Even though the Chicago Bulls had a slight drop in form, they were back on tract against the Detroit Pistons with a 105-94 win, as Joakim Noah once again posted a triple double and did a lot of everything on both ends of the floor.
The Bulls simply outplayed the Detroit Pistons for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to finish the game. Up until that moment the Pistons were able to hustle and defend just as well as the Bulls, but suddenly the ball movement became quicker and crisper; the defense tightened up so scoring in the paint was no longer an option (the Pistons had 60 throughout the game), and were forced to take the usual bad outside shots (2-of-11 in the game).
The leading scorer for the Bulls was D.J. Augustin with 26 points off the bench, followed by a potential sixth-man of the year, Taj Gibson, scoring 22. Jimmy Butler had another impressive scoring night with 18, doing very well with his turf toe problem bothering him less and less, but Joakim Noah was at the heart of almost everything the Bulls did.
Jo’s our leader, and a triple-double is nothing to him. We are starting to expect that from him. He does so many things well that it makes it easier for the rest of us.
Noah scored 10 points, adding 11 rebounds and 11 assists. He now has six career triple doubles; two of them coming in the last three games, and it was his third of the last 30 days. The Bulls’ offense goes more and more through him, and while it might not be exactly conventional to have your center be your de facto playmaker, the Bulls are doing pretty well with this idea in mind, making Augustin and Hinrich play off of Noah instead of dictating play themselves.
It really helps that the Bulls can have inside presence from either Gibson or Boozer to help when Noah steps a bit to the outside. That Mike Dunleavy is surprising everyone by being a lot more than just the outside shooter he was brought in to be, and by Jimmy Butler not needing any rest (playing 46 minutes), providing another version of all-around efficiency.
Mediocrity is a sin in the NBA, and this season, the moment Derrick Rose was taken off the board, seemed like another playoff year, at best, for the Bulls before another early exit. But things change, even if management weren’t planning on being this good at this stage. The Bulls believe they have a team good enough to reach another conference semifinals, and maybe surprise one of the two big boys there through their defense and much improved offense compared to where they were before New Year’s.
Is this going to be enough for a deep playoff push? It’s hard seeing them getting past where they were stopped last season, the conference semifinals. But it looks like almost every player is better than he was last year, and not having Luol Deng isn’t hurting them at all, proving possibly how much a product of the system he was. Chicago are going to be underdogs against either the Pacers or the Heat, maybe even the Nets, but it’s part of the fuel that has made them so successful over the last two months.