Nothing serious appeared to be wrong with Bulls center Joakim Noah. He hasn't missed a game this season and he finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks Wednesday night as the Bulls beat Toronto 110-93 at the Air Canada Centre to stretch their winning streak to seven games.
But the Bulls announced after the game that Noah will have surgery this morning to repair a torn ulna collateral ligament in his right thumb, which should keep him sidelined for 8-10 weeks.
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"I feel like it's just tough not playing at a high level," Noah told reporters in Toronto. "It's hurting and I'm playing and I've got to take anti-inflammatories every time I play. I can't practice. I have to get right. I have to get right and get back to this team.
"I'm going to miss playing with the guys. It's frustrating because I feel like we have a chance to be really, really good. And I've never been in a situation where we're winning like this. But I know in the long run this is what needs to be done.
"I've had the same exact surgery before on my left hand. It (stinks). It's not what I want, but you can't … I've (played) through it for a couple weeks now and I got to get back to playing at a high level."
Noah injured the thumb Nov. 27 at Sacramento but continued to play. He wore a wrap on the thumb during the past few games but used only athletic tape in Toronto.
"Joakim's injury presentation was unusual in that he was able to function at a high level with the injury," team physician Brian Cole said in a statement. "More often, athletes are unable to play at all due to pain and instability of the thumb."
Noah is averaging 14 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. His mobility and energy is vital to the Bulls' defense.
Last year when Noah went down later in the season with plantar fasciitis, the Bulls lost 10 in a row. But if surgery can't be avoided, the Bulls want to do it now rather than later.
"We're looking at what's best for him right now," Thibodeau said. "I think long term it's the right decision. It's unfortunate, but that's a part of the game. Guys get hurt. When they're injured and they need surgery, they have to do it.
"It's disappointing for Jo, but for us, we're confident in the ability of the guys we have. We have more than enough to win with."
The most likely scenario is Taj Gibson returning to the starting lineup at center, joining power forward Carlos Boozer.
But the Bulls (16-8) also could turn to rookie center Omer Asik or veteran Kurt Thomas. Asik has averaged 2.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game. Thomas, 38, has played just 12 minutes all season, but the Bulls signed him in the off-season for situations like this.
Boozer piled up 34 points and 12 rebounds against Toronto. Luol Deng added 19 points. Gibson hit just 3 of 11 shots to finish with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks off the bench.
Adding a quality big man at this stage of the season is a longshot, but the Bulls figure to check the availability of Rasheed Wallace.
He retired after playing for Boston last season but stopped by Thibodeau's pregame news conference when the Bulls played the Celtics on Dec. 3 and yelled out, 'Need a job.'" Thibodeau was an assistant with the Celtics last season.
Bulls guard Derrick Rose played 30 minutes against Toronto, despite suffering wrist, elbow and hip injuries in a nasty fall Monday against Indiana. Rose scored just 6 points, to go with 11 assists. Considering the Bulls produced 62 points in the paint, his offense was hardly needed.
The Bulls scored 40 points in the second quarter and coasted after opening a 63-44 halftime lead.
Mike McGraw's game tracker
Bulls 110, Raptors 93
Noah, oh no: The Bulls coasted to their seventh straight win but received disappointing news that center Joakim Noah will need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and miss 8-10 weeks.
Last waltz: Noah has been playing with the thumb injury since Nov. 27, and he produced 11 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks against the Raptors. Carlos Boozer led the way with 34 points and 12 rebounds.
Short again: The Bulls went 9-6 without Boozer, then 7-2 with both Noah and Boozer in the lineup. How will they do without Noah, arguably their best defender? Last year the Bulls lost 10 straight when Noah rested his sore foot.