There were barstool comparisons of this Bulls team to that of 1989 and 1990 around the middle of last season, with the Celtics being the 1989 and 1990 Pistons. If there's a question that the Bulls are better than the 2008-2010 cream of the East Cs, you're facing a bad question.
The Bulls beat the Cs in Boston on Friday night 88-79, but unlike the early season overtime loss of the 2010-11, an early season loss in Boston would've clearly been a loss to a worse team. Friday, the Bulls -- for the first time in a very long time -- expectedly beat an NBA team in Boston.
Luol Deng (21 points on 8-for-17, 2-for-4 on 3s, 16 rebounds) and Derrick Rose (25 points on 9-for-21, seven assists) lit up the box score, but nothing lit up the eyes like Joakim Noah (ten points, 12 rebounds, four blocks), who played a season-high 38:41 after almost two weeks of inconsistent endgame playing time.
The Bulls held Boston to only 32 points in the paint and 13 FTAs on a night where Noah's feet were active, he attacked loose balls and challenged shots, but remained foul-less and chugging up and down the court. It was a night where he showed early he was someone on whom Tom Thibodeau could depend in the Bulls' ninth game in 13 days, against a regarded powerhouse in the league over the previous three seasons.
[Box Score via Hoopdata.com]
After the game, Thibs was asked about Omer Asik and Taj Gibson not getting the fourth quarter minutes; and he responded with overwhelming laughter, "Not enough? Too much? What's next? [...] We really feel the strength of the club is depth up front. Tonight, as well as [Carlos Boozer and Noah] played, Carlos picking up that fourth [foul], you need quality bigs to hold the fort. Omer and Taj, you call on them, they're ready; and they're hard guys to score on. [...] That's the advantage you have with those guys. Some nights you lean more on defense, you may have the lead; some nights, you're struggling to score, you may lean another way. But most cases, it's gonna be Jo and Carlos down the stretch."
Yes, Celtics, you're now what a coach uses to enrich confidence in his struggling starting frontcourt. You know, on one day's rest in their fourth game in five nights.
I'm not one to credit ESPN analysts, and he sells the Bulls short, but there's a point in Jon Barry's postgame statement: "I don't know if we should be more impressed with Chicago or really worried about Boston."
The ship's sailed on "worried about Boston". When out-of-towner national people make statements like this after a team with recent history like the Celtics have been trending the way they have for about the last 9-to-11 months, it's a sign that the new was in and the old was out some time ago. The Cs have issues and the boys at CelticsBlog have to be pissed off enough to say it better than I can. As an admitted (and shameless) Celtic-enthusiast, I'd encourage a dialogue with Cs bloggers instead of being 'a Bulls blogger with negative stuff to say about the Celtics after the Bulls beat the Celtics' because I'm not that and it'd be a more substantial compilation of words; so I'll save that.
For now, I'll just say that they're lucky Carmelo Anthony is ouchy and Al Horford is out for a pretty long time. Otherwise, the prospects of homecourt in the first round of the 2012 playoffs in Boston would look grim.
Richard Hamilton (groin) didn't play. He hasn't in seven of the Bulls' last eight games. C.J. Watson (elbow) is also still day-to-day. John Lucas III was the backup point guard for Friday night's game, playing only 8:41.
The bench wasn't a factor in scoring, rebounding, or plus-minus -- as the starters usurped the playing time, but controlled the pace to not threaten fatigue. Ronnie Brewer (12 points on 5-for-7, four assists, four rebounds, three steals in 36:51) played another great game where he's making the argument that he may -- again -- be the best shooting guard on the roster.
- Noah's first 35-plus minute game in his 13th game is more 'something' than you may think. Last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com, he hit the mark in 18 of his 48 games played -- nine of last year's first 13. Including the playoffs, he's now only hit the mark in ten of his last 56 games.
- The Bulls led by as much as 20 over four minutes into the third quarter, but led by only one with ten minutes remaining in the game. Huge brainfart, defensively. There wasn't much help or recovery, so the defense looked like bad zone play for a while -- which is what Thibs' D looks like when at least a couple pairs of feet aren't active.
- Rose showed he was completely capable, after his injury, of killing a legit NBA squad. "After Boston cut a 20-point Bulls lead to one early in the fourth quarter, Rose asserted control of his team's offense, scoring seven straight points for the Bulls to push the lead back up to eight with six minutes remaining," Brian Robb reported. "Boston was unable to close the deficit below six during the rest of the night as Chicago buckled down their defense and continued to hit clutch shots to keep the C's at bay."
- The Cs only shot 13 FTAs in a physical game. The refs lets the boys play, for the most part. There were possessions on both ends one could called "missed whistles", but both teams were thrusting chest, extending legs into lanes, and waving their arms without restraint. The two teams are so well-coached to position themselves in order to not have whistles spoil great defense and it showed. Only 11 turnovers for the Cs and nine for the Bulls, but both displayed championship defense; the Bulls' was, expectedly, better.
- Boozer wasn't bad. He only scored 12 in about 34 minutes, but on 6-for-10 shooting and 3-for-4 in the paint, finding space in the still paint-denial Cs D, while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing five assists. The ball in his hands is a good thing when he has time to re-assess how the defense has shifted to his possession and he gets the ball in good space. This tells more to the game Rose had. Call them hockey assists, if you want, but Booz isn't shy to re-post or hit basket cutters with the best of the bigs; but all bigs only do if they're confident they'll get the ball back on any given possession. Also, his positioning on defense was about as good as you'll get from him -- a level with which you can be satisfied -- to prevent efficient ball movement and any chance for offensive players to establish positioning for second-chance points. Booz was pretty good.
The Bulls advanced to 11-2 to remain atop the Eastern Conference. Saturday, the Bulls return to Chicago to host the Raptors.
Stats via NBA.com [.pdf].