Joakim Noah always has liked to show off.
Maybe the Bulls’ center would wear an outrageous outfit or make an outrageous comment or concoct some other sort of outrageous behavior to make himself highly visible.
Noah has grown up since coming into the NBA, however, and he picks his spots more discreetly now. These days he’s most noticeable in games, especially like in the fourth quarter Monday night.
“I was just hooping,” he said.
Noah was everywhere, doing everything to help the Bulls’ beat the Nets 90-82 at Brooklyn to tie their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series at 1 victory apiece.
Nothing that came to mind for a while did justice to Noah’s performance. Then something did: Joakim Noah could have played for the Bulls’ championship teams of the 1990s and Michael Jordan would have loved having him as a teammate.
Noah not only took over this particular game down the stretch, but he did it in a measure of pain from plantar fasciitis in his foot and with a measure of rust from resting it the past month.
“Jo’s giving us everything he has,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Bulls placed a limit of 20-25 minutes for Noah to be on the court in this game. Reports were that he did everything possible to make himself available, from various forms of medication to therapy to acupuncture to voodoo to wishing to hoping to praying.
“I will do anything to play,” Noah was quoted as saying.
He clearly was disappointed in the Bulls’ 17-point loss two nights earlier, when he played only 13 minutes: “It was ugly in that Game 1.”
Noah came back on this night to hit 4 of 8 field-goal attempts for 11 points and add 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
Thibodeau managed Noah’s minutes masterfully, playing him 25:18 but with enough of them coming late with the game in the balance.
So, what did Noah do to help the Bulls win this game? It would take less time to mention what he didn’t do.
But instead of taking the easy way out let’s try to do justice to everything that Noah did do.
Perhaps most spectacular was the play in which Noah fought for a rebound, saved the ball while falling out of bounds and flipped it to Kirk Hinrich, who batted it to Nate Robinson, who hit a critical 3-point shot.
Then Noah tipped in a missed shot, then he screened a defender to free Luol Deng for a basket, then he scored on a driving layup, then he blocked a Brook Lopez shot …
Was that all? No, not really, but Noah was showing off so much of his stuff that it was difficult to keep up with all of it.
The Nets certainly couldn’t.
Noah did something else during the game that won’t show up on the stat sheet because he was on the bench at the time.
Wait, Noah wasn’t actually on the bench. He was on his feet, including the bad one that was responsible for him not being in the game.
Instead of resting the injury, Noah was up cheering his teammates like he should have had pompons in his hands instead of a towel.
When Derrick Rose is playing for the Bulls, he’s the Bulls’ heart and Noah is their soul. With Rose out with a surgical knee, it looked in this game like Noah took it upon himself to be both.
“He started off setting the tone in the game,” Thibodeau said. “He’s willing it, and we needed every bit of it tonight.”
Joakim Noah’s ailing foot permitting, he’ll get another chance to show off for 20-25 minutes in Game 3 at the United Center on Thursday night.
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