Nets vs. Bulls: Joakim Noah's foot no problem as he hustles Chicago to win

Bruce Bennett

Joakim Noah looked like Joakim Noah as he hustled his way into some key plays in a Game 2 victory, and for the Bulls, that's the best thing they can hear.

Joakim Noah didn't have a great performance in Game 1 against the Nets, as he struggled through 13 minutes of game time. He'd missed 12 of 13 games with plantar fasciitis, and after playing the last two games of the regular season, said he experienced a setback that put him in a lot of pain. It showed.

And he didn't look so good in the start of Game 2 either. He wouldn't put up any points on the board, muffed a few passes his way, and missed a few shots. There was definitely reason to wonder why Tom Thibodeau, noted for playing dudes who maybe kinda shouldn't be playing as many minutes as they're playing, had authorized Noah to play 20-25 minutes as he tries to work his way back from a very painful foot injury. Let's look at something a stupid idiot wrote about his play at halftime:

Suffice it to say, Noah seemed a bit out of sorts...he didn't contribute the way one might have hoped. He just seemed a bit off.

Those doubts were erased in the second half, as Joakim Noah was most certainly Joakim Noah.

There were the reckless dives:

Noahsave_medium

There were the violent gesticulations:

Noahrage_medium

After sitting with four fouls and about seven minutes away from his previously determined minutes limit, Noah re-entered the game with 7:39 left in the fourth quarter. His team had been up 14, but some Andray Blatche buckets had cut the lead to five points. But Noah did Noah things: first, he got loose for a dunk off a Luol Deng pass, only his second field goal of the night. Then, he made the save after jostling Kris Humphries out of the way for an offensive rebound, and two passes later, Nate Robinson had drilled a three to push the lead to double digits. And then, after feeding Deng for a layup that dribbled off the rim, Noah crashed and tapped it up and in. A 7-0 run, all sparked by hustle, all sparked by Noah.

He'd keep going: a block with less than a minute left on Brook Lopez would seal the game, and after free throws, he'd end with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Nine of those points came in the fourth, as did six of those rebounds. And arguably his biggest contribution was strong defense: after Brook Lopez put up 14 points in the first half, he only attempted five shots, scoring seven points, in the second half, as Noah and the Bulls collapsed defensively like Thibodeau's teams usually do. The Bulls would get the win, and now the series is tied at 1 heading back to Chicago.

Joakim Noah's game has never been pretty. It's based on gawky flalis, strong defense, taps towards the basket, and a jump shot that looks kinda like a fundamentally sound chest pass executed by someone who's especially hammered. It's exactly the kind of devoid-of-finesse, game reliant on sheer springability somebody shouldn't be able to play with an inflamed plantar fascia, but, here we are.

And for a guy whose game is based on feel, more playing time will just see him play better - something both he and Tom Thibodeau noted in their postgame pressers. From Noah:

I feel like the more I'm on the court and if the foot is willing, it's going to get better... I hadn't played in a month going into the playoffs. I'm trying to get into my rhythm. I missed a lot of open shots. I've got to get more comfortable. But I feel overall, our team played passionate basketball, and that's a plus, since it was ugly in game 1.

And from Thibodeau, who kept saying Noah "willed" his way to a good performance:

Jo's given us everything he has. We're obviously better with him on the floor. His timing's not there, I thought he did well, but his defensive effort was great, his rebounding was great, he had a timely basket late. He can make your offense better too, the passing was terrific. And the more he plays, the better his timing gets.

I'm not surprised. He's obviously done a lot of great things for us over the last three years. The fact that he's really willing it right now since he hasn't practiced a lot since the all-star break. We shut him down for quite a period of time, so he's willing it, is what he's doing, to his credit.

I think it depends on how he feels, how he's responding the day after. He says he's feeling better, he's getting a lot of treatment, so we're probably going to stay in that area of 20-25 minutes. We'll see how he is tomorrow. you never know with that injury.

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