Joakim Noah went down with a bad turned ankle on Friday as the Chicago Bulls fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in a close Game 3 that gave the Sixers a 2-1 lead and home court advantage moving forward. While the game remained winnable for the Bulls until the final minute, the end result was a critical loss. Not just in the game but also with Noah -- perhaps the team's second-best player, though third-best is also fair -- playing substantial minutes, even though some were in a wounded state.
Yes, Noah did this to his ankle ...
... and still tried to play. Hypertough athletes come in all shades of fuchsia.
The word is that the Bulls think that Noah's ankle is really bad. He wore an air cast and used crutches leaving the gym on Friday, and though x-rays came back negative, the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson had two sources claiming that team officials remain fearful of a potential fracture. Despite the jokes you've heard about the pace of the NBA playoffs in the past, there is no more than one day off between games in this series going forward. Game 4 in Philadelphia is on Sunday afternoon. Game 5 will be Tuesday in Chicago. Potential Games 6 and 7 are slated for Thursday and Saturday. There is no time for Noah to rest and recover if this ends up being an injury that they'll allow him to play on.
(It's the Bulls, by the way. He could lose a foot to gout and they'd let him play the next night if they could strap a sneaker on. Only an injury that requires surgery, like Derrick Rose's torn ACL, keeps a Chicago Bull out of the line-up. Look at Luol Deng, playing with a torn wrist ligament that has effectively turned the small forward into a one-armed man.)
If Noah can't play or isn't effective, the Bulls are essentially toast. Many believed they were toast the second Rose went down at the end of Game 1, and the Sixers' subsequent two wins lend some weight to that projection. As expected, the greatest impact that Rose's injury had on Chicago was on offense. This was always going to be a defensive series. In Game 1, with Rose, the Bulls had an offensive efficiency of 109, quite good. In Game 2 without Rose, it stayed decent at 108. (The Bulls' defense caved to Philly's backcourt offense.) In Game 3 on Friday, Chicago's offensive efficiency was a pathetic 89.
In this series, the Bulls' offense is producing 1.07 points per possession with Noah on the floor and just 0.96 points per possession when he sits. There's a small sample size to consider, but while Chicago is deep up front, neither Taj Gibson or Omer Asik are known for their offense. The Bulls have enough offensive problems with Rose being out and Deng being limited (shooting 39 percent in the playoffs) to lose their most effective big man on offense and survive.
The common perception was that the Bulls without Rose would be good enough to get past the Sixers but wouldn't survive the more vicious opponents in the conference. If Noah's injury is as severe as it looked, Philadelphia is in all likelihood going to take this series and eject Chicago far, far earlier than anyone expected. The Basketball Gods have not been kind to the Bulls over the past week, and were I wearing red on Sunday, I'd be watching for lightning and banana peels.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.