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Bulls and Noah depose the Kings
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 16
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Tough week? Who says it was a tough week for these Bulls? No stinkin’ tough week for these Bulls and Joakim Noah in a performance Saturday worth its weight in gold.
The heck week concluded with a 94-87 victory over the Sacramento Kings. And this is what Joakim Noah, after 23 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and three steals, did in a heck of a 3-1 week against the Heat, Spurs, Rockets and Kings.
Noah against the Heat and LeBron James and then playing Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins averaged 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists, three blocks and 1.3 steals, and you are running out of reasons not to consider Noah a legitimate top five MVP contender and one of the most impactful players in the NBA.
The last Bulls player of the week award winner was more than a year ago. It would be difficult to understand how Noah could not win for last week.
“He is one unique guy,” agreed Iron Mike Dunleavy, who had 16 points after becoming an honorary Blackhawk with a jersey presentation from the Stanley Cup champions for his 10 stitches and then 18 point third quarter Thursday, “He is a hell of a player. I would hate to think of where we would be without him. He really does it all for us. He brings it every night. He’s an inspiring teammate. When you pass it to him and you cut you’re always going to have your eyes open because that ball will end up finding you some how, some way. Tonight we missed a lot of easy ones for him or else he would have had 15 or 16 assists.”
It’s not hyperbole as you could count a half dozen times Bulls players fumbled on line Noah passes at the rim. Still, the Bulls had enough with a 30-point fourth quarter led by Dunleavy and Taj Gibson to move to 37-29 and be in position to do something no one thought remotely possible two and three months ago.
It’s still a long shot, but without their two leading scorers in Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, the Bulls still have a chance to reach 50 wins in a season that a few months ago was viewed as a Sherman tank of a throwaway. Yes, it would take a 13-3 finish with Oklahoma City Monday on St. Patrick’s Day and the Pacers twice more times this month.
But a lot of teams are turning green with envy and you can no longer say never with this group of players that got 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench from Gibson and applied enough defense and opportunity to hold off a Kings team that gave them their worst loss of the season other than the game after Rose’s season ending injury.
That was a memorable game in Sacramento last month when Noah was ejected in a frustrated rage for calling out the officials. Though one could say he was just pointing to them to commend them for their diligence. He was fined $15,000. Afterward, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins labeled Dunleavy a clown in a perverse pot and kettle thing.
The Kings are a big team and Saturday outrebounded the Bulls 55-40 and 19-7 on he offensive boards. Cousins bulled his way inside against frequent double teams for 25 points and 14 rebounds and Isaiah Thomas led them with 26 points.
But they may be one of the, let’s say, more unwise teams in the NBA. Not ignorant people, but perhaps unenlightened about the fundamentals of basketball. Thomas is one of the more selfish point guards this side of Brandon Jennings, and he finished it out Kings style by fouling Kirk Hinrich with 29.5 seconds left and trailing 90-87. Hinrich made one of two, but that still made it a two possession game, a four-point Bulls lead. It’s the opposite of every late game strategy you’d want to try. The Kings then missed a jumper and had to foul, effectively ending the game without even allowing a defensive stand to give them a chance.
Watching the Kings is a How-Not-To basketball book with most everyone going one-on-one, dribbling around and hoisting up long jumpers. They have three players averaging more than 20 points per game and have 23 wins. Cousins, of course, is the biggest offender despite his impressive numbers.
The Bulls, one of the poorest teams in the league in fast break points, had 20. It’s the third time they’ve had 20 fast break points this season. The other two times were against the 76ers, who are purposely trying to lose.
You get so many fast break points against the Kings because Cousins shoots and then yells at the officials; then he shoots and pouts; then he doesn’t shoot and yells at the officials; then he makes faces at the bench.
While all this is going on, Noah was flying down court. And Cousins was lollygagging. He was lollygagging in transition. He was lollygagging on defense. He was lollygagging even in timeouts. Do you know what that makes him? Right, a lollygagger. The Kings are 23-43. Yes, how’d they ever win 23? It’s a miracle.
It’s a simple game: You dribble the ball, you pass the ball, you shoot the ball.
The Bulls didn’t do it their best, either, with 39.7 percent overall and six of 20 on threes. But they had Dunleavy still shooting well with three of six threes, Gibson recovered from his food poisoning with a powerful game off the bench and a crucial baseline jumper to make it 90-85 with 42.2 seconds left, and the incomparable Noah.
This continued to be a truly remarkable run by Noah, who in eight games this month has three triple doubles and has missed three other triple doubles by one assist, two assists and three assists, respectively. This is the kind of stuff you saw from Wilt. Not Joakim Noah. But the pony tailed iconoclast from France has been cookin’ in hot oil.
“It’s just all about this team right now,” said Noah. “I think we’ve been through so much. It’s not about individual accolades; it’s about us and everything we’ve gone through. That’s what this season is about to me.”
It is becoming yet another to remember and savor. And Noah started it off Saturday like he finished in outplaying Howard Thursday. Noah dropped in a couple of jumpers over Cousins. And then when Cousins drifted out to cover Noah on the next one, Noah faked and blew by for two handed slam dunk.
“(His) game is through the roof right now,” said Gibson. “His confidence is through the roof. I feel he’s taking it to the next level.”
Noah would have a dozen points, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a remarkable first quarter. But the Kings despite their record aren’t an easy team, and not for the Bulls, who have had some of their worst ever losses to them, including losing a 35-point lead at home in 2010.
And Cousins really is an extraordinary talent. His averages of 22.2 points and 11.7 rebounds make an All-Star case. But his rages distract his teammates; the coaches seem to fear him and he plays at his own casual pace. But he can score and the Bulls frequently resorted to late traps and double teams. Cousins would still shoot most of the time, which enabled the Bulls to hold the Kings to 36.5 percent shooting as when Cousins would finally give up the ball his teammates were shooting forced shots.
And then there’s Thomas, a slick shooter and quick guard. But he’s one of those Nate Robinson/Ben Gordon kind of guards who are exciting and productive, though they usually take care of their own scoring. Thus teammates spend a lot of time standing around then having to manufacture their own shots. So even with Noah’s big first quarter the teams were tied at 23 after the first.
Gibson had been slowed the last week by a case of food poisoning. But he was back to his old sturm and drang, going deep into the post to score and blocking two shots in three possessions midway through the second quarter.
“I thought he got right back on track tonight,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “That was big for us.”
That enabled the Bulls to inch ahead 48-43 at halftime. Though Noah wasn’t quite as dominant, he did fool Cousins with a nifty pick and roll cut and put in a floater and was fouled that began a run of Noah scoring or assisting on 12 straight Bulls points.
The Kings came out to open the second half running a baseline cross screen play three straight times to get Cousins open and scoring. And he did. The Bulls adjusted, but Cousins and Thomas combined for 18 third quarter points overall and the Bulls went into the fourth quarter with just a 64-63 lead.
It was 72-72 about five minutes into the fourth when Dunleavy made a three and the Bulls would not trail again. But the highlight again was Noah, picking up a Thomas turnover and flying full court with the dribble and scoring for a 79-74 lead with 5:10 left.
Noah then had a beautiful interior pass that Jimmy Butler went up with a bit slowly and it was blocked. But Noah came back with a half lob pass that Butler finished for an 83-76 lead with 3:22 left and then a full court football pass to Gibson for a three-point play as Kings players again failed to get back in transition. That made it 86-78 with 2:02 left. But it took Gibson’s cool 19 footer and Thomas’ uncool end game decisions to get the Bulls safely to another win thanks to another night of Noah.
“I thought offensively to start the game he was terrific,” said Thibodeau. “His rebounding, his defense, his playmaking… you can see with the scoring component he’s gotten better and better. He is a lot more confident. He is finishing better. All of that is critical for us.”