The Bulls picked up a crucial and impressive road win in Philadelphia last night.
The Bulls were already without Derrick Rose (left knee rehab) and Rip Hamilton (torn plantar fascia in his left foot). Then they lost Kirk Hinrich to a knee injury.
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.