Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
In a game of runs, offensive droughts and individual spurts, the Bulls (3-3) made a late push to outlast the visiting Nuggets (4-3) at home, 94-92, buoyed by Joakim Noahs sixth consecutive double-double to start the young season and a balanced offensive effort.
Denver superstar Carmelo Anthony threatened to put the game away for the United Center guests late in the third quarter, but a determined Chicago squad persisted and held off the visitors in the end behind a late offensive burst by Derrick Rose, timely defensive plays and Noahs ownership of the paint.
It feels good. Every time we have an opportunity to win a basketball game, I think its huge. Its great to be able to win against a good opponent like Denver. Thats a tough team right there, said Noah. Im just taking it one game at a time and Im just worrying about trying to affect winning as much as I can. I feel like there are things that I can still improve on and do better.
I feel like Im in the best shape of my life and Im taking it pretty seriously. Im just enjoying what I love to do and thats play basketball.
For all of the pregame hype surrounding Anthony (32 points, eight rebounds)and speculation that he could end up in Chicagothe Denver small forwards counterpart on the Bulls, Luol Deng, got off to one of his typically aggressive hot starts. Regardless if he was truly motivated by Anthonys presence (Deng denies he looks at any matchup from an individual standpoint), he and Taj Gibsonpractically beaming with confidence these dayscarried Chicagos offensive load in the early going with Rose struggling to find the mark against his USA Basketball summer mentor, Chauncey Billups.
Its something Coach Thibodeau does really well. A lot of the scorers would rather relax on defense and score for their team, so were just doing a good job of moving the ball and making them work, said Deng, previously rumored to be dealtalong with Gibsonto the Nuggets for Anthony. Theres a lot of stuff that goes ona lot of trade rumors, a lot of opinions out thereI dont really care about all that. Im just playing basketball. Im playing hard, Im trying to win and thats all Ive got to focus on. I cant really get caught up in all that.
Im just finding my niche," Gibson added "Whatever happens, Coach draws the play up and I just fulfill it. If he wants me to take a guy off the dribble, be smart, be crafty, Im just real patient and Ive been watching a lot of film, maybe to see where I can fit in. When Derrick comes off screen-and-roll, Im just ready to shoot. So far, my jump shot, everything Ive been working on, is being consistent and real fluid right now.
Im just real smart about scoring. If I have a smaller guy, Im going to take my time and post up, but most big guys, they underestimate my dribbling because I can use both of my handsleft and rightand Im just letting the game come to me, he continued. Guys are finding me. We have a real unselfish team. We have a good assist ratio, so Im just taking my time.
For the visitors, center Nene (back in the lineup after missing time with a groin injury) showed little sign of rust on his powerful drives and finishes. Anthony also got into the flow, showcasing what is roundly considered perhaps the best pure scoring ability in the league, while Billups long-range shooting was another boon for the Nuggets. At the end of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed, 28-23.
The ongoing saga of the poor play of Chicagos bench in the early second quarter seemed as if it would persist initially, with Denver widening its winning margin bit by bit. However, improved play from the likes of Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson ensured that the deficit remained manageable.
When I was out there with the second unit, we really tried to focus on not letting them get a big lead. Weve been doing that a lot and dig ourselves a hole, said Deng, who was the primary scorer in a lineup otherwise full of reserves. Tonight, they got a lead, but we didnt let them get a big lead and we got right back into it before the half, and that was big.
Gibson (16 points, six rebounds, career-high five blocked shots) and Deng (17 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) remained aggressive upon the return of the Bulls regulars and although Rose (18 points, six assists) and Noah (13 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks) werent having major statistical impacts, Chicago was able to creep back into the game and erase the Nuggets slim cushion.
Noahs play picked up toward the end of the period and with a stout defense (Denver was held to 2-for-14 shooting in the quarter), as well as a concerted effort to get the ball into the paint on offense leading the way, the Bulls overtook their guests and even created their own small winning margin.
Despite Rose muddling through his worst half of the seasonhe shot just 3-for-11 from the fieldChicago went into the locker room at the half with a 50-43 lead.
Rose is playing outstanding," Anthony said. "I think hes leading his team. Hes gotten a lot better offensively, attacking the rim, getting them going in transition, getting them easy baskets in the open court. His speed is at the top of the league. We wanted to make him see two guys at all times, especially on pick-and-rolls; I think we did a good job at that in the first half. They made some major adjustments out there.
A mini offensive explosion by Keith Bogans (10 points) to start the half gave the Bulls an early boost, but it was the rebounding efforts of Noah, continued stingy defensive play and balanced scoring that allowed the home team to maintain their advantage. That offensive balance was made evident by the fact that all five starters reached double figures in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Chicago limited and frustrated Anthonywith Deng guarding him individually for the most part (Brewer also took his turn at defending the potent scorer), but the entire squad was part of the effortwith a swarm of defenders marking him both on and off the ball.
Just make it tough for Anthony, said Deng of Chicagos strategy. Were going to have mismatches out there, but whenever Im on guys like that, just try to make them work. Not even when they catch the ball, but before they catch the balltry to deny, make them work for it.
At the end of the day, superstars are going to get their numbers. The best I could do is make him take a lot of shots.
Eventually, however, the Bulls offensive crispness waned, and while the Nuggets werent exactly an offensive juggernaut themselves, they were more efficient than Chicago and a late Anthony-fueled surgehe scored all but two of the points in a 12-0 run to end the period; his 10 occurred in a remarkably short period of timeenabled Denver to gradually come from behind and overtake the Bulls. At the end of three quarters, Chicago was at a 70-68 disadvantage.
I like being competitive. I like challenges. I know Deng is a good defensive player in this league, so I took that challenge on tonight. I made some shots and I broke out of it in the third quarter, said Anthony. Luol is always going to be him. Hes going to play defense, hes going to hustle, get the hustle plays. Thats his game, thats what he does.
The inevitable Bulls second unit drop-off occurred later than expected in the contest, but the fourth quarter was even less timely than its usually scheduled time slot for the home team.
Denvers bench consisted of four true scoring threats, while Chicago had just one playerDeng, a starterin the unit that began the final stanza, leading to the Nuggets lead ballooning slightly.
Clawing back into contests has become a Bulls specialty under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, and the squad displayed plenty of fight in cutting their deficit to a single possession midway through the period.
From that point, it was a chess match between Denver head coach George Karl and Thibodeauwith Karl opting for a small-ball lineupand while contributions from Brewer were important and Noahs interior efforts were as significant as ever, Rose finally began to assert himself.
Derricks our leader and his shot wasnt falling, he couldnt get in a groove tonight, said Noah. When its time to go get it, he finds a way for us. Thats why hes a star.
We told Derrick to keep shooting it. Derrick has carried us a lot and its going to happen; we play so many games, added Deng. It was just a good team win. We locked down at the end, we got rebounds, Jo was huge on rebounding, Keith made some huge playsbut thats what it was about. Guys are going to step up.
Weve got a lot of good players and as the season goes on, I think some guys are going to get more comfortable in what were trying to do and even now, we have times out there where the rhythm is not right. But I like it when its spread out like that because thats the time of team we have, he continued.
Chicago gained even more momentum as Rose found his scoring touch, Noah dominated both ends of the glass and various Bulls made key defensive plays. While the Nuggets continued to challenge late, Chicago fought off a final charge to seal the deal.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.