NEW YORK — Another classic Bulls’ bounce-back victory seemed to belong mostly to Joakim Noah.
Gutting out 25 minutes on a sore right foot, Noah produced 11 points, 10 rebounds and several key plays down the stretch, allowing the Bulls to hold off Brooklyn 90-82 and even their first-round playoff series at 1-1.
But maybe there was another explanation for the Bulls’ inspirational play, one that wasn’t quite as visible as what happened Monday night at the Barclays Center.
“Once Thibs got into us in that film room, we couldn’t wait to get onto the court because the way they were just cutting us to pieces on the back cuts and getting into the lane,” Taj Gibson said in the locker room.
Wait a minute, was coach Tom Thibodeau the true inspirational leader behind this victory? Needless to say, the Bulls were awful in Game 1, when they fell behind by 25 points by halftime.
“He was really laying into guys,” Gibson said of Thibodeau. “I never saw him so inflamed. He was really calling guys out, letting guys know what they needed to do. Everybody needed to go out there and dominate their matchup; go out there, just put forth effort. He really challenged guys the last couple days.”
One attempt to confirm the coach’s behavior in the film room fell on deaf ears, so to speak.
“I had my headphones on,” Luol Deng said with a smile. “I downloaded some new music. I don’t know what Thibs was talking about. I watched the tape, but I didn’t hear anything.”
It was tough to hear much of anything in a raucous locker room. The Bulls’ bench, including the injured Derrick Rose, was particularly lively during this contest.
Based on what happened on the court, this victory belonged to Noah without a doubt. Nets center Brook Lopez had another nice game with 21 points, but Brooklyn scored just 30 points in the paint Monday, compared to 56 in Game 1.
“To me, it’s obvious we’re a much better team with him on the floor,” Thibodeau said of Noah.
After the Nets hit just 2 of 19 shots in the third quarter, the Bulls held a 14-point lead with 10:25 remaining. Brooklyn answered with a 9-0 run and Noah walked gingerly back onto the floor.
First, Noah ended the run by finishing a dunk off a nice pass from Deng. Then he rebounded a Carlos Boozer miss, tossed a pass toward Kirk Hinrich, who saved it to Nate Robinson, who drained one of his patented dramatic 3-pointers to make it a 10-point game.
When Joe Johnson hit a couple of 3-pointers to bring the Nets within 82-78, Noah found Deng for a jumper. After a defensive stop, Noah went right at Lopez and finished a driving bank shot that provided the inspirational illustration of the night and gave the Bulls an 86-78 lead with 1:58 left.
“I’m just happy my foot is holding up,” said Noah, who grew up in Manhattan. “Being able to win in Brooklyn in front of my family and in front of my friends, that helps, too. It feels good.
“I haven’t played in a long time. I haven’t played in almost a month before the playoffs. I’m just trying to get into my rhythm. I missed a lot of open shots. I’ve got to feel more comfortable, but I felt overall, our team played passionate basketball tonight. That’s a plus because it was ugly in that Game 1.”
Deng led the Bulls with 15 points, while Boozer and Hinrich each added 13. Brooklyn shot 35.4 percent from the field overall, while point guard Deron Williams went 1-for-9 from the field.
“One thing about plantar fasciitis, once it gets warmed up, it feels a little better,” Gibson added. “I’ve had it before. It’s a pain, but he just played through it. (Noah) was a warrior today, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if we would have got this win.”
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