CHICAGO — Joakim Noah fell one assist short of his fourth career triple-double Thursday night, and the 6-foot-11 center sounded almost embarrassed by his pursuit of that feat late in a rare comfortable home win by the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s not really good to play basketball that way,” Noah said. “Focusing on your stats is not that cool, but I tried to get it.”
Following the Bulls’ 94-82 victory over the Boston Celtics, no one else in either locker room was about to criticize the focus on statistics at the end because Noah’s playmaking ability was the main reason Chicago had a sizeable lead down the stretch in snapping a two-game home losing streak.
He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to lead six Bulls scorers in double figures.
“Noah is an all-around winning guy,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I coached against Noah as an assistant in college in the Sweet Sixteen. He’s a guy who makes his teammates better in all the different ways. He even made the plays that will never get on the stat sheet – pulling over and helping, being long and forcing us to make another pass or forcing us to miss a shot.
“All those things add up at the end of the game.”
They just didn’t add up to 10 assists.
Carlos Boozer had 16 points, Luol Deng 14, Taj Gibson 12, Mike Dunleavy 11 and Jimmy Butler 10 as the balanced Bulls bounced back from a loss to Toronto on Tuesday in the opener of their four-game homestand.
Jordan Crawford led the Celtics, who have lost two straight, with 22 points.
Noah had nine assists early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get another. Butler missed a jumper with 8 seconds left in a last-second gasp.
“We really wanted him to get the triple-double,” Gibson said. “I told him if I was in the game, I would have gotten it for him.”
The Bulls (13-18) could afford to laugh for a change. Their early-season troubles can be tied directly to their inability to win consistently at the United Center.
The Bulls had dropped six of seven home games to fall to 7-7 at the United Center this season. Worse, five of the six losses came against teams with losing records at the time of the game. That stretch began two days after Chicago scored a 20-point home win against defending champion Miami. The Bulls also have a 16-point home win against Indiana, the club with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Even without star guard Derrick Rose, this team expects to win consistently at home.
“We have to turn it around,” Noah said. “To do that, everybody has to go in and give everything they have. We can’t take any nights off. You can’t play at 70 percent, you can’t play at 80 percent. You’ve got to give everything you’ve got every night.”
To help avoid the prolonged offensive droughts that have plagued his team in the past, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided to use Noah as more of a playmaker.
“We have always run a lot of the offense through him, and that’s what makes us a little different,” Thibodeau said.
Chicago moved ahead of the Celtics for eighth place in the Eastern Conference despite being five games under .500.
“They’ve had their struggles, but that’s not a 13-18 team,” Stevens said. “As they get fully healthy, they’ll continue to have success because they execute on both ends of the floor as well as anybody in the league. That being said, their offense is going to find itself, the shooting will find itself. It did a little bit tonight.”
NOTES: Celtics G Rajon Rondo, sidelined nearly a year since tearing his ACL, said before the game he is likely to play a stint in the D-League before returning. “I think that’s what it’s for,” he said. “I’d probably be the first guy to do that, but it doesn’t make a difference. I want to make sure I’m healthy and handle it the right way. I haven’t had a preseason. I haven’t had a training camp.” There is no timetable for Rondo’s return. … The Bulls had a full complement of players – other than Rose, who is out for the season – for a second straight game after playing short-handed for virtually all of December. “The challenge is how quickly we can adapt to the moving parts,” Thibodeau said. … The Celtics, who have a home game Friday against New Orleans, had to stay in Chicago on Thursday night because of the weather.