Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Bulls bean Boston in overtime
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By Sam Smith | 1.04.2015 | 1:54 a.m. CT
Bulls big man Pau Gasol—the Pau rhyming with Wow!—was once again poetry for the Bulls.
Gasol invoked rhythm and style Saturday that not only enabled the Bulls to defeat Boston Celtics 109-104 in overtime. But Gasol, tick-tock with the regularity of a clock and thump, thump, thump with the pounding of a heart in the pulsating finish in which Gasol led the Bulls in scoring in the fourth quarter and overtime, produced an historic performance for a Bulls center, the first game of at least 25 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in more than 30 years.
Gasol had 29 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. He made a three pointer, his third in his last four attempts, was 10 of 11 from the free throw line, had seven of the team’s last 12 points in regulation and four straight in overtime in what turned out to be the eventual winning margin.
Gasol with 12 blocks over the last two games moved into second in the league in blocks behind Anthony Davis. He also is one of six players in the NBA averaging a double/double with at least 15 points and 10 rebounds and he is fifth in the league in double/doubles with 17, just two behind the leaders.
“Unbelievable,” exclaimed Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of Gasol. “We see it night after night, all the things that he does on both sides of the court. He had nine blocked shots (the last) game (beating Denver). Then to follow it up with a five-blocked-shot game. He got rebounds (including five offensive), and got to the free throw line (where the Bulls had a 40-11 edge in attempts). The way he plays gives your team a lot of confidence.”
The resurrection of Pau, if one can call it that as he did average 17.4 points last season though missing 55 games the last two seasons, has enabled the Bulls to avoid a winter of discontent. Especially Saturday with Mike Dunleavy missing his first game as a Bull with an ankle injury and Jimmy Butler out with a bereavement leave. It resulted in a first ever start for rookie Nikola Mirotic at small forward and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt with Derrick Rose.
The winds of change can shake the branches of stability, leave a team sick and pale with grief. Instead, it would be a relief from Pau of much thanks.
“Pau has been great,” agreed Joakim Noah, who had eight points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. “He has been huge for us all season. He is one of the constants every night. He adds a whole different dimension with his scoring.”
The Bulls needed it not only playing without their leading scorer Butler and one of their leading three point shooters Dunleavy, but with Derrick Rose going through another tough shooting game with five for 18 for 12 points and 19 for 78 the last four games.
But as he’s done so often in the last month, Rose came through with big shots and big plays down the stretch and in overtime.
First Rose made a floater with the score tied at 91 with 3:40 remaining in regulation. Boston went back down and scored on an Avery Bradley jumper. But Rose responded after an exchange of misses with Gasol blocking a Jeff Green jumper. Rose drew Tyler Zeller away from the rim with a clever fake pass to Gasol and went in for the layup and 95-93 Bulls lead with 2:31 left.
Gasol would then made a 15 footer for a 97-95 lead with 1:43 left as Rose cut inside and Zeller dropped off Pau, who took the pass from Taj Gibson. Gasol next Bulls possession would be fouled rebounding a Rose miss, making one of two free throws for a 98-95 Bulls lead with 1:13 left. Green drove and was fouled, making both to pull Boston within 98-97 with 1:08 left. Hinrich missed a three, but got the rebound. Rose handed to Gasol, who drove and missed.
Inbounding with 32.1 seconds left, Turner, who rallied the Celtics back from a 10-point third quarter deficit with 29 in the game, had his potential go ahead jumper blocked by Gibson. It was Gibson with 12 points and Aaron Brooks with 19 off the bench who earlier had injected some energy into a lethargic Bulls starting group and what looked like the defensive play of the game. But Gibson, fouled after the block, made one free throw for a 99-97 lead. Gibson almost made another brilliant defensive play stripping Green. But Green recovered, putting the ball up. Jared Sullinger got the putback of the miss to tie the game at 99 with 2.6 seconds left. Thibodeau then diagrammed a classic play: Hinrich inbounding to Noah on the right free throw line extended, Noah pitching on top to Mirotic and then into the left corner to an uncovered Brooks, who missed.
The Celtics would score just five points on two of nine shooting in an overtime the Bulls never trailed. The Bulls weren’t much better at three of nine. But they got the big plays. First was Mirotic overplaying on defense for a steal and a runout, which Hinrich converted as the only player to follow the two on the fast break. That gave the Bulls a 101-99 lead with 3:56 left. Rose then made a steal like a safety with an interception on a Sullinger full court pass with Turner trying to sneak in for the reception. Rose turned upcourt, finding Noah cutting. Noah then passed to Gasol for the layup and 103-99 lead with 2:21 left.
“I'm a confident guy,” said Gasol, averaging 18 points, 11.2 rebounds, second most in his career and a career high 2.35 blocks. “I'm a competitor. You always have to hope for the best and be positive and optimistic. I didn't know what was going to happen, how I was going to fit in. But I knew I was going to try and do my best to provide everything and give us the best chance to win a title.
“His intensity, activity, passion on defense is great,” Gasol added of Noah. “It helps me get to the same level. We are both very long and can alter a lot of shots and as long as we stay active we are a tough lineup to score over.
And maybe the best passing big man teammates in the league.
Bradley made a jumper and Gasol answered with a pair of free throws for a 105-101 lead with 1:22 left after he was fouled on a post fadeaway shot. Bradley added another jumper. But then Rose closed it out, crossing over Bradley as Derrick rose out of the chaos. And so it would not be a night so dreary, Rose lent a gentle tapping off the top of the backboard to score over Kelly Olynyk for a 107-103 lead with 24.4 seconds left. The Celtics committed a turnover so with another win January perhaps also opens the gates to something special.
“A weird game,” said Noah. “Playing without our small forward and shooting guard. I thought Niko (Mirotic) really stepped up. For a rookie, just coming here, and playing Jeff Green the way he did is pretty impressive. Trying to learn the game and learn the power forward position he did a great job. For him to learn all the plays in a couple days at the three (small forward), a whole different position, and guard the way he guarded, it was pretty impressive.
“I think we have another gear, which is the most important thing,” said Noah. “We can’t be satisfied. It was a tough win for us tonight.”
No, it wasn’t a sonnet. No one had summery thoughts; it was a game made for the night, sleeting and raw, the wind whipping the crystalline pellets until your steps slowed and your bones cried out for cover.
Ok, Ok, back to the narrative.
The Celtics led 23-17 after a brutal first quarter in which the teams combined for 14 turnovers and the Bulls shot 22 percent.
The surprise was Mirotic playing small forward for Dunleavy, which Thibodeau had been saying all season wasn’t possible for defensive reasons. But Mirotic handled the assignment with aplomb, getting 10 points and eight rebounds and that crucial late steal while Green had just 11 points on four of 18 shooting. There’s thus no reason why Mirotic cannot continue there. And he may at times as Dunleavy said he could be out more games with the injury. Though Thibodeau could put Butler, who may be back Monday against Houston, at small forward with Hinrich in the backcourt.
“Two guys out playing the position gave Niko the opportunity and he acquitted himself really well,” admired Gasol. “Made big plays defensively. (So) he’ll feel more comfortable if he needs to go again.”
The reserves behind Brooks and Gibson were the energizers Saturday and they sparked the Bulls to start the second quarter. Gasol then working over the smaller Boston defenders closed the half with a run that gave the Bulls a 46-40 halftime lead. Turner had a huge third quarter to give the Celtics a 67-59 lead before the Bulls tied it at 69 after three thanks to a fancy post up and pump fake three-point play from Mirotic to end the third quarter.
Then Brooks with a fadeaway three-pointer and Gibson with a tremendous offensive rebound among the team's 24 in the game and three-point play for an 87-82 Bulls lead with 6:40 left. That set up the exciting close with six lead changes and six ties in the fourth quarter, 16 lead changes and 12 ties for the game.
“They’re a tough team,” admitted Turner. “They do what they need to do to win.”