After a 5-8 February, the Bulls began their month of March with a 96-85 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Coincidentally, their poor February started with a loss in Brooklyn (34-26), which coincided with Kirk Hinrich having to miss seven-straight games with reoccurring issues with his right elbow.
Joakim Noah tallied his 29th double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He also added five assists, four blocks and two steals. Carlos Boozer added 20 points and tied his career-high in steals with five. The team is now 13-2 when the front court pair both score at least 20-plus points.
For Noah, it was his second big night after an impressive 23 points, 21 rebounds, 11 block performance against Philadelphia on Thursday. Even more impressive since it was up against the Nets All-Star center Brook Lopez, who led Brooklyn with a game-high 22 points and three blocked shots.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Noah’s activity is the reason for his recent output and that his teammates are following suit by picking up their intensity and energy.
“We need it,” said Thibodeau of Noah’s efforts. ”The way he’s played is really inspiring to the rest of the team.
“I think anytime you see a guy make great effort plays, I think it, not only inspires but it unites and makes everyone get on board with it. Anytime you see big-time hustle play, I think that’s what motivates teams,” he continued. “Oftentimes, people talk about emotion. I think emotions come from that. I think people recognize that, certainly his teammates and coaches. Oftentimes, it’s all the small things that lead to winning. I think what he’s doing on the floor is the best kind of leadership you can have.
The Bulls (34-25) started slowly as Brooklyn opened the game on a 15-4 run. After a quick timeout, their play picked up and Nate Robinson’s (12 points) floater as time expired tied the game at 27 after the first.
The Bulls trailed 39-38 with 4:37 remaining in the second, but a Daequan Cook three-pointer ignited a 19-0 run that spanned 7:25 and into the third quarter and the Nets would never recover from the drought as the lead increased to 20.
“I thought the energy on offense was very good,” said Thibodeau on the span in which they forced Brooklyn into 11 straight misses. “There were quick decisions, ball movement, sprinting into screens, screening and stepping, multiple efforts, multiple pick and rolls, running the floor, good pace, good rhythm, sharing the ball. I thought we got our defense going a little bit.”
With the victory secure, Thibodeau elected to sub his starters back in midway through the fourth. He pointed to the team recklessly fouling and jogging back on defense for doing so.
“Great coach, but he doesn’t understand the whole rest thing yet,” joked Noah afterwards. ”But it’s all good. We all want to win, so it’s all good.”
Noah – after having his postgame media session interrupted by Boozer who campaigned that his teammate be considered for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year Award – says he isn’t doing anything differently during the current stretch.
Boozer isn’t as subtle when it comes to talk of what he’s witnessing.
“Joakim is a monster,” Boozer said. “He’s playing unbelievable. Scoring, rebounding, assisting, holding the paint down and blocking shots. I’ve never played with a center that can do the things that Jo can do. A lot of games, he leads us in assists. What center does that? He might be the most unique center in the game. Definitely in Bulls’ history.
“I don’t know a better defender than him. He guards one through five. A lot of the time at the end of games, we do a lot of switching. Joakim is on the point guard or their best scorer and usually does a good job at locking them up.
“When he’s aggressive and going to the hoop and he’s hitting the jump shot, teams don’t know what to do,” he continued. “Now you have five guys on the court that can put the ball in the hole. And in my opinion, that makes us more dangerous when he’s more offensively aggressive.”