CHICAGO – Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro frequently has emphasized the need to see 100 percent effort from young players Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, who have spent long stretches on the bench.
On Saturday, Thomas and Noah showed they were listening.
Thomas scored 16 points and added five rebounds and two blocked shots to help spark the Bulls in a 113-104 comeback win against the New Jersey Nets. Noah added seven points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots as the Bulls outlasted the Nets in a game of sharp momentum swings.
“When those guys play with a lot of energy, we’re a different team,” said Luol Deng, whose key layup put the Bulls up by three points with two minutes left. “We’re going to make mistakes; we’re a young team. We’ve just got to keep playing with a lot of energy, and I thought tonight they had great energy for us.”
The Bulls’ bench outscored New Jersey’s bench, 37-12, and Ben Gordon made 12 of 21 shots from the field to lead the team with 29 points. The Nets jumped out to a 23-8 lead in the first quarter behind the hot hand of Vince Carter, but the Bulls regrouped with an 18-7 run early in the second quarter to take a four-point lead.
Yet that lead quickly vanished as part of a 17-2 Nets run before halftime, capped by Carter’s buzzer-beater from halfcourt. He finished with 39 points one night after an 0-for-13 performance.
“He’s just way too good of a player,” Del Negro said. “He really hurt us with 39 [points], but he made some tough shots.”
It appeared that Carter might lead his team to victory before the Bulls found Thomas for a pair of electrifying alley-oops. Larry Hughes spotted Thomas beneath the basket midway through the second quarter and lofted a pass toward the former first-round pick, who caught the ball with his back to the basket and slammed it behind his head.
Minutes later, Ben Gordon floated a pass to Thomas after he beat New Jersey defenders down the court in a flash of hustle that Bulls coaches have pleaded for in the past.
“They’ve been working hard,” Del Negro said of Thomas and Noah. “They haven’t had consistent minutes but when they come out and play like they did tonight it’s easy to see how they can change the game for us.”
Gordon and Derrick Rose added key three-pointers down the stretch to put the Bulls up by three points, and Nets standout Devin Harris drew a technical foul that helped the Bulls pad their lead.
“I thought I got fouled on a couple of possessions,” Harris said. “I didn’t get the call. I think Danny [Crawford] is a good ref. I just pushed him too far.”
Meanwhile, Del Negro could only hope that Thomas and Noah could sustain their one-game revival.
“Just keep working,” Del Negro said. “There’s no magic pill, you’ve just got to keep working and come with the energy and the commitment every day. They’ve been doing a great job with that and I’m really happy for both of them.”