Player of the Game:
Let’s go ahead and get this over with up front: Joakim Noah owned this game.
Noah usually performs well against the Celtics and openly dislikes Boston’s Kevin Garnett. He also hates losing — which the Bulls did on Tuesday night in Memphis — so maybe he was playing with an extra edge.
Whatever the case, Jo had his most complete game of the season and submitted his second career triple-double with 13 rebounds, 11 points and 10 assists. Noah shot 4-for-7 from the field and went 3-for-3 from the line. He also had 3 blocked shots and a steal while playing his usual iron clad defense.
Noah’s passing was the key to the game…and it was contagious. After Noah set the tone, the ball was whipping around in rapid succession as the Bulls repeatedly found the open man. Chicago finished with 28 assists on 37 made field goals.
Said Noah: “I always tell everybody I’m a point center anyway. I always feel like I could pass the ball. I feel more comfortable with the offense, and we have a lot of people who can score the ball in different ways. [Luol Deng] is a great cutter, Carlos [Boozer] catches almost any pass. I can throw it almost anywhere and he’ll catch it. I think it was a great team effort and we just got to keep it going.”
Added Boozer: “[Noah] was amazing, man,” Boozer said. “Great passer. He’s probably the best passing big man in the league. Underrated, plays hard and got great court vision. Honestly, he’s like a point forward for us because we run a lot of plays through him to get other guys shots. You see how efficient he is, we did a good job of getting shots for him. But every game he’s getting five, six assists. Tonight was just an awesome night where he ended up getting a triple-double, but he’ll have a lot more games like that in this system because a lot of our stuff runs through Jo, especially with D. Rose being out.”
Although he’s not rebounding as well nor playing quite as efficiently as last season, Noah is still making a pretty strong case for making his very first All-Star team this season.
Chicago’s D held Boston’s O to 89 points on 43.2 percent shooting. That’s pretty good. And the final score would have been even more lopsided if the Bulls hadn’t pulled back on the throttle and allowed the Celtics to go on a 10-0 run in the final 2:50. But by that point the outcome was decided and there was little point in turning the screws any further.
Rajon Rondo had a whopper of a game (26 points, 9-for-18, 8 assists), and Courtney Lee (7-for-11), Garnett (5-for-10) and Paul Pierce (6-for-10) all shot reasonably well. But Garnett, Lee and Pierce combined for only four free throw attempts and never really imposed their wills on the game.
Boston’s bench did next to nothing. They scored 16 points but shot 5-for-23 from the field.
The Celtics have been one of the league’s best defensive teams ever since acquiring Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves before the 2007-2008 season. Or maybe I should say had been one of the best defensive teams in the league. They aren’t now. Their Defensive Efficiency of 101.7 points allowed per 100 possessions ranks them 12th. That’s closer to the middle of the pack than the top of the hill.
Maybe that explains why — despite playing on the second night of back-to-back games following a true offensive nightmare against the Grizzlies — the Bulls enjoyed an offensive explosion.
Scoring 100 points may not seem that impressive, but the game was played at a slow pace. Adjusting for that, the Bulls were scoring at a rate of 119 points per 100 possessions. That’s a pretty efficient offensive outing.
They did it by shooting 50 percent from the field (37-for-74), 55.6 percent from three-point range (5-for-9) and 87.5 percent from the free throw line (21-for-24). And as if that wasn’t enough, they scored 16 second-chance points off 13 offensive rebounds.
Obviously, it helped that the Celtics aren’t a crack defensive team, but the Bulls were especially aggressive in attacking the basket, especially Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli. In all, Chicago got 30 shot attempts at the rim, converting 23 of them (76.7). And many of their free throws were the result of spirited forays into the paint.
Boston’s interior defense was terrible. They either gave up layups or hacked. Deng was 3-for-3 at the rim and earned 12 free throws. Carlos Boozer was 7-for-9 under the hoop. Taj Gibson was 4-for-4. Noah was 3-for-4. Belinelli was 3-for-5 at the rim and 4-for-4 at the line.
Honestly, I was stunned how easily Belinelli was beating his defender off the dribble. I’m guess Boston coach Doc Rivers was too.
Attacking the rim, not settling for contested jumpers, establishing good spacing and moving the basketball…that’s what the Bulls do when they’re at their best. And that’s what they did last night.
Deng Ends His Slump:
The world at large seems to have reached the point where Deng is no longer judged by how many points he scores or how well he shoots. It’s his all around effort and presence that matters.
That said, Lu entered last night’s game in the midst of a serious shooting slump.
Over his previous six games, Deng had gone 41-for-101 from the field (40.5 percent) and 3-for-15 from downtown (20 percent).
Deng busted his slump the old-fashioned way: He stopped setting for long jump shots. Deng didn’t attempt a single three-pointer. He launched only three shot attempts from 16-23 feet. The rest of his field goal attempts came inside 15 feet. And of course he got those 12 free throw attempts by attacking the basket.
In all, Deng tallied 21 points by shooting 5-for-9 from the field and 11-for-12 at the line.
Explosive Bench Play:
The Bulls bench was embarrassingly outplayed in Memphis. The reverse was the case against the Celtics.
Nate Robinson played like a man possessed — even for him — and erupted for 18 points in 13 minutes. He was insanely hot from deep, going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. He hit open threes, contested threes, and one three that was about five feet behind the line as the shot clock was ticking down.
In point of fact, it was Robinson’s three-point shooting that turned this game into a rout during the fourth quarter. And there was one especially telling sequence that I believe epitomizes all the good things Robinson brings to the team. With 4:11 left in the game and the Bulls already leading 96-79, Robinson got fouled on an attacking drive. He hit the first free throw and missed the second…but retrieved the miss and hit a layup. He never stops hustling.
Little Nate also contributed 4 assists and 3 rebounds.
Then there was Taj Gibson. Gibson’s defense has remained elite, but he’s regressed in almost every other phase of the game this season. This has to be troubling for the Bulls front office, considering the not-so-secret plan seems to have been to amnesty Boozer’s contract in the next year or so to free up cap room. That means Taj is the Power Forward of the future.
But he’s been struggling. No question about it.
Last night was a return to form: 20 minutes, 6-for-9 from the field, 1-for-1 from the line, 13 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and a plus-minus score of +14.
And Jimmy Butler continued his quietly impressive play with 6 points (3-for-6), 2 boards and a steal in 14 minutes. His raw numbers may not impress, but his defense, energy and hustle do. He may not compile gaudy stats, but he does all the little things that help a team win.
Boozer played only 23 minutes, but he made the most of his PT, scoring 21 points on 10-for-17 shooting to go with 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal.
Boozer now has 12 double-doubles in the last 17 games.
And here’s a weird Carlos Boozer factoid for you: Booz ranks second on the team and eighth in the league…in Defensive Win Shares with 1.5. Noah leads the league with 2.0.
Of course, Carlos was the only Bulls player who finished the night with a negative plus-minus score (-6). Always a bad sign in a blowout win.
Quote of the Night:
Robinson said: “The last couple games I really haven’t been shooting the ball well. I just told myself I had to go back to my whole Peter Pan theory. You can’t fly without happy thoughts.”
No More Finger Guns:
In case you hadn’t noticed, Noah has stopped doing his finger gun act after hitting a jumper. ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell has the full story.
Said Noah: “I started doing it in practice. I hit a jump shot in Keith Bogans’ face and I started doing (it) and kept doing it and it was kind of a funny, comical thing, but I guess we’re in a situation right now where it’s not funny.
“You can’t joke around with things like that. Too many people are dying because of guns. We have a problem here with guns, so (I’m) just trying to be a little bit compassionate about what’s going on. You can’t joke around — it’s not a laughing matter anymore.
“I think it’s what happened in Connecticut that was really shocking to a lot of people but things like that have been going on. We have a serious problem with that in Chicago. It’s crazy, man. You just hear about … the summer and the movie theater (in Aurora, Colo.); it’s happening all the time. This is just unheard of. Every story is just horrific. It’s just not a joke. This gun thing in this country is no joke.
“I think after the thing happened in Connecticut somebody said something and I had never really thought about it like that. And then when somebody said it, it made me a little bit conscious about it. Just try to be compassionate to those who were affected.”