Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
Bulls come back from 16 down to beat Celtics
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
By Sam Smith | 11.28.2014 | 10:13 p.m. CT
The Bulls got some wonderful individual performances Friday in a big time comeback victory over the Boston Celtics, 109-102 that gave them a 10-6 record and 3-3 on the long, circus road trip. It closes Sunday in Brooklyn.
Jimmy Butler led with 22 points, including six points in a late fourth quarter stretch when he was the only Bull to score in more than five minutes when the Bulls finally took control of the game. Derrick Rose had 21 points in just under 28 minutes, including 12 points in four minutes to open the second half that brought the Bulls back from an earlier 16-point deficit. Pau Gasol had 15 points and 15 rebounds despite a poor shooting game and Joakim Noah added 15 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and six blocks in his most dynamic game of the season.
But the win was finally achieved with a return to past grunt glories as the Bulls played perhaps their best defensive stretch of the season late in the game, shutting out the high scoring Celtics, fifth in the league, the last 2:29 with a 9-0 close and holding Boston to 19.2 percent shooting and 11 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
Butler also made what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said was the game saving play with a rebound of a Jared Sullinger miss ripped away from Rajon Rondo with the game tied at 102 and 50.4 seconds left. Butler was fouled and made both free throws and then Noah took over with a block on an Evan Turner drive and clinching 20 foot jumper on a Rose pass out of a double team to clinch the win with 24.4 seconds left. In those last frenetic minutes, Kirk Hinrich and Nikola Mirotic earlier combined on crucial defensive plays, a block, drawing a change, closing on shooters and forcing air balls that led to the Bulls pulling away win.
“We’re going to be tough,” said Butler, who forced the play again with 10 of 12 from the free throw line, now fourth in the NBA in attempts per game and moving up to 10th in the league among scoring leaders. “I like the direction we’re headed. When everyone is healthy and we’re clocking on all cylinders we are going to be all right.”
Health and medical reports, obviously, is going to be the ongoing story of this Bulls 2014-15 season. There’s Rose’s saga from his knee surgeries, Noah in fits and starts from his off season knee surgery and various maladies, like Taj Gibson lately out with a sprained ankle.
So it’s hardly a smooth ride yet. And it doesn’t figure to be for some time with both Rose and Noah on playing time limitations along with other Bulls, like Hinrich. So it wasn’t surprising once again to see an uncertain start, though the Bulls have been on the road now for 13 days. Plus, lineups continue to evolve with Noah having sat out in Denver and Rose lifted at halftime from that game after lacking thrust in the second of a back to back.
But Rose continues to try to push through, which has been the team story and controversy because of how much he means.
As Noah noted simply: “Usually when he’s on the court we are winning, so that makes it pretty fun.”
That was again apparent Friday as it was Rose with 12 of the Bulls 14 third quarter points in the first four minutes that turned around a tryptophan-like induced lethargy to start the post Thanksgiving game when the Bulls fell behind 54-38. Though the Bulls did manage to get within 60-54 at halftime.
Rose in that stretch made a pair of threes, put in a loose ball and blew in for a full court drive that evened the game at 68 and enabled the Bulls to play pretty much even until their late defensive stand won the game.
“I was able to move around defensively,” Rose said about his improvement Friday. “Playing against all these guards, (like) Rondo, if you’re not healthy it can be a long game. I didn’t want to hurt myself anymore or make it worse (in Denver). So that’s one of the reasons I (didn’t finish). Tonight, I was able to play through it and we came out with a win. (My) confidence is through the roof. I don’t need more confidence. I just need to play. I know how good I am and I know how good I’m going to be, I just need to be out there playing.
“It’s only matter time (before his full game returns). You all will be more surprised than I am when it happens,” predicted Rose. “I know what’s coming. I’ve just got to stay consistent with my workouts and try to (help) get the team to gel quicker on the defensive end. You saw tonight the way we can play defense, we can smother teams.”
Asked as usual whether he was bothered by the often harsh criticism over his play and playing time, Rose was, as usual, phlegmatic: “No, not all. It’s part of my profession, part of the process I’m going through right now. People probably just want to see me play a lot. I can’t get mad at people’s opinions.”
Doesn’t that make some seem like they have the IQ of a grape condemning someone with such an understanding outlook?
This reminds me of a story, of the guy born with just a head and no extremities. He always longed to be like everyone else, who happened to be grapes. Then one day he gets invited to hang out with the grapes and they fall into a pit. So the moral, of course, is to quit while you are a head. But also stay away from those people who think like grapes.
Yes, that was about a minute wasted of your life you’re not getting back.
But the Bulls are slowly returning to the sort of play they hope can carry them far in the playoffs. It’s hardly there yet and there will be all sorts of these fits and starts. And it wasn’t like they were playing the ’86 Celtics of this 4-9 Boston team. We think it was the Celtics, although they were wearing gray prison color jerseys. So much for tradition.
It was, however, that more traditional Bulls close with defensive scrambling plays all over the court:
Mirotic block on Marcus Thornton with 9:05 left just after the Bulls took a 93-92 lead (their first lead since three minutes into the game other than 11 seconds in the third quarter) following an amazing Aaron Brooks falling down basket for a three-point play;
Noah block on Kelly Olynyk with 8:10 left and the Bulls hanging onto that one-point lead;
Hinrich block on a Rondo drive with 5:05 left and the Bulls still ahead 98-97 and Hinrich then knocking the ball off Rondo;
Mirotic getting fourth quarter time, coming over from the weak side to block Rondo to preserve the 100-97 Bulls lead with 3:20 left. That was after Butler’s floater off a Rose pass with Rose doubled again. Jared Sullinger, who would lead Boston with 23 points and 10 rebounds, would get a three point play on a drive after Hinrich forced Rondo into yet another air ball with another hard close. That tied the game at 100 with 3:03 remaining.
The Celtics took a 102-100 lead on a Jeff Green scoop with 2:29 left, Boston’s last score of the game.
Rose with a strong close on Green on a switch to force another Boston air ball after Rose missed a three. Hinrich draw a charge on Sullinger after a Gasol turnover. Butler then tied the game at 102 with 1:20 left on a hard drive and foul for two free throws.
Noah block on a Rondo jumper 20 feet out. But Rose was called for a loose ball foul going for the ball along with Rondo. Rondo, almost on the way to another of his fake triple doubles with eight points, nine assists and seven rebounds, bricked both free throws. Boston again got the ball back out of bounds. But Gasol had a strong close on a Sullinger three. Butler got that big rebound and was fouled by Rondo going to the floor, leading to the two Butler free throws for a 104-100 lead with 50.4 seconds.
Noah block on Turner and the closing jumper with 24.4 left to effectively end it.
“Overall, it’s been a grind and I know that we have a ways to go,” admitted Noah after his near quadruple double. “Like I said from the beginning of the year, I think the mentality is good on this team. I know I’m not where I want to be yet, and I’m sure a lot of guys feel that (same) way. So we just have to be patient and keep doing what we’re doing. I think Derrick played really well. Every time he’s on the court he just makes our team that much more dangerous.
“A lot of good memories, a lot of bad memories,” Noah added about playing Boston, where he is frequently booed. “For some reason I feel like this place really taught me about competition at the NBA level. Especially in that series my second year in the league (four overtime games in 2009). That’s where it all started for me, like, ‘OK that’s what this NBA basketball is all about.’ Even though we lost, that was provably some of the most fun I had playing basketball.”
And the way the Bulls played Friday in Boston, there were peeks and glances at that fun again with Rose’s bursts, though in short stretches, Gasol’s influence even not scoring big, Noah’s hustle and relentless play and Butler’s vast offensive improvement. The Bulls got nice boosts off the bench from Brooks with 15 points and Mirotic with 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in gaining Thibodeau’s trust. Though fellow rookie Doug McDermott played just two minutes.
Rose did take a couple of hard falls that drew the usual outside concern and was treated briefly for a jammed finger. But he said that remained all in the course of the game and the way he plays.
“When I fell, that’s a part of basketball,” said Rose. “The way I play now, I end up on the floor a little bit. I think I’ve learned how to fall. I’m happy to be able to get up the way I fell a few times.”
It’s not going to go away. Rose plays the game with speed, explosion and acceleration rarely seen in the NBA. He’ll have to take his lumps and everyone will have to live with it.
“We had a number of guys step up and play well,” noted Thibodeau. “I thought Pau missed—I just mentioned this to him—bunnies; he makes those shots all the time. But the thing I loved he played a great game without shooting the ball well; the rebounding was terrific and just his presence and you can’t say enough about the way Jo played, his activity, the rebounding, blocked shots, multiple effort plays. You can see he’s got his bounce. It’s good to see him playing like that.
“I thought Derrick was great,” Thibodeau added. “He practiced well yesterday and he played that way today. That’s important; you can’t overlook Jimmy. When that game was on the line he went up there in traffic to pull that rebound down and that was the game right there. Jimmy Butler again, you can’t say enough about him. I thought Niko gave us good minutes off the bench. Aaron was terrific; Kirk did his thing. I thought we kept going and found a way to win at the end.
“I said this before, the thing for Derrick is he’s got to keep building,” said Thibodeau. “Honestly, I looked at the 10 minutes (he played in Denver) as a positive; back to back he’s out there. The last two days practicing and practicing hard. So he played better. That’s how you are going to shake the rust off. I just want him to keep building. He’s got to be out there to do that.
“He was playing with a high intensity,” said Thibodeau of Rose. “When you look at his plus/minus when he’s on the floor for our team this year it’s off the charts (among the league leaders). That’s why I told him that 10 minutes against Denver was important. Every time he’s out there is important.
“Jo, it’s hard to measure (him) statistically,” Thibodeau added. “I told him that yesterday. If you look at what Jo did, I’ll go back to the Utah game. He didn’t play big minutes. If you looked at his line, the box score, you’d say, ‘What did he do (four points and five rebounds)? But when you look at his (Noah’s) plus/minus (team high plus 19 in that game) when he’s on the floor, off the charts. It’s how you make the team function. It’s not individually what you do. There are guys who can score when they are on the floor (and) it’s a negative. When Jo’s on the floor and has that bounce to him it’s a huge plus for our team; he makes our defense go. He makes plays offensively. He and Derrick have great chemistry on the pick and roll.
“(With Pau) a lot of guys don’t have it going their way offensively they might fold the tent,” noted Thibodeau. “He doesn’t do that. He keeps working the game; he’s not scoring he’ll find another way to help us. The rebounding was huge, critical for our team. Pau no matter who he has (to defend) he never complains. His experience (is) championship experience, and he knows he can impact the game in a lot of different ways. That’s big for our team.”
It’s a league high 11 road games for the Bulls with the league’s longest trip of the season continuing. They’re tied for second in the Eastern Conference with Noah and Rose improving. It was the fourth game with the regulars together and they are 4-0 and 6-2 with Rose. Small steps, for sure, but they appear to be going forward.