What was shaping up to be a disaster midway through the second quarter actually turned into a pretty enjoyable game, as the Bulls erased a 17-point deficit to beat the Pistons for a 16th straight time. Joakim Noah's monster performance was part of a sterling effort by the Bulls' frontcourt, which dominated in the paint nearly all night and was key in the comeback effort and throughout the second half.
Noah finished with a career-high in both points (30) and rebounds (23), while also notching six assists. It was the Bulls' first 30/20 game since Marcus Fizer in 2004 (!!!!!!). On the other end, Noah helped hold Greg Monroe to 13 points and five rebounds. You could just tell right from the start that Jo was really engaged, as he was extremely active on the offensive glass within the first few minutes. He had a ton of tap-in attempts that didn't fall, but that changed soon enough.
Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng both joined in on the fun down low, with Boozer putting up 24 points on 12-of-19 shooting and Deng adding 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. Deng didn't shoot that well from the field (6-of-15 shooting), but he and Noah did get in a nice little two-man game groove with Noah in the second half.
As a team, the Bulls outscored the Pistons in the 58-38 paint and racked up second chance points. The Bulls grabbed 33 percent of their own misses and out-rebounded the Pistons 41-28. Just a dominant performance by the bigs tonight, spurred on by Noah's career game. Jo's effort tonight will certainly come up in All-Star Game discussions.
The Bulls got off to a pretty good start in this one, and it appeared perhaps they would have a nice easy night before facing the Knicks tomorrow. Marco Belinelli picked up right where he left off from Wednesday, hitting two threes in the first couple of minutes and playing generally well all game long (16 points on 6-of-13 shooting). He looked very confident with his shot, and did some nifty things off the bounce as well, including a slick little scoop shot off the glass. I also really liked seeing him do some of the Richard Hamilton/Kyle Korver stuff, coming off screens and knocking down tough shots on the catch-and-shoot.
However, the Bulls soon fell victim to The Curse of Neil Funk, as the Pistons caught fire immediately after Funk trashed them for looking lethargic. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey both took turns abusing Kirk Hinrich, and things surprisingly didn't get much better once Jimmy Butler was called upon to stick Stuckey. The hot streak by the Pistons' backcourt propelled them to a 51-34 second quarter lead, but the Bulls used a late 12-0 run to get right back into it. The Bulls then took control of the game in the third quarter and held on in the end.
Since this game ended up being so close and the bench mostly stunk, the starters did get pushed a lot of minutes. Noah, Deng and Belinelli all played 40+, while Boozer played 39 and Hinrich played 36. That could set up for some ugliness against the Knicks tomorrow night, who are riding high after their demolition of the Heat last night.
But we'll worry about that tomorrow. This was a critical game to get considering the schedule is about to get real, and the Bulls bounced back after facing some adversity. The offense was actually enjoyable to watch and dare I say Hinrich played well offensively, although he did get torched on the defensive end. Maybe, just maybe, Hinrich is starting to come around.
And God Bless Joakim Noah.