Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah all posted double-doubles, leading the Bulls to an 89-80 victory over the Celtics on Thursday night at the UC.
Deng had 23 points and 10 assists, Boozer had 23 points and 15 rebounds, and Noah contributed 15 points and 16 rebounds (8 offensive) as the Bulls outrebounded the Celtics 52-37. 16 of the Bulls' rebounds came on the offensive end, which allowed them to overcome a bad shooting night from the field (.395).
The Bulls had an outstanding night from behind the arc, however, hitting 10 of 21 three-pointers (.476). Deng led the way, hitting his first three attempts and 6/9 overall. Deng also had a game-high 10 assists, and as a team the Bulls registered 27 assists on 30 made field goals. That is just an unheard of number in the NBA, and it is very indicative of the way the Bulls truly played as a team in Derrick Rose's absence.
Rose, who missed his fourth consecutive game with back spasms, did participate in the team's shootaround Thursday afternoon, and he is expected to be back in action next week. I hope the Bulls aren't in any rush to get him back into game action, obviously the team can win most games without him, and they really need him to be healthy for the playoffs.
Best record in the regular season is nice, but having a healthy Rose for the playoffs is much more important.
The Bulls used a 26-11 second quarter advantage to lead 44-35 at halftime, and they scored the first seven points of the second half to push the lead to 16. It looked like the Bulls were going to blow the Celtics right out of the UC, but then Boston went to a zone defense and the Bulls suddenly looked like a bunch of deer caught in a poacher's spotlight.
After Noah's 16-footer gave the Bulls a 53-37 lead, they only hit 3 of 23 shots the rest of the quarter, allowing the Celtics to cut the lead to 60-59 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Chris Wilcox opened the fourth by scoring on an alley-oop from Rajon Rondo, giving the Celtics a 61-60 lead. But Deng, who was named to his first All-Star team last week, scored 10 points and added a pair of assists in a 21-8 Chicago run that put the Bulls ahead by 12 with 4:41 to play. The Celtics never got closer than six the rest of the night.
The final nine minutes of the third quarter notwithstanding, the Bulls' offense actually looked pretty good most of the night. The ball movement was outstanding, they made the extra pass, and they took the open shots when they were there. They missed a lot of close shots, and the officials let both teams play very physical defense, which helps explain why neither team shot over 40% from the field.
Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Celtics (15-14), while Rondo chipped in with 17 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Paul Pierce (14 points) and Ray Allen (12) were the only other Celtics in double figures, but they combined to shoot only 10/29 from the field.
The Bulls improved their record to an NBA-best 25-7 with the victory.
It's very nice to see Joakim Noah back to the player we have all become used to seeing, his energy on the boards and defense were huge in this ugly game. If he could have hit a couple of the tips and putbacks he normally makes, this game probably wouldn't have been as close as it was.
Boozer was outstanding on offense, and he even dove for a loose ball on one occasion. Granted, it was so he could score a rebound, but it was nice to see nonetheless.
Deng- what more can you say about this guy? He just keeps getting better at creating his own shot, and he has gone from a complete non-entity 3-point range to a guy who is now shooting .402 from behind the arc on the season. And that number isn't a fluke, he is attempting 3.32 three-pointers per game, he's no Bogans who only shoots them when he is ridiculously wide open.
Am I the only one who is watching the games and totally forgetting that Deng has a torn ligament in his wrist? He has been simply outstanding since coming back from the injury, he is now shooting an amazing .476 from behind the arc in the 7 games he has been back- and that percentage has come on 5.1 attempts per game. He is also averaging 6.8 assists over his last 6 games.
And Deng is only 26, he is probably still a year or two away from entering his prime. It's hard to believe that there were so many Bulls fans- a majority, it's safe to say- who thought Paxson screwed the pooch by paying Deng instead of Ben Gordon.
NBA Media Central is still having some sort of technical difficulties, I still cannot access my account. I apologize for only being able to provide a link to NBA.com's box score.
I also cannot access Swirsky and Wennington's highlights, hopefully they will get things straightened out before the Bulls next game- a Saturday matinee at the UC against the Nets, which will be televised nationally on WGN America. Game time is 3:00 CT.