By K.C. Johnson
CHICAGO – Unlike openly emotional 76ers coach Doug Collins, Tom Thibodeau wears his monotone on his sleeve during trying times.
Know your job. Do your job. The Bulls have more than enough with which to win. Thibodeau trots out all his favorite talking points, opting to fight complacency with consistency.
Both teams have fallen on hard times, but the Bulls closed their disappointing February with a semblance of normalcy. Behind an all-over-the-place performance from Joakim Noah, the Bulls sent the 76ers to their seventh straight loss with a 93-82 triumph at the United Center.
Thibodeau has implored his team for greater intensity, and the Bulls, particularly Noah, delivered. Noah notched the rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double, finishing with 23 points, 21 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocks.
Noah’s ninth block directly led to Nate Robinson’s 3-pointer for an 80-71 lead with 6 minutes, 17 seconds left.
According to Bulls’ radio producer Jeff Mangurten, who supplies statistical information for the flagship broadcast, Artis Gilmore is the last Bulls center to post such a triple-double, with 35 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks on Dec. 20, 1977. Mangurten also reports Noah is the first NBA player to record a 20-point, 20-rebound, 10-block game since Shawn Bradley on April 7, 1998.
Noah has admitted his distaste for the 76ers’ fans who cheered when he suffered his grotesque ankle injury during last season’s first-round playoff series. Dislike for the Bulls’ recent play, which featured just the second losing month in Thibodeau’s tenure, helped fuel this performance.
“Our guys come in and work,” Thibodeau said. “We all feel we’re capable of doing better than we are right now. For the most part, the attitude and approach have been very good.”
Carlos Boozer added a double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds. The Bulls got back to their attacking and hustling ways, outrebounding the 76ers 53-47 and posting a 17-10 edge in second-chance points.
“I think it’s important to never lose sight of how hard we have to play and how smart and together we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win, particularly when we’re shorthanded,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t allow frustration to creep in. This is the grind of an NBA season. Every team goes though this. You have to work your way out of things.”
Marco Belinelli started for Richard Hamilton, a late scratch with lower back spasms. It’s the first game Hamilton has missed since Christmas. Belinelli, who had averaged 15.3 points and shot 40.8 percent from 3-point land in his 12 previous starts this season, managed six points, going 0-for-3 on 3-pointers.
Still adjusting to the loss of Taj Gibson, the Bulls opted to go small to start the second quarter, playing Luol Deng at power forward and giving seldom-used Daequan Cook a brief look. But no reserve logged heavy minutes, as Thibodeau rode his starters. Deng left the game in the waning seconds after taking a Spencer Hawes elbow to his face.
Jrue Holiday’s 22 points led the 76ers, who failed to score 100 or more points for the 12th straight game. That’s the franchise’s longest stretch since the shot clock was introduced in 1954-55.