Another night, another dominant outing from Joakim Noah, though in Saturday evening’s 96-85 Bulls win over Brooklyn at the United Center, he got significant help from his teammates, as the familiar tenets of stingy defense and balanced offense were put in practice.
The victory was not only significant in marking the Bulls (34-25)’ stringing together some consistency as of late after a rough month of February, but also in surpassing the Nets (34-26)—who entered the contest only a half-game ahead of them in the Eastern Conference playoff race—for fifth in the East.
Things got off to an ominous start, as Noah (21 points, 10 rebounds), coming off his historic triple-double performance Thursday night, picked up an early technical foul, his 10th of the season, for disputing a call.
It didn’t get any better for the All-Star center, coming off his historic triple-double performance Thursday night, or his teammates, as the Nets, buoyed by center Brook Lopez (22 points), a first-time All-Star himself, and point guard Deron Williams (14 points), jumped out to a 15-4 lead at the outset of the contest.
But behind the scoring of Carlos Boozer (20 points, eight rebounds), as well as a more focused Noah, the hosts battled back to narrow the gap as the opening period continued, going on a 15-6 run of their own to eventually even things out.
The battle of the two men in the middle was the dominant theme in the frame—after a vicious Noah and-one dunk over former teammate Keith Bogans, Lopez returned the favor on the other end—and after a quarter of play, the game was knotted up at 27 apiece after a coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup from backup point guard Nate Robinson (12 points).
Noah continued his tremendous stretch as the second quarter began, as his relentless energy and high activity level propelled the Bulls, who also got a boost off the bench from Robinson.
Brooklyn kept pace in the tight-knit affair with contributions from the likes of swingman Joe Johnson (11 points), backup big man Andray Blatche (13 points) and former Bulls point guard C.J. Watson, now a Nets reserve.
While the visitors led in most statistical categories, the Bulls maintained a slight edge, mostly due to capitalizing off their guests’ 13 first-half turnovers and as time went on, they drew in closer in the battle of the boards and shooting percentage; by halftime, both teams were shooting 50 percent from the floor.
As the first half neared its conclusion, scoring from the energetic duo of Robinson and Noah—with timely baskets from Kirk Hinrich (12 points) and Jimmy Butler (13 points)—allowed the Bulls’ lead to balloon to double digits and at the intermission, the hosts led, 53-39.
After the break, the Bulls’ onslaught continued—their extended spurt consisted of 19 consecutive points, going back to the first half, keeping the Nets scoreless for 7:24 of game action—to extend their already-comfortable winning margin.
Boozer was again an offensive focal point for the hosts, whose defense was the true catalyst in ensuring that the visitors were kept at bay.
The inside tandem of Noah and Boozer shouldered the Bulls’ offensive burden—the pair alternated between operating in the high post and transition, knocking down jumpers and finishing at the rim, and rebounding at a high level and setting up teammates for scores—in very efficient fashion and with Butler and Hinrich continuing to chip in, the Bulls cruised throughout the third quarter.
Heading into the final stanza, the home team held a 77-59 advantage, displaying their trademark unselfish offensive approach, in the inside-out style that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau prefers, along with steadily improving defense as the night went on, particularly against the ballyhooed Brooklyn backcourt of former All-Stars Johnson and Williams.
Noah got a brief rest early in the fourth quarter, which allowed Butler to have perhaps the evening’s top individual highlight—no small feat on a night when the center was displaying his full offensive repertoire—when he rose above the rim for an alley-oop from Hinrich, plus the foul, over Nets rookie Mirza Teletovic.
The backcourt pairing of Hinrich and Robinson ran the show, taking a more aggressive scoring approach in Noah’s absence, holding down the fort effectively and keeping the Bulls’ wide degree of separation from their guests intact.
Despite the Bulls’ seemingly untouchable lead, Boozer and Noah both returned to the contest for the game’s stretch run, as Thibodeau left his starters in for the duration of the affair, which grew closer as the hosts’ intensity waned.
With a divisional game in Indiana the following night, the conclusion was anticlimactic and unsurprising, as Thibodeau’s penchant for playing his regulars heavy minutes is an accepted.