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Thomas, Noah finally a big deal
Vinny Del Negro has been asked about the inconsistency of his big men so often he could begin charging for answers.
"We would love to have [production]," Del Negro said. "You need a nice balance."
Finally, the Bulls found some, getting energy, activity and production from Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah in a pulsating 113-104 victory Saturday night over the Nets at the United Center.
The question now is: Can those players follow up on it, or is this just another tease?
"I wish I was that smart," Del Negro said. "If I knew that, I'd bottle that up. When they have games like this, they're difference-makers."
Indeed, Thomas shook off a hyperextended neck suffered just before halftime to play the entire fourth quarter and finish with 16 points, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Noah contributed seven points and eight rebounds.
"He gave us the whole package tonight," Derrick Rose said of Thomas.
The Bulls trailed 96-93 when Rose drained a huge three-pointer with 3 minutes 10 seconds remaining. Following a Yi Jianlian miss, Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 29 points, gave the Bulls the lead for good with another three.
The teams traded points before Vince Carter missed a three-pointer under heavy pressure from Luol Deng. Rose, who had 22 points, six assists and six rebounds, then sank a tough right-handed runner in the lane with 1:23 remaining.
The Nets imploded when Devin Harris argued a no-call and official Danny Crawford hit him with a technical resulting in Gordon draining the free throw. Harris then committed a bad turnover and fouled Thomas, whose two free throws with 36.7 seconds remaining iced it.
Noah and Thomas left their fingerprints all over a 9-0 fourth-quarter run that erased a six-point deficit. Noah started it with a conventional three-point play off a tip-in. Thomas slammed home a perfect alley-oop from Larry Hughes. Thomas then drained two free throws after a steal and full-court drive.
Thomas' effort capped an eventful stretch where he barely played and also got sent to the locker room by Del Negro for making a sarcastic comment during practice.
"I'm my worst critic," Thomas said. "But I know the work I put in when people aren't watching. I know what I'm capable of doing and what I do to get better. That keeps my confidence up."
The Bulls kept their confidence up despite trailing 23-8 in the first quarter.
Thomas energized the crowd with three second-quarter dunks, including two alley-oops, and a spectacular block of a Brook Lopez layup.
Still, the Bulls trailed 60-50 at halftime before holding the Nets, who were led by Carter's 39 points, to 32.6 percent second-half shooting. This defense featured seven different players contributing to a season-high 13 blocks.
"Everybody played with a lot of energy," Thomas said. "That's contagious."