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It’s a Bulls run with civil victory in Dallas
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 1
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The Bulls aren’t this good, are they?
They’re in Dallas Friday night, and they’ve fought back from 16 points behind to take an 84-80 lead early in the fourth quarter, the highlight occurring with Joakim Noah literally diving over Dirk Nowitzki to corral a loose ball and call time out. But the Bulls then have five empty possessions, one with Jimmy Butler missing a pair of free throws, and Jose Calderon gets loose for a three and Kirk Hinrich on the next possession gets a pass picked off and Monta Ellis goes in for a slam dunk and 85-84 Mavericks lead with 5:07 left. Time out, Bulls.
“The crowd was into it, there was pandemonium,” noted Taj Gibson, who would finish with 20 points and 15 rebounds. “We didn’t panic; guys understood what we have to do. We’ve been in the situation all year; guys don’t flinch. Dun (Mike Dunleavy) came out (and) hit a big three; we were right back into it. Jo (Noah) gets big time stops, one after another on Dirk (Nowitzki), Jimmy (Butler) playing phenomenal D and getting to the line. And we just kind of ran away with it.”
And so the Bulls pulled away for a 100-91 victory, one with a dramatic and exciting finish that Noah called one of the best wins of the season.
Not only did the Bulls, 32-26, overcome a double digit deficit on the road, but it happened against a Mavs team that had beaten the Bulls at the United Center by 22 points two months ago and is one of the top offensive teams in the NBA, ranking in the top five in shooting, assists, steals and fewest turnovers and averaging just under 105 points per game. But the Bulls held Dallas to its sixth lowest scoring game of the season with an unforgiving fourth quarter defense that limited the Mavs to 24 percent shooting on six of 25, an interior wall that yielded just one trip to the free throw line and a brutalizing 15-9 edge on the boards as the stunned home crowd began to file out slowly with a few minutes left and owner Mark Cuban wailing at the officials.
It wasn’t an issue of bad calls; it was excellent overall play as the Bulls also won their eighth in the last nine. It also was the Bulls’ fourth straight overall against the more celebrated Western Conference and sixth in the last seven.
And the third straight and fourth in the last five winning and scoring at least 100 points.
“We are an offensive juggernaut,” joked Thibodeau of the 30th ranked team in points per game.
Looks like Chris Rock is going to be stealing material from him again.
And perhaps some offensive help possibly is on the way as former college player of the year and shooting guard Jimmer Fredette is expected to sign with the Bulls late Saturday if he clears waivers after a buyout from the Kings. The Bulls did not renew the 10-day contract of Jarvis Varnado.
“When you deal with all the adversity we’ve been through this year, it makes your group that much tougher and stronger,” said Noah, held to 10 points and nine rebounds but with stunning defense that limited Nowitzki to 15 points on seven of 18 shooting and not a single free throw. “At this point we know we are playing for more than, ‘oh we beat a West Coast team.’ We’re going to be that resilient group, that tough group that is going to be very, very tough to play in the playoffs.”
Nobody is doubting them anymore.
The Bulls led by Gibson and Butler with 19 points had five players in double figures and Carlos Boozer and D.J. Augustin with nine. It wasn’t their greatest all around game in falling behind 32-20 in the first quarter and 38-22 two minutes into the second quarter. But thanks to Gibson’s relentless work in the post with 16 points and eight rebounds in the first half, the Bulls continued to be that annoying whack-a-mole as every time the Mavericks popped them somewhere, they’d stick a head up elsewhere and just wouldn’t stop.
“Weird thing about it was we were in front most of the first half and we let them climb back into it with grit, guts and rebounding,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
“By halftime, the Bulls were back trailing just 54-51.
“We’ve been watching them the last 10 games,” said Noah. “They’ve been playing really good basketball and are a really tough team to beat, especially at home. They have great fire power. But we played with a great edge tonight. We didn’t start the game off great. But we kept fighting and hit some shots. We got punched in the face early in the game, but we stuck with it. That’s what this team represents and we got one of our best wins today.”
Certainly, it’s what you do all game, and the Bulls have a history this season of winning from in front, like most teams do. They went in 24-6 when leading after the first period, but 3-21 when trailing entering the fourth quarter. The Mavs broke out after halftime behind Ellis, who finished with 20, to lead 69-62 on an Ellis back door cut for a layup. The Bulls recovered with Noah beating Nowitzki down court for a score and Boozer with a nice baseline scoop. But Gibson had a bit of a meltdown to close the quarter, three turnovers and two misses as the Bulls fell behind.
“It was tough,” said Gibson. “My teammates kept telling me to be aggressive. I didn’t have a good rhythm.”
Noah was talking to him throughout the quarter break, while Derrick Rose was also in his ear.
“Derrick is like a coach,” laughed Gibson. “I can miss like a 1,000 times and he’s telling me, ‘Shoot the ball, shoot the ball.’ I did and playing with a play maker like Joakim you just have be patient.”
It’s also a sign of the unusual bond and camaraderie among this group. Players constantly are up for one another, cheering one another on, reminding them they’ll be better the more they work and the more they do. It’s how the Bulls had a 9-4 February, seven players averaging in double figures for the month, though no one near 20 per game, and the most wins in the league since Jan. 1 and best record in the Eastern Conference in that span. It’s as all for one, one for all as you will find in professional sports.
And then it was another fourth quarter to remember without dunks but plays that make you gasp.
There was Noah drawing a double team as he ventured into the lane and then firing to Augustin, who regained his shooting tough, for a three pointer to break a 78-78 tie with 9:22 left.
The Mavs then tried to isolate Nowitzki on the right wing against Noah. The Mavs are a tough team to match with. Noah has to go outside to play Nowitzki while Boozer or Gibson try to battle the less offensive, seven footer Sam Dalembert inside. Ellis is one of the league’s quickest guards and playing his most under control with Carlisle’s sophisticated game.
So Noah got up on Nowitzki to disrupt him and Nowitzki fumbled the ball a bit. He turned to pick it up as any defender would allow. Except maybe one.
Noah literally leaped over Nowitzki to grab the ball and call timeout.
Call it a half Noah dive off the highlight board.
That’s a Bulls poster: Defense.
Hinrich then made a three for an 84-78 lead coming out of the time out as Gibson kept the Augustin miss alive.
“The third quarter was OK,” said Thibodeau. “I thought the fourth quarter was great. I thought our guys were really good. Kirk, Jimmy made a lot of great plays for us.”
With a chance to close out the Mavs with Dallas now being held to one shot, all long on four straight possessions, the Bulls stumbled some as Noah coughed up a ball, Butler missed a pair of free throws—“I was humiliated,” he said about always shooting poorly from the line back in Texas—and Augustin and Dunleavy missed threes.
Then came that Mavs spurt for the 85-84 lead, the crowd bursting, even Cuban’s t-shirt stretching more than usual.
But Thibodeau made a terrific move getting Dunleavy in for Butler, and Dunleavy immediately bottomed out a three for an 87-85 Bulls lead.
“We ran a basic pick and roll play and they over helped on D.J. and I had a good look and just let it go,” said Dunleavy with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and yet another charge taken.
Though not the quickest player, Dunleavy has become another of the big players on defense with his knack for taking changes, among the best in the NBA.
“When I’m open I’m going to shoot it,” said Dunleavy. “Just step up and have confidence.”
It’s become the Bulls way.
“We’ve been in the situation all year,” said Gibson. “Guys didn’t flinch. Once they took a lead we knew what we had to do, move onto the next play.”
Vince Carter missed a tough three. Dunleavy missed, but Gibson fought through again for the offensive board, got it to Noah, who went back inside to Gibson for a dunk.
Dalembert then got by Gibson heading for a dunk. But Noah even with five fouls went after him and blocked the shot to retain the Bulls 89-85 lead.
“That’s just basketball instincts,” said Noah. “I don’t think about plays like that. I’m just happy the way we competed. To come in here and get a win like this is big for our team. I think we’re playing really hungry basketball and I’m really proud of that.”
The Mavs were a bit more desperate now as Ellis got inside, but he rushed and missed. Noah tried a lob that didn’t connect, but Calderon missed long. Hinrich, more relaxed and aggressive shooting the last several weeks, pump faked and made a 17 footer for a 93-85 lead with 1:55 left. With Calderon then about to make a layup, Butler blocked the ball. Noah retrieved the block and got it to Butler, who was fouled.
“We’re tough when we’re playing defense, rotating, getting into the ball,” said Butler. “That’s where the basketball starts for us. We let our defense dictate our offense. You get stops going into the fourth quarter, challenge shots and rebound and you can have a good chance on winning.”
So about the block? What did he see?
“I saw Kirk got beat baseline. That’s what I saw,” laughed Butler. “I was just in the right position. I thought it gave us big momentum to close out the game.”
Teammates stepping up and in to help one another.
Trailing by nine with just over a minute left, the fans began to fade away as Hinrich slipped a nice pass inside for a Noah layup.
“It’s pretty impressive considering you have two of the top individual threats, Ellis and Nowitzki,” noted Dunleavy. “It’s tough to stop them. It’s huge. It seems like we got them out of the comfort zone and made some plays.
“I think we’ve always had grit and resiliency,” Dunleavy added. “But now it’s become a matter of belief. We go out there every night and believe we know how to win a game. We defend, keep it under 90 points, most likely, and our offense is going to give us a big shot to win it. I think that’s the biggest difference between now and 30 games ago. We were always a tough minded group. Now we believe.”
But how good does that make you, can it make you?
“I think there’s a commitment by each player to each other to not let the group down,” said Thibodeau. “And that’s when something special can happen. Who knows where the ceiling is with our team?”