NEW YORK -- After almost racking up his second triple-double in as many games with 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and being ejected after a skirmish with Knicks center Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah wore the look of a hyperactive child but spoke like the veteran leader that he is.
"We played hard and we didn't back down," Noah said of the Chicago Bulls’ impressive 110-106 win over the New York Knicks. "It was a tough game and I'm just happy we won... It was a great game. I'm very, very, very happy that we came out with a victory. It was a great team effort."
Noah spoke the truth.
The Bulls beat the Eastern Conference leading Knicks because everybody chipped in. For three quarters, they absolutely dominated and frustrated one of the best teams in the league. Tom Thibodeau will have nightmares about the fourth quarter in which his team surrendered 45 points and appeared to lose the laser focus that had propelled it throughout the game, but when the Bulls needed plays Noah or one of his teammates made them.
Luol Deng, playing with a shoulder injury, had 29 points and 13 rebounds in almost 42 minutes. Marco Belinelli, who continues to play well in place of Rip Hamilton, scored 22 points in 45 minutes. Kirk Hinrich, who has been much maligned for his poor shooting over the first two months of the season, played his best game of the year and almost picked up a triple-double of his own. A month ago the Bulls may not have believed they could come into a place like Madison Square Garden and win a game like this, but times have changed.
With or without Derrick Rose, Hamilton or anyone else that gets injured this season, the Bulls believe they can win every time they hit the floor. It's a credit to Thibodeau and his players to have developed a mentality to be able to overcome major obstacles.
"We play together," Deng simply said, when asked how they've been able to succeed without Rose. "We play together."
The Bulls, who are now five games over .500, are winning because they are starting to believe in each other. On Friday night, that belief got a big boost from the play of Hinrich. He did everything Thibodeau needed him to do against the Knicks, which helps explain why the veteran coach went out of his way to stand up for his oft-criticized point guard.
"Finally you guys recognize that," Thibodeau said of Hinrich's solid play. "The guy's been playing well all season. He's got our second highest plus/minus. You guys keep talking about what he's not doing. All I see him (doing) is playing well. If you look at how he's shot the ball over the last ten games prior to tonight he was shooting 47 (percent) from three. You guys say he's not shooting well. He's doing a great job of running our team, that's what I do know."
Thibodeau's numbers may have been a little off, but his point was well-taken. If Hinrich can continue to shoot the ball well while the Bulls play the type of defense they did through the first three quarters, they can continue to win the types of games that critics didn't think they had a chance in. The Bulls have taken an 'us against the world' mentality without Rose and there's no doubt they fed off the energy in the Garden Friday night.
"It was so much emotion," Bulls forward, and New York native, Taj Gibson said. "Especially when we were going up … it felt like you were playing in a street tournament the way the crowd really gets so into the game and talking to you, you're talking to them. They know the game; like they know screen and rolls, they know missing box outs, they're saying everything to you. It's a crazy feeling but I'm just happy we got the win."
So was Noah.
The NYC-born big man knew that his team had just pulled off one of its most impressive wins of the year. He knows they still have a lot of work to do this season but he likes the direction in which they are headed.
"We feel like we still have our best basketball ahead of us," Noah said. "We feel like we still can get a lot better and to come out and get a win like this in the Garden, to me ... you don't know what it means to me. I'm playing in front of my family and my friends and I just felt really blessed today to be able to play in the building."