Chicago’s overall D was strong. The Bulls held the home team to season-low 80 points on 37.5 percent shooting while blocking 5 shots and forcing the Grizzlies into a season-worst 19 turnovers.
Despite their dominant front court duo of Marc Gasol (14.9 PPG) and Zach Randolph (17.2 PPG), the Grizzlies scored only 32 points in the paint and shot a mere 10-for-22 (45.5 percent) at the rim, with Gasol and Randolph combining to go 1-for-6 directly under the hoop.
Memphis’ big three of Gasol (1-for-7), Randolph (4-for-14) and Rudy Gay (5-for-13) were all held in check and Gasol was the only Grizzlies starter who finished with a positive plus-minus score (+5).
The Bulls rank third in the league in Opponents Three-Point Percentage (32.1 percent). Unfortunately, they were late or confused (or both) on several contests last night and the Grizzlies went 6-for-11 (54.5 percent), with reserves Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and Quincy Pondexter combining to shoot 5-for-6 from beyond the arc.
In fact, three-point shooting is what turned this game around in Memphis’ favor.
Chicago held the Grizzlies to 4-for-22 shooting in the first quarter and led 20-11 after the first 12 minutes. However, less than three minutes into the second quarter, the Grizzlies had hit a couple threes (one each by Bayless and Pondexter) and a 22-footer (by Bayless) to pull to within 22-19.
Then midway into the quarter, Ellington drilled an 18-footer and three consecutive three-point shots in a span of about two minutes to turn a 22-20 deficit lead into a 31-28 lead. The Bulls never got the momentum back after that.
The Grizzlies weren’t doing anything particularly special. Most of these shots came off basic drive-and-kick plays.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: ”The whole game changed in the second quarter. We didn’t cover the (3-point) line. We let guys get loose, not reading penetrating drives and flat drives, over-helping, not recognizing what’s going on in the game. Throwing possessions away.”
Even worse, the Bulls failed to protect their defensive glass. The Grizzlies ripped down 18 offensive rebounds. And while those extra opportunities “only” translated into 13 second-chance points, the boards themselves still represent offensive opportunities they Bulls lost.
These are the nights when the absences of Derrick Rose and (to a much lesser extent) Rip Hamilton become glaring. The Bulls were living an offensive nightmare last night.
Carlos Boozer “led” the Bulls in scoring with 16 points on 17 shot attempts. Luol Deng also attempted 17 shots but finished with only 11 points. Kirk Hinrich — in his first game back from yet another injury (left knee bruise) — was a typically dismal 2-for-8. Deng and Hinrich also combined to shoot 0-for-8 from downtown. Marco Belinelli went 2-for-3 on triples but finished only 4-for-12. Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson were 3-for-9 off the bench.
Percentage-wise, Joakim Noah (5-for-8) and Jimmy Butler (3-f0r-4) were the team’s best shooters. Sadly, Noah either couldn’t work his way into a shot or at times pass up shots despite having deep post position. Maybe the Grizzlies’ interior defense had him hearing footsteps.
In the final tally, the Bulls were held to a season-low 71 points on 37.3 percent shooting. They also went 2-for-11 on three-pointers and even missed seven free throws (13-for-20). That last part was pretty uncharacteristic, given that the Bulls rank third in the NBA in Free Throw Percentage (80.1 percent) and had gone 66-for-75 (88 percent) over their previous four games.
Bench Production (or the Lack Thereof):
The Memphis reserves outperformed their Chicago counterparts in scoring (31-16), rebounding (16-7), assists (6-2) and blocked shots (3-1). But the plus-minus scores tell a bigger story:
Taj Gibson: -14
Jimmy Butler: -12
Nate Robinson: -3
Not only did the Grizzlies have greater depth — going 10-deep compared to eight-deep — but their bench was wildly more productive. The Memphis reserves were the ones who led the charge back after their terrible first quarter. They had energy and made key plays, whether it was the hot three-point shooting by Bayless, Ellington and Pondexter, or the combined 7 offensive boards for Pondexter and Speights.
The Final Word:
Despite the offensive meltdown, the Bulls could have won this game had they 1) done a better job closing out on Memphis’ three-point shooters, 2) done a better job on the offensive glass, 3) knocked down free throws at their usual rate and 4) taken better care of the basketball (they committed 16 turnovers).
Would it have helped to have Derrick Rose in a game like this? Of course. Heck, it would have helped if Deng had hit a three or if Hinrich could throw a shot into the ocean.
But realistically, the Bulls could have changed the outcome of the game by taking care of all those little details I mentioned. Contesting three-pointers, blocking out and converting free throws don’t require a superstar nor are they affected when shots aren’t falling. Fundamental basketball can still win games…as the Bulls proved last season and have proved at times this season.
They just have to go out and do it.
The Bulls were outrebounded 51-39 (including 18-10 on the offensive glass) and outscored 28-14 in the second quarter. They shot okay at the rim (12-for-20), but went 11-for-34 (32 percent) from 16 feet and out.
Player of the Game:
I’ve got to give this one to Boozer. He didn’t shoot well (7-for-17), but he led the team in points (16) and rebounds (13) and was the only Bulls player to have a positive plus-minus score (+1). Neither Randolph nor Gasol took advantage of his D. But then, Boozer’s defense is usually at its best against slower big men who like to wrestle down low. Speed and lateral movement are Boozer’s weaknesses, not brute force.
Goat of the Night:
Hinrich had another terrible night in a season full of them, scoring only 4 points on 8 shots, missing all four of his three-point attempts and finishing with more turnovers (3) than assists (1).
Quote of the Night: Noah said: “We got outrebounded. We got to do a better job at rebounding the ball as a team,” said Noah. “I feel like we got a lot of good stops, then we ran transition. We got to get better at scoring in transition. We are getting good stops and we are getting on the break, but we are just not getting those easy points. We are turning the ball over a little bit too much on the break. If we can score on those, we can be better. It is a step back because we lost. It is always. That is the one reason why it is a step back. But you know there is another one tomorrow. We don’t have time to get too down. Learn from it and move on.”
The Bulls hit the road for a short trip to take on the Grizzlies, before flying back home to face the Celtics on Tuesday night.
The Grizzlies were great out of the gates, winning 12 of their first 14 games. But haven’t had the same success since then, going 4-3 over their last seven. Memphis did snap a three game losing streak their last time out, when they topped the Jazz by 13. Zach Randolph dropped 25 points to go with 16 rebounds; Marc Gasol went for 16 points and 8 rebounds, while Mike Conley added 12 points and 8 assists.
Memphis dominated their opponents on the glass, outrebounding Utah 48-35. They also won the battle in the paint, scoring 50 points to the Jazz’s 38. That came against Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who are great bigs themselves.
The inside battle is going to be key, as Memphis has arguably the best big man duo in the league. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer are going to have their hands full trying to slow Randolph and Gasol down. Expect to see a little more of Taj Gibson tonight, in an effort to try and hold Memphis’ bigs from tearing Boozington apart on the defensive end.
Points are going to be tough to come by tonight. Even if the Bulls do stop the Grizzlies, which won’t be easy considering Memphis is 10th in offensive rating, they are going to have a tough time scoring points of their own. The Griz own the second best defensive rating in the league (99.9). The Bulls are third in defensive rating at 100.3 and 20th in offensive rating (103.2).
Chicago is looking for its fifth straight road victory, and third consecutive win overall. The Bulls topped Brooklyn Saturday night, getting a one-point win behind 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks from Joakim Noah. Marco Belinelli scored 19 points on 6-9 shooting and Luol Deng chipped in 17 points and seven boards.
The Bulls trailed 77-71 with less than five minutes left, but a line-up lead by Marquis Teague brought the Bulls back for the victory. Teague scored four points and Belinelli added six, in the final five minutes of the game. Deron Williams hit a three at the buzzer to make it a one point win, but really the Bulls outscored Brooklyn 12-2 over the final five minutes, an amazing defensive effort (the two points the Nets scored came on free throws from Williams).
“We played great defense the last three or four minutes,” Belinelli correctly observed after the game. “That’s why we won the game.”
Kirk Hinrich will be in for the Bulls, after missing the last two games with a knee injury. With Hinrich returning, it probably spells the disappearance of Teague’s minutes, which is unfortunate because it was nice to him getting playing time. Per 36 minutes, Teague is averaging 9.8 points (38.1 percent FG) and 6.5 assists. Hinrich’s per 36 numbers are 8.8 points (36.1 percent) and 7.3 assists.
Nets Injury Report:
Jerry Stackhouse: missed Friday’s game vs. Detroit (sore right knee)
Brook Lopez: played Friday vs. Detroit (foot)
After having off since their Wednesday night win in Philadelphia, the Bulls will square off against Brooklyn, who will be playing on their second night of a back-to-back after going to double overtime with Detroit on Friday night.
For once, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng may not be the most tired guys on the court.
Gerald Wallace played 50 minutes, Joe Johnson played 52 and Deron Williams played 43, which is actually a normal night for Deng or Jo. Brook Lopez was limited last night (24 minutes) and probably won’t play tonight because of a foot injury.
In Joe Johnson’s 52nd minute of playing time, he hit a buzzer beating, long two-pointer to top the Pistons 107-105. Johnson led all scorers with 28 points (12-22 from the field) while teammate Gerald Wallace recorded a double-double of 25 points and ten rebounds. Reggie Evans failed to score in 34 minutes before fouling out, but grabbed ten boards and got two steals. Andray Blatche continued his surprisingly competent season as he dropped 16 points, while shooting 7-12.
The Nets turned it over just eleven times in the entire game. The Bulls have had just three games all season in which they turned it over eleven or fewer times. One of those was their most recent game, against the Sixers. Another was December 7th against the same Pistons team, in which they turned it over eight times. The Pistons are 28th in opponent turnover percentage.
Although the Nets held onto the ball well (so did the Pistons, who turned it over 13 times) they let Detroit run all over them. The Pistons racked up 25 fast break points. They averaged 14.1 coming into Friday’s game. Brooklyn also got outrebounded 54-43 overall, including 18-10 on the offensive glass. The Nets overcame this by shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from deep.
The Bulls will probably also be without a starter as Kirk Hinrich, who is dealing with a bruised knee, could miss the game. Being the type of coach that always informs the media, Tom Thibodeau gave tons of information on Friday on Kirk’s status. “He could (play Saturday),” Thibodeau said. “He’s a lot better today.” Either way the Bulls will surely have “more than enough to win with.”
While the Nets look to build on their last-second win over Detroit, the Bulls can continue their longest winning streak of the season tonight. Chicago topped Philadelphia on Wednesday night behind another big night from Joakim Noah (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists). Deng tallied a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Marco Belinelli (16) and Nate Robinson (14) both scored in double figures. The only starter not to reach double digits was Carlos Boozer, who finished with just five points on 1-6 shooting.
Philly shot better than the Bulls (45.1 percent to 43.6), outrebounded the Bulls (44-39) and dominated the paint (44-32), but Thibodeau’s squad still found a way to win. That way was the free throw line. They hit 24-26 from the charity stripe, while Philly hit just five of eleven. That’s 19 more points from the line for Chicago. Those 26 free throws are a good sign that the Bulls were attacking the basket, rather than settling for jumpers, which is their usual modus operandi.
The injury as reported isn’t serious and Hinrich is listed as day-to-day. Still, Captain Kirk — who was plagued by injuries in his previous two seasons in Atlanta — has already had minor injuries to his thumb, hip, groin and elbow.
Joakim Noah’s Revenge:
After a sub-par game the previous night against the Clippers, Noah bounced back in a major way: 44 minutes, 7-for-10 from the field, 7-for-7 from the free throw line, 21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocked shots and a steal.
During the fourth quarter, Jo dished out 3 crucial assists, nailed a 17-foot dagger to give the Bulls a 90-83 lead with 1:14 to go and then went 2-for-2 from the line with 39 seconds left when the Sixers were forced to foul. Noah’s focus was crystal clear on the first of those three assists — a thread-the-needle laser to Luol Deng for a layup.
Here was a guy who had played 40+ minutes the night before and — like the rest of the team — arrived in Philadelpha via chartered flight at around 3:30 a.m. Where was he getting the juice?
The Philly fans.
Turns out he’s still harboring hard feelings because they cheered after he suffered a badly sprained ankle in Game 3 of last year’s Sixers-Bulls first round playoff series.
Said Noah: “I’ve been thinking about it all summer. All summer, I just couldn’t wait to come back here. I just felt like when I went down last year just people cheering and stuff, I felt like that was real disrespectful and it was definitely motivating for me to work even harder to work in the summer.”
Noah hammed it up after the game, waving goodbye and blowing kisses to the Sixers fans on his way to the locker room.
Said Noah: “And I’m going to do it for the rest of my career. Every time I come here. (The booing) motivates me. I’ll never forget what happened in the playoffs when I went down, and I will use that as motivation every time I come into this building.”
And it sure seemed like Noah’s motivation spurred on his teammates.
Said Jimmy Butler: “Tonight it was kind of personal for him. He was really excited to play here, he was ready to go. He was hyped before the game, in the hotel room, on the bus on the way over here. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s really ready to go.’ … You could tell by his demeanor, he was very serious, he got dressed quick, went in there to get his treatment, went out there to go shoot. He was focused the entire time, focused on the floor, and he was out there just doing what Jo does.”
The Comeback of Luol Deng:
Like Noah, Deng struggled in long minutes against the Clippers. And, like Noah, Deng came back gangbusters: 37 minutes, 7-for-17 from the field, 5-for-5 from the line, 19 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal.
Lu scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, going 4-for-6 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line. His scoring spree included a 23-foot in-your-face jumper as the shot clock was about to buzz.
The Bulls have had turnover issues all season. True to form, they let a potential victory against the Clippers get away by giving up 22 points off 19 turnovers.
They cleaned things up against the Sixers, giving up only 8 points off 13 miscues.
Capitalizing at the Line:
The Bulls had a huge 26-11 edge in free throw attempts last night. That advantage got even bigger because the Bulls converted 92 percent of their freebies while the Sixers converted only 45 percent of theirs.
Chicago’s biggest guns (Deng and Noah) combined to go 12-for-12. Meanwhile, Philly’s Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young were 1-for-7.
Knocking down free throws is about preparation and focus…and the Bulls had both going for them last night. Going +19 in points at the charity stripe is a good way to come away with road wins in the NBA.
Overpowered in the Paint:
The Sixers owned a 44-39 edge in total rebounds and a 14-9 advantage in offensive boards. They also outscored the Bulls 44-32 in the paint while converting 80 percent of their shots attempts at the rim (21-for-26).
Defending the Perimeter:
The Sixers may have been great in the paint, but they were awful from deep. Philly shot 32 percent from 16-23 feet (9-for-28) and 14 percent from three-point range (2-for-14). That’s a total of 11-for-42 (26 percent) from 16 feet and out. Credit the Bulls’ D. Everybody was closing out and contesting outside shots.
Holiday hit the Bulls for a game-high 26 points, but it took him 28 shots to do it. During the fourth quarter, he went 1-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 at the charity stripe.
With Hinrich out, Marquis Teague was pushed into 20 minutes of PT. He looked good. His stat line was okay — 6 points (2-for-6), 4 assists, 2 steals, no turnovers — but all 6 of his points came in the fourth quarter (including 2-for-2 at the line when the Sixers were forced to foul) and he played spirited D.
He also had a great no-look pass to Jimmy Butler for a layup in the second quarter.
Sophomore Rising Too:
Butler put in a solid 29 minutes and finished with 9 points (4-for-8), 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Like Teague, Butler played tough D and had a strong final quarter. Specifically, he hit two key jumpers — a 17-footer off a nice feed from Taj Gibson that put the Bulls up 79-78 with 5:56 left and a spot-up three that gave the Bulls an 82-80 lead with 4:31 left.
I liked that Jimmy rose to the occasion with those shots. He showed none of the hesitation that dogged him early in the season. His game is really developing.
One Up and One Down:
Marco Belinelli continued to provide the kind of offensive punch that may be earning him a spot in the starting lineup. Marco went 6-for-13 from the field, 1-for-2 on threes and 3-for-4 from the line, finishing with 16 points. He also had 2 boards, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Carlos Boozer, on the other hand, looked way off: 26 minutes, 1-for-6, 6 boards, 5 points, 2 assists, 2 turnovers. Hard to believe this was the same guy who was Chicago’s best offensive options against the Clippers the night before.
Right now, with Derrick Rose rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee and Rip Hamilton recovering from a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, the Clippers are a better team than the Bulls. They have a better record. They have more talent.
That said, the Bulls still could have beaten them last night.
But they did not.
Here are four reasons: 17, 17, 22, and 50.
17 as in the number fast break points the Clippers scored.
17 as in the number of turnovers committed by the Bulls.
22 as in how many points the Clippers scored off those turnovers.
50 as in how many points the Clippers scored in the paint.
When playing a superior team, the lesser team has almost no margin for error.
The Bulls could have survived poor shooting nights from Joakim Noah (4-for-9), Luol Deng (3-for-14) and Marco Belinelli (6-for-22) if they’d taken care of the little things.
Getting back in transition.
Protecting the rim.
Taking care of the basketball.
Instead, the Clippers did major damage in transition, even putting on a dunk fest in the second quarter.
They also went 21-for-27 at the rim — a 77.8 percent conversion rate — with Blake Griffin (7-for-9) and DeAndre Jordan (3-for-3) doing most of the damage.
And there were those damn turnovers.
The Bulls were leading 38-37 with 3:44 to go in the first half. Then Deng had a pass stolen and Griffin got a dunk on the other end. On Chicago’s next possession, Belinelli lost the ball and Griffin got another slam. A few possessions later, Noah got stripped and Jordan finished L.A.’s next possession with a putback dunk of his own.
By halftime, the Bulls were down 47-40. That was a critical sequence.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: ”The end of the second quarter changed the game. We started dancing with the ball. And when you do that, it leads to turnovers, live-ball transition buckets. We shot ourselves in the foot there. And the end of the third was pretty much the same. You can’t do that against good teams.”
The only thing that kept the Bulls in the game was their three-point shooting, which was an uncharacteristic 10-for-20. Of course, after starting 8-for-10 on threes, they finished with a 2-for-10 stretch we like to call “regressing to the mean.”
The Bulls were also challenged offensively. To be frank, L.A.’s length and athleticism killed the Bulls. The Clippers were able to stay close enough to challenge jump shots while laying back far enough to clog the paint and gum up the passing lanes. And, let’s face it, nobody on Chicago’s roster was beating anybody on L.A.’s roster off the dribble.
Last night’s juxtaposition with the Clippers provided a rather grim example of how modest the Bulls’ talents are in terms of team speed and jumping ability.
That made every nearly every offensive possession an ugly, grind-it-out affair, with plenty of misses (the Bulls shot 40.2 percent) and a rather typical reliance on offensive rebounding (the Bulls had 18) just to stay in the game. Carlos Boozer (24 points on 11-for-20 shooting) and Taj Gibson (10 points on 4-for-5 shooting) had it going…but that was it.
As is often the case, the Bulls tried to overcome their offensive deficiencies by passing the rock, but the Clippers seemed to have an arm or hand everywhere and finished with 11 steals.
I admit to obsessing over the turnover problem, but it’s meaningful. The Bulls rank 26th in Pace (90.3 possessions per 48 minutes), 23rd in Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.9) and 28th in Turnover Percentage (14.8). In summary, they’re slow, shoot poorly and lose the ball a lot.
Simply put, the Bulls are not good enough to keep turning the ball over at this rate. The Bulls were absolutely in last night’s game and absolutely could have come away with a win. But they lost 17 possessions and their opponent turned those 17 lost possessions into 22 points.
There is no safety net of Derrick Rose. There is no safety net of the Bench Mob.
Despite their stellar defense, the Bulls can’t possibly hope to be much better than a .500-ish team if they keep turning the ball over at this rate.
Remember: Belinelli drilled a three to pull the Bulls to within 89-87 with under a minute to go. You think the team would like their 5 fourth quarter turnovers back? You think five extra possessions over the final 12 minutes might have made a difference?
Clippers Injury Report:
Chauncey Billups: out (foot tendinitis)
Grant Hill: out (bone bruise in knee)
Trey Thompkins: out (bone bruise in knee)
Coming off their best win of the season over the Knicks, the Bulls task doesn’t get any easier as the Clippers visit the United Center.
Chicago topped New York, who was without Carmelo Anthony, in their fourth game in five nights behind 22 points from each Marco Belinelli and Luol Deng. Since Belinelli was put in the starting line-up, he is averaging 16.8 points per game and is dropping 20.3 points over the last three contests in 41.7 minutes. His shooting has also improved as he’s shooting 47.9 percent as a starter, up from 41.7 on the year.
Belinelli went 1-6 for three points in 17 minutes the last time the Bulls and Clippers met. Not to be outdone, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich both went ohfer. Noah shot 0-6 from the field and recorded seven rebounds and four assists. Hinrich went 0-5, but dished ten assists and coughed it over five times. Hamilton went 6-11 for 14 points, the second best on the Bulls’ team, behind Boozer’s 22 points (10-19).
And, like any good person who cares about his community, when Boozer takes something, he gives back. Blake Griffin posted a double-double (26 points, ten rebounds) while hitting 11-18 shots. Jamal Crawford was hot off the bench, as he’s been all year, dropping 22 points.
The Bulls shot a vomit-inducing 33.7 percent while the Clippers scored at 49.3 percent. Those differences were due in part because Los Angeles scored 26 fast break points, to the Bulls’ ten, and 48 in the paint.
Tom Thibodeau is going to expect a better defensive effort than that, especially since the Bulls have had a few days off since their four games in five nights stretch.
All things considered, the Bulls are happy with their current three game winning streak, but that’s just half what the Clippers have. Los Angeles is in the midst of their second six-game winning streak of the season, while Chicago has put together its most wins all year. The Clips are outscoring opponents by an average of 16.8 points per game during their current streak.
But the Bulls have found that defense that won them games last year, as they have held five of their last six opponents under 90 points, including their last game in which they held a Melo-less Knicks team to 32.1 percent shooting. Chicago is allowing 88.3 points per game in the United Center this season, even though they are just 6-5 at home.
Belinelli has been playing well, but the Bulls will need a lot from him if they want to protect their home court against the Pacific-leading Clippers. “(Saturday) we played offense and defense, rebound, ran,” Belinelli said. “That’s the way we have to play.”
After sitting out the second half of Saturday’s victory over the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich practiced fully on Monday and will play in Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Hinrich said he hyper-extended his left elbow to the point it sprained but that treatment on Sunday helped the injury.
That’s obviously great news for a Bulls team already without Derrick Rose (knee rehab) and Richard Hamilton (torn plantar fascia). Hinrich has been dogged by injuries the past couple seasons, and he’s already had to deal with some minor nicks this season (groin, hip, thumb).
Said Hinrich: “It was hurting for the last couple days. It’s feeling much better and it’s good news. [The elbow did alright [at Monday's practice], so hopefully it will improve a little bit by [Tuesday] because in the last couple days I’ve improved a lot.”
Hinrich is shooting a career-worst 35.7 percent this season. So let’s hope that elbow is feeling a lot better by tonight.
Noah to the Next Level:
As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell noted, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gave Joakim Noah both a compliment and a challenge after his amazing 30-23-6 game against the Pistons on Friday night.
Said Thibs: “It’s in him. It’s in him. I think he’s got to continue to push himself. I think he could do a lot better than he’s doing right now. He’s worked at his game, but there’s things (in his game) I still think that he could get to that he hasn’t gotten to yet.”
I’ve also been saying Jo could do better than he has been. And don’t get me wrong: Noah has been a beast for much of the season. And yet his production hasn’t increased the way you’d expect it to given that he’s logging nine-plus minutes more per game than he did last season.
His Player Efficiency Rating is down a bit. Ditto for his Effective Field Goal and True Shooting Percentages. His Offensive Rebounding Percentage is at a career-low, and his Defensive and Total Rebounding Percentages are the lowest they’ve been since his rookie season.
Still, his Block and Steal Percentages are up, his Assist Percentage is a career-high by five points, and he’s leading the league in Defensive Win Shares. Extrapolating, Noah is the foundation and safety net of a team defense that ranks third in the league in Defensive Rating (100.5 points per 100 possessions).
And boy, he’s playing lots of minutes. As Friedell noted, during Chicago’s recent four-games-in-five-nights gulag, Noah logged 171:35 out of a possible 192 minutes.
For starters, based on a suggestion from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Noah has started doing yoga on off-days to help with recovery. He’s also become a proponent of underwater workouts under the tutelage of surfer Laird Hamilton.
Said Noah: “He surfs 60-, 70-foot giants. You fall, you could die. Talk about mental toughness. When you have a 60-foot monster, you can be under (water) for two or three minutes, so you have to train for that. He’ll use weights and do like jumps underwater. He can do like 10 jumps. I can do like three. It’s unbelievable, just for your lung capacity and stuff like that. It really helped me doing these pool workouts.”
Finally, Noah has been following any and all advice he can get from fellow Major Minute Man, Luol Deng.
Said Noah: “Whenever I feel real bad, I always go to Lu and ask him, ‘What should I do?’ He’s been doing this for a long time. He definitely has tricks up his sleeve. Recovery, icing. I think the most important thing is just sleep. I have a hard time with that sometimes, just getting to bed.”
Last night, the Bulls earned their first three-game winning streak of the season.
And it was their best win of the season.
They did it without Derrick Rose as usual. They did it without the injured Rip Hamilton. They did on the second night of back-to-back games which also happened to be their fourth game in five nights despite the fact that Kirk Hinrich left after 14 minutes with an elbow injury and Taj Gibson was ejected in the second quarter.
Here’s how it happened.
Shutting Down the Three:
After the game, New York’s Raymond Felton said: “Ain’t nothing they did that was so special, they just took away the 3s. I got inside the paint like I wanted to, but at the same time, they took away the 3s and didn’t let us get good shots.”
Ain’t nothing they did that was so special, Ray? You sure about that?
The Knicks are three-point snipers. They rank first in the league in three-point attempts (557) and three-pointers (226), and they’re third in three-point percentage (40.6 percent).
The three is their primary weapon.
The Knicks arrived at the United Center riding a five-game winning streak during which they were stroking the three big time:
Game 1: 11-for-21 (52%)
Game 2: 12-for-29 (41%)
Game 3: 12-for-29 (41%)
Game 4: 13-for-41 (32%)
Game 5: 18-for-44 (41%)
Now let’s look at the Defensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) of the teams they Knicks faced during that winning streak. League ranks are in parentheses.
The Bulls Defensive Rating is 100.4. They rank fourth in the league. Moreover, they rank third in three-point attempts allowed (319) and second in both opponent three-pointers made (101) and opponent three-point percentage (31.7). And that defense limited the Knicks to 8-for-23 shooting (34.8 percent) from downtown.
So, with all due respect to Mr. Felton, what the Bulls did was very special.
Chicago’s D was focused on not giving up open threes. Felton was one of the primary “victims” of this defense. They ran at him and forced him to drive, likely knowing that Felton converts only 52 percent of his shots at the rim and a dismal 35 percent of his shots from 3-9 feet. Felton is at his best outside the paint, but the Bulls kept luring him into it where, more often than not, Joakim Noah was waiting.
Said Felton: “They were just setting back in the paint. They made sure I had to attack the big, and that’s why I took so many shots tonight. Do I like to take 30 shots? No. I’m a point guard. But if I have to, I have to.”
The result: Felton got off only three three-point attempts…while jacking up 27 shots inside the arc. He ended up 9-for-30 on the night. Several of Felton’s misses went right to Tyson Chandler (18 rebounds, 14 points, 1 blocked shot), who had a game-high 9 offensive rebounds…just one fewer than the Bulls grabbed as a team.
But overall, the strategy was a success.
According to ESPN Stats and Information: “The Bulls defense took the Knicks out of their game Saturday, holding New York to a season-low 85 points. Chicago shut down the perimeter and forced the Knicks into 47 pick-and-roll plays, nearly double their season average. The Knicks shot just 31 percent on pick-and-rolls, including 21 percent by point guard Raymond Felton.”
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah Come Through Again:
They’re ranked first and second in minutes per game. They logged 40 or more minutes in all four of this four-games-in-five-nights stretch. And last night, Deng (46:34) and Noah (44:19) once again very nearly went the limit.
Deng responded with a co-team-high 22 points to go with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Noah — who looked utterly gassed coming off his monster 30-23-6 game the previous night — had 11 boards, 10 points, 4 blocks, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Of course, Noah also had 9 turnovers, barely missing the dreaded triple bumble.
Still, what Deng and Noah are doing is borderline superhuman, even Wilt Chamberlain-esque.
Said Deng: “You just keep focusing in on getting a win. While the game is going on, you do not feel fatigue.”
Added Noah: “It was a hard battle out there. I was really tired out there. I was tired, but it’s all worth it right now.”
Marco Belinelli On the Rise:
Heading into the month of December, Belinelli looked like a complete and utter bust. Uncertain on offense, lost on defense, Marco was driving Bulls fans crazy with his lousy shooting.
His stats for November: 5.2 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.6 APG, 37.3 percent shooting.
Then Hamilton tore the plantar fascia in his left foot and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided to start Belinelli at the two spot.
In his second start, Belinelli dropped a season-high 23 points on the Cavaliers. Then he scored 16 in Detroit. Pretty sweet, but I’m not sure anybody expected that to continue.
But it did. Belinelli scorched the Knicks with 15 first quarter points — including this ridiculous buzzer-beater — and finished with 22 on 8-for-15 shooting, which included going 4-for-6 on threes and 2-for-2 at the line. He also had three steals and his one assist was one of the biggest of the game: Marco fed Noah for a layup with 56 seconds left that put the Bulls up 89-82.
That may have been the killing blow.
Said Belinelli: “I was ready to find (Noah) and other guys. I don’t want to be just a 3-point shooter. I want to be a complete player.”
Marco may be one of those players who perform better starting than coming off the bench. Which leads to the obvious question of what happens when Hamilton returns from injury?
Time will tell.
Productive in Limited Time:
Despite the fact that the Bulls were short-handed, Carlos Boozer logged only 22 minutes. But he still managed a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) despite being relegated to spot duty due to match-up issues.
The Bulls are the anti-Knicks in that they rank 30th in both three-pointers attempted (235) and made (78), and 25th in three-point percentage (33.2 percent). But they flipped that script last night, going 7-for-13 from deep (53.8 percent).
Free Throw Proficiency:
Last season, the Bulls ranked 27th in Free Throw Percentage at 72.2 percent.
It was a problem.
That problem has apparently been solved this season. After last night’s 18-for-18 showing, the Bulls rank second in Free Throw Percentage at 80.3 percent. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder (83.7 percent) enjoy a better conversion rate at the foul line.
Considering how slim the Bulls’ margin of error is this season, any opportunity for easy points is critical.
More Turnover Problems:
The Bulls rank a lowly 21st in Turnovers Per Game (15.7). Last night’s 19-turnover performance was the eighth time this season the Bulls have committed 14 or more turnovers.
Chicago held New York to season-lows in points (85) and field goal percentage (32.1 percent). The Knicks normally average 102.3 PPG (6th in the NBA) on 44.8 percent shooting (10th).
Gibson on His Ejection:
“I called [referee Derrick Stafford] by his name (saying), ‘Derrick, there were some tough calls early.’ I just expressed my opinion. I said, ‘you have to watch, it’s real physical’ and he just turned and T’d me up. I said, ‘are you serious?’ and he T’d me up again. Boom.
“He must have just felt I had an attitude. I’m not even a guy who causes trouble. I ask questions the whole game. I smile. For me to get two (technicals), I was shocked. I was in the back like, ‘did that really just happen?’”
Gibson went on to say that, from now on, “I’m going to let ‘Thibs’ ask the questions for me.”
Looks like rookie Marquis Teague just moved up in the rotation.
Said Gibson: “We’ve been playing like this forever, it seems. Every year we always have one or two guys hurt. Crucial players hurt and we always continue to step up.”
Added Thibs: “In the NBA, you can find an excuse every night. The bottom line is you have to find a way to get it done. I don’t want these guys looking forward or looking back. I just want them to concentrate on the Clippers, our next game. I want to keep concentrating on improving.”
Knicks Injury Report:
Carmelo Anthony: questionable (lacerated finger)
Marcus Cmby: out (plantar fasciitis)
Raymond Felton: probable (thumb)
Iman Shumpert: out (knee surgery)
Amare Stoudemire: out (knee surgery)
The Bulls didn’t start well against Detroit, but behind Joakim Noah’s career night, they pulled out their 16th straight win against the Pistons and can now string together their longest winning streak of the year against the top team in the East.
The Pistons shot 51 percent last night against the Bulls, including 55 percent in the first quarter. It goes without saying that the Bulls can’t let that happen again, but the defense will have to be a lot better to slow the Knicks. New York is second in offensive efficiency and third in effective field goal percentage. Detroit was 26th in offensive rating and 18th in effective field goal percentage.
The Bulls could luck out though, as Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton may not be able to go. Felton is listed as probable, but played Thursday night, while Melo is questionable. The Knicks were without Anthony when they faced the Heat, but still put up an offensive efficiency of 117.9. Miami has been struggling on defense this season, but that is an impressive offensive showing without their star forward. It’s also important to remember they’ve done all of this without Amare Stoudemire in the line-up.
Raymond Felton scored 27 points and dished seven assists Thursday against the Heat. Felton hit 6-10 from three, and the Knicks went 18-44 (41 percent) from beyond the arc in the game. Steve Novak hit 4-9 from deep to chip in 18 points. The 20-point defeat was Miami’s worst home loss in the Big Three era.
New York is shooting 40.8 percent from beyond the arc as a team this season, and has made 218 threes so far (the next closest team, the Lakers, have made 173).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bulls have made 71, good for last place in the league. The Grizzlies, who are second to last, have made 97. Chicago is 27th in the league in three point percentage (32 percent). The two teams couldn’t be more different on offense. The Bulls almost never take threes, while the Knicks live by it. Chicago has taken 222 threes this season, only four more than the Knicks have made.
If the Bulls win tonight, they will move to three games above .500, the most games above the middle mark they’ve been all season.
New York is hot right now, having won five straight. Three of those wins came against the Wizards, Suns and Bobcats, while the other two came against Milwaukee and Miami. There’s no question that the Knicks are one of the best teams in the league, and are sitting atop the Eastern Conference right now.
And this isn’t the time the Bulls wanted to go up against such a strong team. Chicago is on their last legs, being on the second night of a back-to-back. Tonight will be the Bulls’ fourth games in five nights. This is one where Gregg Popovich would sit his player, but not Tom Thibodeau.
Noah played 43 minutes last night, Luol Deng played 42 and Marco Belinelli logged 40. Even Boozer (39) and Hinrich (36) got a lot of run. Over the three game run, Noah has played 39, 44 and 43 minutes. Deng played for 41, 42 and 42. It’s hard to imagine Thibs giving these guys some rest, even if the game gets out of reach. The Bulls are 1-2 this season on back-to-backs.
Reason to Rejoice:
Joakim Noah went into full-on Beast Mode against the Pistons.
The line: 30 points, 23 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. Noah was efficient both from the field (12-for-19) and the free throw line (6-for-7). It was flat-out video game-like. He did everything except hit a three. And if he’d done that, even I would have been demanding a blood test after the game.
Noah was that good.
This wasn’t just a career-best game for Noah. It was one of the great games in Bulls history, which is saying something truly special considering this team’s history is crammed full of legendary performances by a certain Mr. Michael Jeffrey Jordan. And lets not forget the likes of Artis Gilmore, Bob Love, Chet Walker, Derrick Rose, Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier and Scottie Pippen.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Noah is only the third Bulls player to have at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 5 assists in a single game, joining Charles Oakley (who had 35-26-7 on March 15, 1986) and Mickey Johnson (who had 31-20-5 on February 26, 1978).
Said Carlos Boozer: ”I told him that was some Shaq-type numbers. Because we needed every rebound, we needed every point, and he gave it to us. Jo’s one of them guys that always works hard; people don’t give him enough credit. He busts his butt every day, he’s working on his game. People don’t understand how talented he really is because everybody thinks he’s just a defender, but he goes hard. He’s in the gym early working on his game, in the gym late working on his game … I know the numbers were astronomical tonight but he’s been great really all season to be quite frank.”
Actually, Shaq never had numbers like Noah did tonight. ESPN Stats and Information reports that only three other players have had a 30-23-6 night in the last 25 seasons: Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett. That’s pretty good company. Even if O’Neal wasn’t invited to this particular party.
The best part? Noah — who had a double-double in both halves of this game — won’t let this game go to his head. Not with so much work left to be done.
Said Noah: ”It feels great to play well and win. We just got another one (Saturday) so you can’t get too happy even though it’s crazy to have numbers like that. But I’m happy we won and you just got to move on.”
Reason to Worry:
Noah was transcendent.
Carlos Boozer had a really strong game himself (24 points, 12-for-19, 6 boards).
Luol Deng was his usual steady, all-around self (16 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks).
And Marco Belinelli had another strong offensive game with 16 points.
The Pistons built a 17-point second quarter lead before the Bulls came back.
They also almost made a comeback of their own after the Bulls built what looked like a comfortable lead late in the fourth quarter.
Detroit finished the game with absolutely ridiculous offensive numbers against one of the league’s best defensive units. The Pistons shot 51 percent from the field and 57 percent from beyond the arc. They had an Offensive Rating of 120.9 points per 100 possessions and an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 57.1. Their Free Throw Rate was 44.3.
For most of the game — minus the third quarter — the Pistons got pretty much whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it.
I know the Pistons have been playing much better since their 0-8 start, but this is a team that ranks 21st in Offensive Rating at 102.7 points per 100 possessions.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “I was not pleased with our defense at all. The rebounding was okay. We’re going to have to do a lot better. The second quarter was an abomination. We gave them everything, pick-and-rolls, cuts, ball watching. We allowed guys to play to their strengths. So we dug ourselves a hole. We kept within striking distance. The start of the third was very good, the fourth we showed a lot of toughness.”
The Fourth Quarter:
Like Thibs said, there were parts of the fourth quarter when the Bulls showed the kind of savvy and toughness you’d expect from a team that won the most regular season games in the league the previous two seasons.
With just over six minutes to go and the Bulls clinging to an 89-87 lead, Boozer dove on the floor, ripped the ball away from a couple Pistons players, and fed Hinrich for a three-pointer. On the Bulls next possession, Deng faked out the defense and hit Noah for a layup. Chicago’s next three possessions ended with scores by Boozer — the final of which was a sweet left-handed jam — that were assisted by Belinelli, Hinrich and Noah.
Boozer’s dunk put the Bulls up 100-93 with 3:17 remaining. The Pistons called a 20-second time-out but got nothing out of their next play (a missed jumper by Tayshaun Prince). Chicago went on to use almost the entire shot clock driving and kicking and passing and driving and kicking some more until Hinrich found Deng for a triple that put the Bulls up 103-93 with two and a half minutes to go. And it felt like the game was over.
But it wasn’t.
Belinelli fouled Brandon Knight, who went 2-for-2 at the line. Deng missed an 18-footer on the other end. Deng made up for it by blocking Knight’s subsequent layup attempt, but the Pistons got the offensive rebound and Greg Monroe finished Detroit’s offensive sequence with a layup. On the other end, Marco chucked up a three-point attempt that missed badly.
The Pistons had a couple empty offensive possessions and were forced to foul. Noah and Belinelli went 4-for-4, but Rodney Stucky followed those freebies with two of his own. On the ensuing inbounds play, Monroe ripped the ball away from Hinrich and dunked it. Bad play for the Bulls, who were now up only 107-101 with 26 seconds left.
Despite a time-out by Thibodeau, Belinelli lost the ball. But Monroe missed a layup attempt. Kyle Swinger was forced to foul Noah, who went 1-for-2 from the line. Then Stuckey hit a three to make it 108-104 and the Bulls called time. After the break, they managed to inbound the ball and keep it away from the Pistons until time expired.
My point is: The Bulls went from great execution to poor execution in the blink of an eye and made the end of the game far more troublesome than it needed to be. It again highlighted — as if this wasn’t already crystal clear — that the Bulls lack a closer and will continue to lack one until Rose returns.
The Bulls won the rebounding battle 41-28. And if you enjoy advanced metrics, their edge in Total Rebounding Percentage was 59.5% to 40.5%. Their edge in Offensive Rebounding Percentage was 36.2% to 15.1%, which is especially impressive considering the Bulls shot 52.5 percent from the field.
The Bulls also outscored the Pistons 58-38 in the paint. And it wasn’t necessarily because Chicago was more aggressive. The Bulls had only a slight edge in attempts at the rim (28-24) but a might higher conversion rate: They went 24-for-28 (85.8 percent) while the Pistons were 14-for-24 (58.4 percent).
Not surprisingly, Noah (8-for-10), Boozer (7-for-7) and Deng (5-for-6) did most of the damage. Meanwhile, Chicago’s D did a pretty sturdy job on Monroe, who was only 5-for-9 at the rim, and that was including his late strip of Hinrich which led to an uncontested dunk.
Thibs once again leaned heavily on his starters, as a consequence, the Pistons vastly outplayed their Bulls counterparts, with big edges in scoring (49-9), rebounding (8-1) and assists (9-0).
I was particularly troubled that Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler each played 14 minutes and finished with zero rebounds. Both players finished with a plus-minus score of -14.
Gibson’s status is becoming a concern. His field goal shooting (42 percent) is inexcusable for a big man. His Per 36 Minute stats are all below his career averages. His Player Efficiency Rating (12.0), Effective Field Goal Percentage (42.0), True Shooting Percentage (48.3), Offensive Rebounding Percentage (8.1), Total Rebounding Percentage (13.3), Offensive Rating (97) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes are all at career-low levels, and his Turnover Percentage is a career-high. Gibson has regressed on almost every level. He has not had a single double-digit rebounding game this season (and thus no double-doubles).
This is meaningful given that the suspicion has been that Gibson was The Future at Power Forward for the Bulls.
The Bad News:
The Bulls will have a shot at their first three-game winning streak tonight when they play the New York Knicks at the United Center.
Only the Knicks are rested, have the best record in the Eastern Conference, and are coming off a complete beat-down of the Heat in Miami on Thursday night.
What’s more, Belinelli, Deng and Noah all logged 40+ minutes last night, and Boozer logged 39 minutes. This is the team’s fourth game in five nights, and Deng and Noah have played 40 or more minutes in the first three of those games.
Quote of the Night: Noah on former Bulls player Ben Wallace, who was in attendance: “That’s my vet and to have him there means a lot. I learned a lot from him. And even though we lost a lot of games, we spent a lot of time together. That’s my big. And he’s the guy who really taught me a lot. … (Wallace) said I should have had more rebounds and more points. He said I should have had 35. He’s a hater. He’s a hater but that’s why I love him. I’m a hater, too.”
Fun with Numbers:
The Basketball-Reference Play Index found seven games in which a Bulls player had at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists since 1986: