AUBURN HILLS, MICH. Now, after a signature performance Friday evening, the All-Star talk surrounding Joakim Noah is truly legitimate, if it wasnt before. The center had a career night in both points (30) and rebounds (23) in leading the Bulls (10-8) to a 108-104 victory over the Pistons (6-15) at The Palace at Auburn Hills.
Surprisingly, in a battle of two teams not exactly known for their offensive prowess, the matchup was a shootout early on, as each squad got off to a high-scoring start. Marco Belinellis (16 points) big night Wednesday in Cleveland apparently carried over, as the shooting guard, again filling in for the injured Rip Hamilton in the former Pistons stars former stomping grounds knocked down two triples to start his outing.
Additional Bulls point production came from Noah, who dominated the boards early, but they were countered by the young Pistons tandem of big man Greg Monroe (13 points) and point guard Brandon Knight (21 points), whose combined efforts made it a close-knit affair. After a quarter of play, the Bulls trailed their hosts, 30-26, in a bit of a step back defensively from recent performances.
It turned out that the opening period simply foreshadowed what was to come, as the Pistons absolutely blitzed their guests to begin the second quarter. Propelled by the scoring of Rodney Stuckey (24 points, seven assists), recently demoted to a reserve role, Detroit went on a tear, as even backup big men Charlie Villanueva (15 points) and rookie Andre Drummond made major impacts against the visitors vaunted defense.
Suddenly, the Bulls found themselves in a double-digit hole and after grasping the reality of their situation, fought back behind the play of their big-man duo starting with Carlos Boozers (24 points, six rebounds) quiet effectiveness and after his re-entry into the contest, Noahs relentless play, which yielded a double-double in the first half and significantly cut into the deficit. After being down by as much as 17 points, the Bulls still trailed, but by a much more manageable 55-50.
After the break, which included a performance by rapper Fat Joe, the Bulls continued to whittle away at the Pistons lead, and while Knights scoring exploits persisted, the Bulls eventually tying the contest at 68 apiece midway through the third quarter. The aforementioned post tandem of Boozer and Noah continued their solid output, aided by Luol Deng (16 points, six assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots), who slowly started to come alive offensively.
It remained a back-and-forth affair as the period waned on, as Detroit veteran forwards Tayshaun Prince (13 points) and Jason Maxiell made timely buckets, but the Bulls dominant frontcourt trio of Noah, Boozer and Deng made their respective presences felt to give the visitors a slight edge. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 78-74 advantage.
Noahs dominance on the interior highlighted the beginning of the fourth quarter, as the charismatic center was a one-man wrecking crew literally owning the glass, finishing extremely proficiently and even knocking down his ever-improving outside jumper, prompting his trademark finger guns celebration helping the Bulls seize control of the contest. Boozer, functioning as Noahs sidekick, filled in the gaps offensively, throwing down powerful dunks and hitting mid-range jumpers to give the visitors some breathing room.
While the Pistons valiantly attempted a last-gasp comeback, the Bulls clamped down on the defensive end and continued to execute on offense, ensuring that they sealed the deal. But the night belonged to Noah, who had the best night of his career, cementing, at the very least, his All-Star candidacy.