PHOENIX -- With the game on the line and without Derrick Rose to turn to late in overtime, the Bulls found an unlikely source to fill the big shot maker void Wednesday night.
The emotional center drained a jumper from 18 feet, the shot he's been working on for several years, that gave the Bulls a six-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. As is his custom, the 7-footer joyously pulled out the finger guns that have become his customary celebration after knocking down a shot and holstered them proudly. It's taken a long time for Noah to become consistent with that jumper and it seems in the first few weeks of the season that he has turned a corner offensively.
He proved that again Wednesday night, scoring 21 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out five assists in 42 minutes of action.
"He's been playing this way now throughout the preseason, throughout the season," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's healthy. And so that's the big thing; he's working hard on his game, he's studying, he's preparing to play. I think he's shown that he's a lot more than just a hustle guy. The thing right now that I think he's doing great is he's screening -- the better the screen he sets the more he's open. The more he's open ... he's making his moves a lot quicker.
Of course, Thibodeau couldn't let Noah slide without pointing out a flaw.
"(He) probably could have had 30 tonight if he had made his dunks."
Noah, who let several easy points slip right through his fingertips, jokingly blamed the ball for his issues. He knows he has things to work on within his game, but he is definitely happy with the way his jumper is progressing.
"I think usually when I catch the ball I'm thinking pass first and I have to keep my eye on the rim," he admitted. "But I just try to make a quick play first and usually when they try to take that away, that's when I go into my shot."
While he'd never come right out and say it, the big man is clearly happy with the way he's playing.
"I feel like I'm just going to keep working, keep grinding," he said. "I'm feeling good out there."
Hinrich feeling better: Kirk Hinrich made his return Wednesday night after missing Monday's game because of a hip strain. He managed only three points in 27 minutes, but he did have seven assists and five rebounds. Hinrich, who is still bothered by the injury, hopes that he will get back into a rhythm soon.
"I'm happy with the progress I made and (the injury) is still not ideal so I'm going to keep working at it," he said.
"We got a tough whistle. I think that happens on the road. We can't let that get us sidetracked. I think it's more important for us to adjust to the way the game is being called. You've got to be able to win different ways so if the game is being called that way, I thought overall they did a good job with the officiating, and you just have to make your adjustment. But it's an emotional game ... the one thing I don't like, I don't like the fourth quarter technicals. It's hard to recover from those. So that's something that we got to clean up."