D.J. Augustin, Joakim Noah shine again

BOSTON -- Joakim Noah has said several times already that D.J. Augustin's presence has saved the Chicago Bulls' season.

Noah also said he doesn't believe he would have made the All-Star team for the second consecutive season had it not been for the fact Augustin was claimed off waivers in December from the Toronto Raptors ... and has played All-Star caliber offensive basketball ever since.

That's why it should come as no surprise that Noah, the emotional leader of a reborn Bulls team, happily gave Augustin a hard time after the veteran point guard scored a career-high 33 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, during the Bulls 107-102 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.

"He's been great," Noah said of Augustin. "I'm really happy that he's part of this team. As soon as he came in he fit in right away. He's a laid-back guy, quiet guy, but he's a hell of a competitor. Plays well in the big moment. We wouldn't be in this position right now if it wasn't for him."

It's becoming a common occurrence for Bulls' players and coaches to sing Augustin's praises after games.

While the rest of the league seems to have forgotten how solid Augustin could be offensively, he never wavered in feeling he could still be a high-level player. His confidence was shaken when he came to Chicago, but it wasn't broken.

"I believe in myself, man," Augustin said. "I'm a basketball player. I always thought of myself as a pretty good basketball player. I think everybody on this level is pretty good or you wouldn't be in the NBA. Just having confidence in myself, my teammates giving me confidence, and just feeling comfortable."

Augustin and Noah have formed an unlikely dynamic duo for the Bulls in the midst of what was thought to be a lost season when Derrick Rose went down with another season-ending injury and Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Augustin continues to hit big shots, and Noah continues to make plays all over the floor.

It's not a surprise that head coach Tom Thibodeau praised those two first after another hard-fought win. In their own way, both men have become closers on a team that didn’t appear to have any when Rose went out in November.

"He's done it all year," Thibodeau said of Augustin. "He's a big fourth-quarter scorer. Big shot after big shot. I thought Jo made a lot of good plays. We had a lot of guys step up. We didn't play our best, we found a way to win. So we'll take it."

That's the beauty of Sunday's win for the Bulls: Thibodeau and his players know they could play much better, yet they still found a way to beat the beleaguered Celtics.

The difference, as it has been throughout the last three months, is that Thibodeau has found a rhythm within the closing lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Augustin and Noah. The coach trusts those five to lock down games for him, and he has gone to them repeatedly down the stretch in games.

Augustin and Noah continue to lead the way, but that group has created the type of mentality within itself that teams are having trouble beating.

"When you play to each other's strengths, good things are going to happen," Thibodeau said. "Taj has also been very efficient in the fourth quarter. So D.J. is probably our most efficient, and then Taj is probably is the second most efficient. Then Jo is the playmaker.

"Then the other guys have to do their job. Kirk is great. It gives us the option, we can run the offense through D.J. or run it through Kirk, and we can put D.J. in different situations.

"And then Jimmy's the wild card. Jimmy does everything. You don't want to take Jimmy off the floor. He's the catalyst, he guards everybody, moves extremely well without the ball. You leave him open, he's going to make you pay. He plays with a lot of toughness on every play, and we need that."

If the Bulls are going to rack up wins in the playoffs, they're going to need that group to continue to set the tone -- with Augustin at the front of the offensive charge. His teammates and coaches knew he could be good, but even they seem a little surprised at just how great he has been in spots this season.

"We had played him early in his career and he had played pretty well against us," Noah said. "But I never knew he would be this effective but ... I think nobody did. Otherwise I think he'd be playing somewhere [else].

"I'm just happy he's with the Bulls. I think he found a home here, and I hope he can stay for a long time."