I’ve never felt so bummed after a team I’m rooting for just won in a blowout.
As many of you already know, Joakim Noah is scheduled to have surgery this morning. The procedure will repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, which means a lengthy vacation for Noah. In NBA terms.
And Chicago fans thought the beating the Bears received from the Patriots on Sunday was the worst thing that could happen to one of their teams this week.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Noah is scheduled to miss eight to 10 weeks, not returning until after the All-Star break in late February or early March. That would be at least 30 games for the heart and soul – and rebounding machine – of the franchise.”
Said Noah: “It sucks. It’s not what I want. But I have to get back to playing at a high level. I’m tired of taking anti-inflammatory (pills) every time I play. I’m tired of not dribbling with my right hand.
“I’m going to miss playing. It’s frustrating because I feel we have a chance to be really, really good. But I know in the long run, this is what needs to be done.”
Now the Bulls have to figure out how to fill an unfillable gap.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “It’s disappointing for Joe but we’re confident in the abilities of the guys that we have. We’ve got more than enough to win with. Taj [Gibson] has played extremely well, Kurt Thomas has played well for us, Luol [Deng] has played well for us, so we have a number of players who can step up.”
I wouldn’t expect any less than total defiance from a fiery guy like Thibs. But still…the loss is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a lot. As Johnson said, Noah truly is the heart and soul of this team.
But the surgery is an absolute necessity.
Despite the fact that he’s averaging career highs in points (14.0), rebounds (11.7), assists (2.7), steals (1.2) and blocked shots (1.6), astute Bulls fans noticed something was wrong. People were asking if Noah was okay and noting that something didn’t look quite right.
Jo had scored in double figures in every one of Chicago’s first 18 games while shooting well over 50 percent from the field in most of them. Then he scored in single digits in three out of four games while suffering through some uncharacteristically poor shooting.
Noah scored 6 points on 3-for-8 shooting against the Thunder. Then he had 9 points on 3-for-10 shooting against the Lakers and then 9 points on 3-for-8 against the Timberwolves. He was getting shots swatted and struggling to finish around the basket. He kept driving in for layups and putting them up left-handed. Which he can do. But still…it felt a little forced at time.
It seemed maybe he was just adjusting to sharing frontcourt scoring duties with Carlos Boozer. Now we know what was really going on.
Not the way the Bulls wanted to celebrate their longest winning streak since 2006.
On that subject, Chicago crushed the Raptors. And they did it in Toronto. That’s the hallmark of a really good team, right? Going into another team’s building and busting them. They say blowing out bad teams is a meaningful indicator of postseason success. Well, in you count Saturday’s win over the Timberwolves, the Bulls now have back-to-back lopsided wins against probable lottery teams.
And, seriously, if Carlos Boozer faced the Raptors frontcourt on a nightly basis, he might challenge Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time single-season scoring average of 50.4 PPG. Toronto’s interior defense was softer than the inside of a chocolate marshmallow Santa. In only 26 minutes of action, Boozington scored a game-high 34 points on 13-for-17 shooting. He also went 8-for-11 from the line and grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds.
Carlos scored 12 points in the second quarter to help the Bulls establish a 63-44 halftime lead. He then put up another 14 points in the third as the lead ballooned to 91-64.
Derrick Rose — who was playing through a sprained right wrist and a bruised right elbow — was all for it: “Before the game I told [Boozer] to get 40. I knew it was one of those nights where my arm wasn’t right. I knew my passing was going to have to win the game. They have some small bigs and he’s big. He’s a bully out there. That’s what he did tonight.”
And pass Rose did. He scored only 6 points on 3-for-9 shooting. But he had a game-high 11 assists and set a tempo that helped the Bulls score 110 points on 53 percent shooting. Chicago finished with 23 fast break points and a whopping 62 points in the paint.
Of course, the Raptors defense — as in the complete and utter lack of it — helped. Boozer got whatever he wanted inside. Bulls players were swooping in for uncontested layups. During the first half, the Toronto crowd booed their team after Rose fed Boozer for yet another driving layup in transition. I couldn’t blame them.
Now the Bulls have a few days for the licking of wounds. They play only three games in the next seven days and won’t suit up again until they play the Clippers at home on Saturday. After that, they have a home game against the Sixers and a road game versus the Wizards before a Christmas day showdown with the Knicks.
The thought of facing Amar’e Stoudemire without Noah is terrifying.
That’s a worry for another day. Even though Joakim is indispensable, the Bulls rank 3rd in the NBA in Defensive Rating. Thibodeau will write up some schemes. Omer Asik’s NBA education is going to be accelerated. Kurt Thomas will bang people and commit fouls. The Bulls will get through this. And Noah will return in time for the playoffs.
Still…this team was starting to become something pretty special. Now we won’t be able to figure out its true potential for months. Maybe longer. Maybe not at all.