Noah: I feel terrible
DENVER—Exactly who were these Bulls on the Pepsi Center floor Thursday night?
Certainly not the hard-nosed, defensive-minded, prideful bunch their fans have come to love and even rivals have come to respect.
Their 128-96 loss was the type of lackluster performance that isn’t seen from the Bulls, not on Tom Thibodeau’s watch.
From the first quarter all the way through the extended garbage time that was the entire final stanza, Nuggets players threw down uncontested dunks, waltzed through the lane at will and generally had their way with their guests, and there was nothing Thibodeau or anybody else could do about it.
Dunk after dunk, 100 points through three quarters of play and most importantly, getting bullied, embarrassed and outhustled by, while definitely a good Denver team, not the cream of the crop in even the Western Conference.
Just as they’re beginning to be taken seriously by the basketball landscape as a true contender and not just an overachieving team without injured superstar Derrick Rose, they laid an absolute egg.
“It was an offensive game in the first half. We scored 58; I think they had 63. They came at the start of the third quarter, just smoked us and they played very good defense, and they had 37 in the third and got a big cushion, and that was the game,” Thibodeau said afterwards, with smoke coming out of ears almost visible, particularly as he talked about the Bulls’ trademark defense. “Until we change that [their defense], the result’s not going to be good. We’re trying to make it an offensive game and the ball’s going wherever they want the ball to go. We’re not containing the ball, not keeping it out of the paint, not challenging shots, not rebounding the ball. Very difficult to win like that.
“What we have to do to win is defend, rebound, keep our turnovers down, inside-out, share the ball. When we start making it up, we start taking shortcuts, we’re going to get our [expletive] kicked. That’s what it’s going to be. That’s not the way to win in this league. We’re kidding ourselves. Just kidding ourselves,” he continued. “Get back, get set, keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots, finish your defense. Yeah, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s what a good defensive team does. Protect the rim. Protect your basket. Long, contested twos. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
In a decidedly dejected visiting locker room, the vibe was the same. Emotional leader Joakim Noah, in his first game back in the lineup after missing three consecutive games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot
“I don’t think Coach is the only one that’s hot right now,” he said. “Everybody’s hot.”
He later told CSNChicago.com, perhaps misinterpreting a question about his health, “I feel terrible, man. We got smoked.”
The likes of reserve swingman Wilson Chandler (season-high 24 points on 8-for-9 shooting, including 5-for-5 from three-point range), backup center JaVale McGee (10 points, seemingly all on dunks) and point guard Ty Lawson (16 points, 12 assists) all had their moments, but Denver’s dominance was most symbolized by the play of second-year power forward Kenneth Faried.
Playing with a ferocity usually demonstrated by Noah or backup Taj Gibson, the recently-named NBA All-Star weekend dunk-contest participant put on a show, hitting his first eight shots—mostly from close range, either rim-rocking dunks or offensive rebounds—before finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but more significantly, beating up the Bulls at their own game.
“Oh, we’ve seen him,” Thibodeau said, upon being queried about the Bulls’ familiarity with Faried. “The first half, he just kicked our [expletive]. Kicked our [expletive].”
Noah chimed in: “Great athlete, great runner and he played very well.”
When asked about protecting the basket with more physical play, Thibodeau simply responded, “It would be nice.”
"Same thing. They push the ball, they’re big, they can pound you inside," Thibodeau said of the Jazz. "Got to get back in transition. It’s all the same stuff."
Usually, the Bulls respond to defeat with stellar, focused outings and against another young, deep team with size in Utah, they’ll have to raise their level of play Friday night. Aside from Thibodeau resting his regulars in the fourth quarter—not by choice, but because it was clear they just didn’t have it—it’s likely that a much more motivated bunch will hit the court in Salt Lake City.
If not, then the question of who these Bulls truly are will have to be answered.