Fifth game of the circus trip. Second night of back-to-backs following a tough loss to the Lakers. Down 50-27 in the second quarter. Apparently out of gas.
Emphasis on the word “apparently.”
As I watched Chicago’s amazing comeback last night, I was reminded of what Joakim Noah said a few weeks ago when the Bulls fell behind big to the Celtics in Boston on the second night of back-to-backs and nearly came back to win before succumbing in overtime:
“I think we’re not there yet, but we’re pretty close. We’re only going to get better, and when we do, it’s going to get real ugly for everybody who’s talking real crazy. All the trash that people are talking right now is going to come back and haunt them. Because when it counts, we’ll be ready.”
I loved that. Pure defiance. That — as much as the defense and rebounding — is what makes Noah so valuable. Derrick Rose may be Chicago’s best player, but Noah is the team’s spiritual leader. He is the savagely beating heart of a team that, so far this season, simply will not give up.
Take last night. His stat line — 17 points (8-for-13), 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals — doesn’t even begin to describe the impact he had on this game. It doesn’t list the shots he intimidated or the passes he disrupted. It doesn’t tell you how he repeatedly defended Steve Nash on the perimeter. How he dove for loose balls. How he clapped and screamed from the bench when he wasn’t in the game.
And when Rose hit a reverse layup to tie the score at 111 with 0.1 seconds left in the first overtime, it was Joakim who delivered the perfect pass to make it happen. When that play started, the Bulls had only 4.3 seconds to make something happen. And mind you, the only reason the Bulls were even in a position to tie the game at that point is because Noah had tipped in a missed three-pointer by Rose on Chicago’s previous possession.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Derrick’s performance. Rose was awesome. He played 50 minutes and scored a game-best 35 points while grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds and dishing out a team-high 7 assists. Rose hit clutch shot after clutch shot…and the two clutch free throws at the end of regulation that forced the first overtime.
He’s becoming a superstar if he isn’t one already.
But I’m here to tell you, Noah’s contributions — statistically, emotionally, spiritually — are just as important. His performance last night was just as amazing as what Rose did, even if it’s not getting as much attention.
Chicago’s depth was also critical. Kyle Korver had 24 points off the bench to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists…and the Bulls were +22 when he was on the floor. James Johnson returned from the dead (again) to score 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting to (also) go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists…and the Bulls were +10 when he was on the floor.
C.J. Watson (2 points, 1-for-4, 2 assists) and Brian Scalabrine (0 points, 1 assist) didn’t make huge statistical contributions, but the Bulls were +12 and +10 respectively when they were in the game. Even Omer Asik made his presence felt, particularly on a pick-and-roll play attempt by the Suns in which Asik used his length to cut off the passing lane and then intimidated Nash into an airball.
In the NBA, a bench is supposed to provide energy and key contributions when called on. Well, they’re doing that.
The Bulls are really coming together as a team. There were countless points last night at which they could have failed or just given up. But they didn’t. They wouldn’t. And I haven’t even mentioned how Taj Gibson missed the game with a foot injury, or that Carlos Boozer still hasn’t played a single game yet this season.