Joakim Noah is best known for rebounds, defense and intensity. But the Bulls demonstrated Monday night how valuable he has become on offense.
Noah was feeling under the weather and left the United Center roughly 45 minutes before tipoff. Without him, the Bulls shot just 38 percent from the field, trailed almost the entire game and lost to Minnesota 95-86.
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"He wasn't feeling well at all," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We thought it might clear up a little bit, but it didn't. He was actually feeling worse. We just sent him home to get rest. I think he'll be OK tomorrow."
Noah is averaging 11.7 points on the season. But in the past month or so, he has become the catalyst offensively. He has averaged 5.6 assists in January and led the team in assists six times during the Bulls' 10-3 stretch leading into Monday's contest.
Without him, the Bulls were mistake-prone and shot the ball poorly. That's in addition to allowing Minnesota's Kevin Love to score a game-high 31 points. Noah might have helped in that regard, too.
During his postgame comments, Thibodeau stuck to a consistent theme regarding Noah and the offense.
"What you can't overlook is the importance of passing and what it means for your team and what it does for your team," Thibodeau said. "Passing makes other people better. Jo's very unselfish. He's going to hit the open man, make the game easy, set screens, get to the offensive boards. That stuff goes a long way.
"Sometimes you don't necessarily see it statistically. But that movement and the playmaking, I thought we had gotten into a pretty good rhythm offensively where we had a good balance -- inside, outside, ball hitting the paint, rhythm 3s and that sort of thing."
All five starters scored in double figures Monday. Carlos Boozer finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds but hit just 9 of 24 shots and struggled in the first half. D.J. Augustin added 19 points, and Jimmy Butler had 16.
For much of the game the Bulls (22-22) were painful to watch offensively. They headed into the fourth quarter trailing by 7, then went nearly four minutes without scoring, while the Timberwolves stretched the lead to 77-65.
"We have to play as a team," Thibodeau added. "We've got to play for each other. You can't be selfish. You've got to play as a team on both sides of the ball."
Love was a perfect 14-for-14 from the foul line, and as a team Minnesota hit 22 of 26 free throws. Taj Gibson sat for a long time after picking up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter.
"Whenever somebody gets put to the line 14 times, it's going to hurt the momentum of the game," Gibson said. "It was real frustrating with the calls, myself getting fouls, Carlos."
The Bulls dropped to 4-10 against Western Conference opponents and now must head out on the six-game, ice-show road trip, which starts Wednesday in San Antonio.