The Bulls fell back to .500 at the United after a 85-82 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, but the headlines quickly shifted to Joakim Noah as the final buzzer sounded.
Noah sat the last 23 minutes of the game after being substituted out midway through the third quarter after a pass of his was stolen and converted on the other end to put the Bulls down 52-36.
In the period, He missed all four of his field goal attempts, but was able to pull down three rebounds and block two shots. He never found the rhythm he established in first quarter, in which he hit all five of his field goal attempts, which included three dunks.
The lineup of Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson would bring the Bulls all the way from down 17 to a chance to win it in regulation, and still another chance in overtime to send the game to a second extra period.
Noah never appeared angry or frustrated on the bench while the team was making its run, not even when Nazr Mohammed was inserted into the game after Gibson picked up his sixth foul with 39 seconds remaining, and the Bulls down 83-80.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said it was simply a “coach’s decision” in why Noah didn’t return to the court and while this may appear strange to sit one of your best front court players against one of the top frontlines in the league, it’s something that Thibodeau has done several times before.
Remember how many games Omer Asik closed in favor of Noah the previous two years? Even Derrick Rose was once sat in favor of C.J. Watson last season in a home win over the Miami Heat.
“He’s done that before with other guys,” Carlos Boozer said. “When a team is rolling, he keeps that team in there. That was the case tonight. We fought, came back and I think he just left that group in.”
There was obviously some frustration on Noah’s part afterwards as he left before reporters were granted access into the locker rooms following the game.
A win might have made things different and attention to this issue would seem moot. But for a player who’s only concerned with affecting winning, having the kind of season he’s having and going up against an All-Star frontline– a benching with the loss can make things a little sour.
“I just thought he was so amped up to play in the game,” Gibson said. “You just have to go with whatever the coach [decides], learn from it and keep pushing. I think Joakim has been doing a great job all year long and he’s going to continue to learn and keep pushing.”
It’s clear that the Bulls energy fell in the second quarter after a good start to the first. They were outscored 26-12 in the second period, shot 5-of-18 and committed six turnovers. The poor play continued into the third, when they fell behind by 17.
“No defense, turnovers, poor execution –one thing led to another – floor balance,” Thibodeau said in what led to the Bulls struggles in the second and third quarter. “When we made them feel our pressure, they had a hard time.”
And that’s what happened. Thibodeau saw the energy in the group, he stuck with them and that’s what it should be left at.
It didn’t work on this night and the Grizzlies front line took over in overtime, but the group afforded the Bulls an opportunity to win. If Belinelli doesn’t miss his second free throw attempt with 31 seconds, Noah sitting isn’t that big a deal.