A win is a win, as the old adage goes, but when Joakim Noah, of all people, is putting a damper on things, maybe this five-game Bulls’ winning streak isn’t as impressive as it seems on the surface.
“Nah, it’s all good that we won, but we’ve got to keep it real with ourselves,” Noah told CSNChicago.com after Monday night’s 86-81 Bulls win over the Bobcats at the United Center. “We’ve got to play better. It’s not easy to win in this league."
Pessimism doesn’t suit the All-Star center well, however, so perhaps after pondering the victory, Noah’s tune became more positive.
“They’re [Charlotte] playing a lot better. It was a tough, tough game, but it was encouraging that we stuck together and we fought hard,” he explained. “We’re happy we won, but obviously we have a lot of work to do.”
Even Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau saw the good in the ugly win, something the Bulls seemingly mastered last season without Derrick Rose and now that Rose is back, still have had to do.
“As I told our guys, it got choppy, particularly in the second quarter and they’ll do that to you—they’re very good defensively—and I thought in the second half, we did a better job of getting the ball to the second side, which you have to do. But sometimes you have to find different ways to win,” the coach explained. “That was the thing that I did like. I thought we showed a lot of toughness down the stretch to make the necessary plays to pull out the win. They just kept grinding and grinding and grinding, and sometimes that’s what you have to do.”
Rose, who scored 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting, but was clutch late in the game, concurred: “For sure, but we’ll take it. We’re not giving any wins back. We’re just trying to keep things going and keep playing team basketball, and keep trying to figure out how to win these games.”
All-Star small forward Luol Deng, probably the most consistent Bulls player all season, scored 21 points, including a game-sealing three-pointer. Being the longest-tenured member of the team, he offered a perspective borne of seeing many different scenarios unfold over almost a decade in Chicago.
“I’ve said it before: I think every game is going to be a different story and the sign of a good team is finding a way to win. We have enough weapons that when some guys don’t have it going, other guys can pick it up. But every game is going to be a different story and as the season goes on, we will be in a situation like this again and this game will come in handy.
"The way we found a way to win, we’re going to have to do it again at some point,” Deng explained. “I think we’re learning ways to win. I don’t think it’s completely there, but we showed in games like Indiana that we can play great at both ends. Tonight defensively, I thought we were good. Offensively, it wasn’t there but we found ways. It will be different ways. The biggest thing is when it’s that fourth quarter, just find a way to win, no matter what happened the whole game.”
If that’s the Bulls’ mindset, as they find a rhythm offensively on a nightly basis, Rose works his way back into elite form, they continue to get timely efforts from different members of his supporting cast and the defense carries them, perhaps the naysayers who were writing off the team during their admittedly rough start to the season will have to take back their harsh criticism sooner than later.
“Every game is important. We’ve got a five-game winning streak and we know we can play a lot better, so it’s exciting,” Noah concluded. “Lu’s playing at a high level right now, Carlos is playing at a high level. I think that I’ve just got to keep grinding, keep getting better, keep getting my legs under me and I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”