DALLAS — “WAKE UP!”
That’s what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau hollered to the officials in the second quarter Friday night in Dallas. His team needed a cold shower, too. They trailed by 16 points. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, it seemed, could not miss 3-pointers.
But the Bulls perked up and finally took command of the game in the final five minutes. They made every key play down the stretch in the 100-91 victory, their eighth victory in nine games.
They clinched their triumph with a series that included a Kirk Hinrich jumper, Jimmy Butler swatting a Jose Calderon layup try and Hinrich feeding Joakim Noah for a layup.
Seven Bulls scored at least nine points, with Taj Gibson (20), Butler (19) and Hinrich (17) leading the way. Gibson also dominated the glass, snatching 15 rebounds.
The Bulls’ defense was relentless down the stretch. The Mavericks made just 6 of 25 shots in the fourth quarter. Vince Carter hit 5 of 9 in the first half and missed all five tries after the break.
“Man, we’re tough,” Butler said. “When we’re rotating, getting to the ball. That’s where basketball starts for us; we let our defense dictate our offense.”
Said Thibodeau: “They’re hard to guard. We showed more discipline as the game went along. … The fourth quarter was great.”
That fiercely contested quarter left both sides hollering at the officials.
After Butler missed a layup with 6 minutes, 8 seconds to play and there appeared to be minimal contact, a late foul was called on Wayne Ellington. The arena erupted.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban rose to his feet from his spot near the home bench, shaking his head. Minutes earlier, Cuban had complained to someone behind press row about the officiating, saying: “It’s crazy how bad it is.”
Before the game Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle heaped praise on Noah, who has cemented his status as one of the top centers in the East.
“There are a lot of guys with a high motor and tenacity — but they usually aren’t 7-footers,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of their better playmakers with the ball. And when he’s out there, you know he’s out there. He’s talking on defense, he’s emotional. He’s a big part of the engine that drives their team.”
Noah, shockingly, was nearly invisible in the first half, scoring just two points on a late drive with two assists. Mike Dunleavy outrebounded him 8-1.
But Noah came up huge during a fourth-quarter stretch. He closed out on Carter, forcing a 3-point miss. He fed D.J. Augustin for a 3 that put the Bulls ahead 81-78.
And then he forced the ball loose from Dirk Nowitzki and leaped over him, grabbing the ball and calling for time without committing a travel violation.
That stretch, as it turned out, keyed the victory.