After signature victory, Bulls believe they can try
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com May 5, 2013 9:36PM
Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah, top, celebrates with teammate Nate Robinson after defeating the Brooklyn Nets 99-93 in Game 7 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series in New York, Saturday, May 4, 2013. The Bulls won the series to advance to a second-round series against the Miami Heat beginning Monday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Updated: May 6, 2013 9:14AM
Nobody will give them a chance against the Heat. And the Bulls don’t have a problem with that.
‘‘We’re excited for the challenge; we’ll see what happens,’’ Joakim Noah said after spearheading the Bulls’ Game 7 victory over the Nets.
What fuels their confidence is a ‘‘Band of Brothers’’ mentality, a belief that they can close ranks without Derrick Rose, without Luol Deng, without Kirk Hinrich and keep advancing. The 99-93 victory over the Nets, who had every advantage, is proof of that belief.
‘‘So many guys stepped up; that’s what it’s all about,’’ said Noah, ticking off names such as aging big man Nazr Mohammed, little-used rookie Marquis Teague and overachieving free-agent signee Nate Robinson. ‘‘Being able to share these moments with your teammates. Everybody’s tired. Everybody contributed. These are guys who have been through a lot, not playing huge stretches during the season but coming in at key moments and stepping up. You have to give these guys a lot of credit.’’
In each game, different players have seized the moment offensively for a scoring-challenged team. Robinson’s electrifying surge saved Game 4. On Saturday, Noah (24 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks) and Marco Belinelli (24 points) delivered the scoring punch.
After the Bulls opened a shocking 61-44 halftime lead, the Nets punched back, closing to 69-65. They would get no closer.
‘‘We were on the ropes,’’ said Robinson, playing for his fifth NBA team in an eight-year career. ‘‘We did the rope-a-dope like Muhammad Ali, and we held on. It’s awesome. This is a great group of guys. I can’t even describe it. This locker room’s fun. It’s been great. This is the best team I’ve been on in my eight years in the NBA. We all love each other as brothers, and we play for each other.’’
Presiding over it all is Tom Thibodeau, a steady, detail-oriented coach whose single-minded approach makes for poor sound bites but great unity on his team.
‘‘He told us to pack for Miami and go out there and play hard, and that’s what we did,’’ Taj Gibson said of Thibodeau’s Game 7 message. ‘‘Think about it. So many injuries on this team. Guys just kept playing. That showed a lot about this team. There was a lot of heart out there.’’
Will that kind of determination be enough to vanquish LeBron James and the defending NBA champions? As Noah said, we’ll find out.