The Bulls beat the Nets last night largely for one reason. Joakim Noah wanted it more. There's a reason why over the past few years, Derrick Rose has been viewed as the talent while Joakim Noah has been viewed as the soul. We saw all of that on display last night in one of the gutsier performances you'll see on the court.
The Bulls took a 14 point lead into the fourth quarter, and it looked like a reasonably easy finish was on the way for Chicago. However, shortly afterwards, the Bulls that lost by 17 the previous game showed up.
They went three minutes without scoring while Andray Blatche beasted them. Suddenly a 14 point lead was down to five. Then Joakim Noah scored on a dunk. Flew out of bounds to save an offensive rebound that led to a wide open Nate Robinson three, and pulled down another offensive board for a putback.
When the game was slipping away Joakim gave them the momentum to swing it back. The Nets fought back again, bringing the lead down to four, and Noah was again part of the run when to build back the lead (falling two Hinrich free throws and a Deng jumper) when he drove around Brook Lopez on a broken play for a layup.
Then with a minute left to go, he swatted away Brook Lopez's shot and the Nets last realistic shot at getting back in the game ended when the ball went out of bounds off C.J. Watson.
Joakim entered the game with around seven minutes to go and in that time pulled down six boards (three offensive), scored eight points, and had one block while barely able to walk, wincing after every jump and obvious pain as he ran down the floor.
I don't like the Bulls to win this series right now even after this game two victory, but Joakim Noah was legitimately inspiring last night. Joakim Noah is why I watch sports. To see someone want it so much, sacrifice so much, play through so much, and win on sheer willpower alone.
That was beautiful.
Thank you for that Joakim, Chicago loves you.
Where does the series stand now?
In the end, the Bulls brought the defense this game, and the Nets probably fell back down to Earth on their shooting somewhat. Gerald Wallace, who sucked all season, went back to sucking. Deron Williams had a non Deron Williams like 1-9 performance, and Joe Johnson looked a lot more like I expected he would jacking up 18 shots while making six.
In the end, the Nets shot just 35.4% from the field, and that was your ball game. They lived at the foul line to keep it close and made 20/23 free throws to keep the pressure on, but they simply couldn't hit enough shots.
The Bulls offense was pretty good and only a 12/23 performance from the foul line and poor three point shooting kept this game within the realm of reason.
The good news for Chicago is that they've shot the ball at a fairly high percentage against the Nets in both games. If they continue that then you'd think they'd have an excellent chance in the series.
That said it feels like the Bulls are frequently overmatched in terms of talent. They need to play harder and want it more to impact the game, and while Joakim Noah gave the Bulls all he had last night, it's going to be tough for him to repeat his courageous performance for another three to five games if his foot (as expected) doesn't heal.
Derrick Rose looked active on the sidelines
Derrick Rose looked like he was chewing out Carlos Boozer at one point, and Taj Gibson noted that Rose was eager to get out there. The team as a whole says all the right things about Rose, and beyond that, I think they legitimately believe all the right things about him.
They look at it differently than the rest of us. They've all been hurt. They've all had the media and fans question their toughness. They know what it's like to be in his shoes to some degree. They know it sucks. I don't think there's any bad will at all about Rose sitting out internally even as fans become frustrated watching Joakim Noah bleed Chicago all over the court while Rose sits on the sidelines.
If Rose helps inspire the team by sitting on the bench than it's a great thing, however, I think for fans it's almost like rubbing salt in the wound to put him out their visibly as a constant reminder that he's not playing when many of us feel like he could.
As I've said before, I can't judge Derrick's injury. I don't know how capable he is of playing or why he's really not. I do know that regardless of the reason for him not playing, it's not good at this point. He should be healthy enough mentally and physically to play by now, and the fact that he isn't represents a problem. It's just a matter of which and how big that problem is.
Game three is key
The Bulls went into Brooklyn and ripped game two from the Nets hands like Kirk Hinrich on Chris Bosh, but they'll need to find a way to keep up that momentum back at the United Center.
The Bulls have been a lousy home team this season, and they'll need to solve that problem awfully fast to take this series as when you enter a game tied, the winner of the next game typically has around an 80% shot at closing out the series.
Let's see what they have left.