I fully expected a whole lot of bad when the Bulls and 76ers squared off on Thursday night at the United Center. Not necessarily Bulls bad (although I expected some), but just general ugliness on the West Side. I was proven mostly right, but a ridiculous Joakim Noah triple-double in a 93-82 Bulls victory helped salvage the night. Noah finished with an outrageous line of 23 points, 21 rebounds, 11 blocks and three steals in arguably the most complete performance of his career. But only one assist! SLACKER!
This one was initially a bit overshadowed by Derrick Rose "news," so let's get that out of the way real quick. Yes, Rose dunked multiple times in pregame warmups, getting some all in a lather about a possible return tonight (not this guy). But then TNT's David Aldridge did his best K.C. Johnson impression, dousing us in cold water with a report about how Rose still has some "discomfort" when going right and that he wants to be "Rose" when he comes back (similar to the 110% comments). Who knows what exactly is going on inside Rose's body, but I really hope he realizes that he won't be "Rose" right away. Coming back and easing back into things is part of the rehab process. All this being said, I still think he's back very soon.
Back to the actual game, the Bulls controlled things up front, with Noah (obviously) and Carlos Boozer delivering the major contributions. Noah's superb peformance was especially key, as his mostly lethargic effort against the Cavs was a big reason why the Bulls lost that game. Jo came out with a fire under his ass and just kept it going all game long for 45 minutes. It certainly helped that the opposing center was Spencer Hawes (I ashamedly remember advocating Hawes over Noah in 2007), but I'm not sure it would have mattered who was going against Jo tonight. He brought it, and he brought it hard.
As mentioned, Boozer also did some nice things, despite the fact that he didn't shoot all that well. Boozer finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but the most impressive thing about his game was the fact that he got to the free throw line a season-high 12 times (making 11 of them). Aggressive Carlos usually means a better Carlos, so it was great to see him make an impact even while shooting just 5-of-13 from the field.
The Bulls led throughout most of the game, and it looked like they were going to pull away in the third quarter when Kirk Hinrich finally started hitting some shots after a woeful first half. They led by as many as 16, but then Kirk started bricking again and the combination of Hawes and Jrue Holiday actually made things interesting midway through the fourth. The Sixers cut the deficit to four, only to see Noah and Good Nate slam the door shut.
Oh, and have I mentioned that Richard Hamilton sat out (yawn) with back spasms? Marco Belinelli got the start in his place, showing off a few nice moves early but playing a pretty bad game overall. With Hamilton and Taj Gibson out, we did get to see a somewhat interesting (if you could call it that) second quarter lineup of Nate/Cook/Jimmy/Deng/Jo, and also a lot of Kirk and Nate together in the second half.
In another little bit of injury news, Luol Deng did head to the locker room in the waning moments after getting popped in the face by Hawes. He did look a bit shaken up, but I'm guessing the Bulls were just being precautionary with the outcome in hand.
This was a game the Bulls really needed to grab, because the next few are pretty rough. The Sixers are a miserable bunch, despite the fact that there are a few talented pieces in place. Without Andrew Bynum down low, they just really struggle to get consistent offense and have issues defending the paint. Noah and Boozer were able to exploit that big time.
Now we wait for something awesome from Mike From Illinois on Noah's crazy performance. And maybe Doug Collins getting fired.