The booing for Ben Wallace sounded as half-hearted as many of the Bulls' efforts this season.
How fitting, though, that on the Thursday night Wallace returned to the United Center in a Cavaliers uniform, the Bulls staged one of their most spirited efforts. And the man who essentially replaced Wallace was up to his primal-screaming best.
Joakim Noah grabbed a season-high 20 rebounds and added 13 points as the Bulls made Wallace, Joe Smith and the Cavaliers disappear with a 107-96 victory.
Even LeBron James' 39 points failed to carry their typical pop because 26 of them came before halftime.
"The way we won was kind of like the Chicago Bulls of the last couple of seasons," interim coach Jim Boylan said. "Our defense in the second half was outstanding. Our rebounding was great."
Nobody was more active than Noah, whose 10 offensive rebounds helped the Bulls snag 21 of their 56 boards on the offensive end. That led to 25 second-chance points.
Noah fired his first fist pump and let loose his first scream when he beat Wallace for the opening tip, one of Wallace's strengths.
"He used to be my teammate and a friend," Noah said of Wallace. "He's somebody I learned a lot from. But it's all about that playoff run, whether you're playing against a friend or not."
Luol Deng and Ben Gordon each scored 23 to lead the Bulls, who pulled within one game of idle New Jersey for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Wallace, who shared laughs and hugs during a pregame visit to the Bulls' locker room, finished with two points and 10 rebounds.
Wallace brushed off the meager booing.
"I come here again," he said. "They can't get rid of me."
Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, the ex-Cavs-turned-Bulls, led a third-quarter charge that helped the Bulls seize control.
Hughes failed to make a first-half field goal but scored nine and Gooden added four in a 19-2 run as James missed his first five second-half shots.
"Every time [James] put it on the ground, we wanted to see three guys in the paint," Boylan said.
Gordon later added nine points in 51 seconds as the Bulls built a 17-point lead. But Damon Jones' four-point play with 9:04 remaining pulled Cleveland to 86-78.
That's when the Bulls responded with a 14-2 run as Andres Nocioni, who had all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, scored five.
"Everybody contributed," guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Talk about fitting: The last time a Bull grabbed 20 rebounds, it was Wallace with 27 on Dec. 15, 2007.
"Sometimes the ball goes your way," Noah said. "I don't want to say too much because [Friday] I have to play against Kevin Garnett.
"I'm happy about my performance. But I'm trying to stay on edge because the playoffs would be a great feeling, especially with everything we've been through."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun