Joakim Noah has put up double-doubles on a consistent basis over the past month, but he had his worst game of the season in the Chicago Bulls' demoralizing 97-85 loss to the New Jersey Nets on Saturday afternoon.
Facing a team that ranks sixth-worst in the NBA in opponents' points per game and is tied for last in rebounding, averaging 38.8, the 6-foot-11 center was held scoreless -- for the first time since March 15, 2011 -- missed all three of his field-goal attempts, grabbed just six rebounds and had his struggles defensively in 22 minutes of action. Noah had posted a double-double in nine of his last 14 games, including an average of 15.3 points and 12 rebounds in his last five.
Nets forward Kris Humphries -- who has gotten booed in virtually every arena due to his well-documented marriage to and divorce from Kim Kardashian -- torched Noah and the Bulls from seemingly every area on the court all afternoon. He dropped 24 points, 18 rebounds (seven offensive) and five assists while shooting 10-for-15 from the field in 44 minutes. He also knocked down 6-of-7 jumpers, many of which over Noah, and outran the Bulls' big man several times in transition.
Noah missed both of his free throw shots for the game, but the Bulls as a whole clanked 11-of-27 (59.3 percent). During the contest, Bulls commentator Stacey King repeatedly alluded to the fact that a team can't expect to make a comeback when it's shooting as poorly as Chicago was from the charity stripe.
"I think that we didn't play with a lot of energy tonight and we just couldn't make a run when we needed it," Noah told reporters after the game.
"I'm frustrated with the way I played. But you've got to bounce back."
Noah and Carlos Boozer combined for 38 points and 31 rebounds and were the best big men on the court in an 89-80 win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night. However, they were outworked by the Nets' frontcourt on Saturday, as even Shelden Williams, starting in place of the injured Brook Lopez, snatched a season-high 14 rebounds in almost 36 minutes.
As Noah sat out the final 17 minutes, 18 seconds of the game, Omer Asik also failed to score but grabbed eight rebounds. With the Bulls having to play catch-up from start to finish, coach Tom Thibodeau said he "was just searching for energy somewhere" when he implemented small lineups for long stretches of the final three quarters.
Taj Gibson found himself as the squad's center at times and was one of the few Bulls who could score baskets in the paint, posting 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting and nine rebounds in just 19 minutes.
The Bulls depend on Noah to play high-energy basketball no matter the level of competition. Although the 26-year-old has brought a lot of activity over the last month, the team expects to receive the same effort whether it's in a rivalry game against the Celtics or a contest versus the lowly Nets (9-23).
"The big thing with Jo is his energy," Thibodeau said. "That's what he gives us. He didn't have his normal energy tonight and we needed it. He'll bounce back."
Add Watson to dinged-up list: In place of Derrick Rose (back) once again, Bulls point guard C.J. Watson made his eighth start of the season on Saturday. He had 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting, but he told reporters after the game that he suffered from a migraine headache after being whacked in the head by Humphries in the third quarter. He did not return to the game.
Meanwhile, Luol Deng sat out the final four minutes, 41 seconds because of a hit to his temple. He told reporters that he would be fine. The veteran small forward scored seven straight points for the Bulls in the fourth quarter when they attempted to mount a rally, but it was a futile effort that, if nothing else, gave the United Center crowd a few plays to cheer about. Deng had an emphatic one-handed dunk in the final frame, though, and that has probably been his best slam of the season.
Like the rest of his teammates, Deng was disappointed with his team's defeat.
"We just didn't play well from the start," he told reporters. "... For some reason, they just had more energy than us."