Monday, April 22, 2013

Sideshow Joakim Steals Home Court

How we will always remember him
Tonight in Brooklyn, for the first time in this year's NBA Playoffs, the Bulls won a road playoff game, and they did it in classic post Derrick Rose fashion -- with a defensive effort that was positively suffocating, and enough to cover for erratic and inelegant offense. Joakim Noah's line looks ordinary -- 25 minutes, 11/9/3 with 2 blocks on 4 of 8 shooting, 1 of 2 from the line, with four turnovers -- but that's where not watching the game gets you to miss the spirit of the thing. Noah was everywhere in the stretch run on this one, saving a bad-bounce offensive board to set up a Nate Robinson three that was immense, making a saving block in the final minutes that kept the pressure on, setting a huge pick on a Luol Deng jumper where the wing man had enough time to check his email -- and more or less personifying why I liked them to win this series.

This being the Bulls, it was a team experience, of course. Kirk Hinrich owned Deron Williams in his matchup, hounding him into a 1 for 9 night from the floor. Brooklyn got little from hustle players Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans, watched Joe Johnson flail his way to a 6 for 18 game, shot under 36% and lost the home-court. Brook Lopez had 21 but only 5 boards, Chicago placed 5 in double figures, had two more with 8 and another with 5, and would have won this by plenty if they hadn't missed 10 free throws. Add it up, and it's a 90-82 win for the road dogs, which given this team's ever-present offensive ceiling, is more like a 15-point beatdown for anyone else.

This isn't big news to anyone who has watched him become one of the best defenders in the NBA, but it's still kind of fascinating to see how much of a competitor Noah has become. For a guy who just looks like something of a goof, who looked like an overrated college hustle guy, who can't stay healthy with the plantar fascitis and still wears his hair like he's trying to gain dual entry into the WNBA... well, there isn't a player in the NBA who gets more out of what he's been given, from a talent perspective. He rarely takes a shot that is outside of his range, is an excellent interior passer, and just seems to have an innate sense for loose balls and the right play. He's got an old man's game in a broken-down body, and still looks like he'd rather gnaw off a limb than lose a game.

And this, of course, leads to the final point of intrigue about Noah; the fact that he's playing hurt while Derrick Rose, well, isn't. It's not fair to either man to reduce the situation to that. Rose needs verticality to compete and has the awful memories of last year, when he kept coming back too early until he suffered the season and career threatening injury.  Noah is more likely just managing his pain and effectiveness.

But, well, Noah's out there, and Rose is in a suit. And the deeper the Bulls go in this playoff, the harder that's going to be on both of them...

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule