Game Recap: Bulls 108, Pistons 104

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).

Kirk Hinrich looked sharp (13 points, 4-for-5 shooting, 6 assists).

And Marco Belinelli had another strong offensive game with 16 points.

But…

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.

Key Stats:
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.

The Bulls’ performance in the paint was absolutely key considering the team’s shot similar percentages in every other zone and the Pistons were +10 in free throws.

Bench Performance:
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:

MJ had 69-18-6 against Cleveland on March 28, 1990
MJ had 37-16-5 against New Jersey on March 16, 1996
Oakley had 36-26-7 versus the Bucks on March 15, 1986
MJ had 35-17-7 versus the Nuggets on December 5, 1989
MJ had 33-15-9 versus the Lakers on December 21, 1990
Pippen had 30-16-7 versus the Celtics on April 22, 1994
And Noah had 30-23-6 last night

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.

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