They have a way of coming back to haunt you.
Last night, words sure came back to haunt Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls. Less than a month ago, Noah appeared on on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000 and had some joking-but-kinda-serious things to say about Boston’s Kevin Garnett. In case you missed it, here’s a sampling:
“Kevin Garnett will not — will not — get a Christmas gift from me. I don’t like him. … He’s a very mean guy. Where’s the love? None at all. Ugly, too.”
Going back even further, Joakim had this to say after Garnett earned a suspension for throwing an elbow at Quentin Richardson during a playoff game:
“I’m going to say it: He’s a dirty player. He’s always swinging elbows, man. I’m hurting right now because of an elbow he threw. It’s unbelievable. He’s a dirty player. It’s one thing to be competitive and compete and all that. But don’t be a dirty player, man. He’s a dirty player.”
With those sincere but possibly ill-chosen words providing the backdrop, Garnett — whom many people thought had one foot in the NBA grave last season — went out and dominated: 33 minutes, 20 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, a blocked shot, 7-for-11 from the field, 6-for-6 from the line and a plus-minus score of +28.
And during all that statistical productivity, he found time to get into a push-and-shove match with Noah that resulted in double-technical fouls.
I love Noah. Love his fiery spirit and his defiant attitude. But still…sometimes it’s dangerous to tug on Superman’s cape. Especially when he’s on a pretty good team full of veteran players who have a lot of pride.
It actually reminded me of an NFL playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears at Soldier field back in 2007. Da Bears jumped out to a 16-0 lead, but the Saints pulled to within 16-14 on an 88-yard touchdown reception by Reggie Bush in the third quarter. That play just might have swung momentum in the Saints’ favor…
…except that Bush taunted Brian Urlacher by reaching back to wave the football at Urlacher, somersaulted into the end zone and then danced a lively jig for everybody to see. Bush apparently forgot that Urlacher was one of the best linebackers in the NFL and that the Bears’ defense was probably the best in the league.
Sure enough, Chicago’s D kicked it into overdrive after that play and the Bears went on to win 39-14.
Don’t tug the cape. Don’t do it.
Anyway, the Celtics — behind Garnett and Rajon Rondo (12 points, 19 assists, 3 steals) — had it any way they wanted against the Bulls. Boston shot 53 percent to only 42 percent for Chicago. The Celts outrebounded the Bulls 44-34 and outscored them 56-40 in the paint. Boston was +11 in assists, + 7 in points off turnovers, and — most importantly — +12 at the end of the game.
The Bulls’ biggest problem, though, was failing to match the Celtics’ out-of-the-gate intensity. Boston outscored Chicago 31-19 in the first quarter and then 29-19 in the third.
Said Carlos Boozer: “Our first and third [quarters] have been a problem for us all season, no matter who’s been out there. The first quarter, we dig ourselves a hole. The third quarter, we dig ourselves a hole. And we’ve been fortunate some games, but the majority of games in the NBA, when you get behind to a very good team, you’re not going to climb back too many times.”
It’s true. What’s also true is that inserting Boozer into a rotation that was peaking in terms of chemistry has kind of gummed up the works. It had to be done — Boozer wasn’t going to be left to rot on the bench — but trying to reboot your system against the Magic and Celtics, two of the league’s best and hottest teams, it a pretty tall order.
It’s like tossing a baby into a shark tank and then yelling: “Okay…learn to swim!”
In related news, Boozer played 21 minutes, went 4-for-10, grabbed only 2 rebounds and finished with a plus-minus score of -21.
But I’m not putting this loss on Boozer. It was a team loss…a systemic failure. The Bulls looked out of synch while being outworked and outplayed by a better team. The parts are there, but obviously there’s still work to be done.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “We just have to keep working at it. We have to study, keep making the necessary corrections. We got to play with more pace on offense, but again, a big part of that is the defense. They go hand in hand. When you’re making them miss and you’re rebounding well, and now you’re getting Derrick [Rose] in the open floor, that’s where you get your easy baskets. Everything is a grind right now because we’re playing out of the halfcourt so much.”
Timing. Chemistry. Rotations. These things will come. Remember: Boozer started full-contact practice on Monday.
As for Noah, well, he’s disappointed and a little grumpy…but not about Garnett: “It’s been like that every time, every time I play KG. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t matter. Who cares? At the end of the day, they won the game. That’s what’s frustrating. I don’t care about the other stuff. At the end of the day, it’s talk, all talk. Nothing’s gonna happen.”
And KG? What’s his take on his feud — if it can even be called that — with Noah?
Said Garnett: “No, let me tell you something about people, man. Everybody has an opinion and, obviously, he had one. I’m not entertaining nor addressing nobodies. I’m not even entertaining them. I’m focused on basketball — winning and trying to make this team better. Other than that, I’m not [commenting] on anything.”
When asked if he considered Noah a nobody, KG simply said “Next question” then gave a quick wink and a smile.
Now let’s hope Noah was listening…and that next time the Bulls play the Celtics, KG’s words are the ones that come back to do the haunting.