and attack.”