Following Tuesday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau mentioned the lack of intensity on and the urgency by his players needing to be heightened.
It appears that Joakim Noah was listening.
The energetic big man finished with 23 points, 21 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocked shots as the Bulls sent the Philadelphia 76ers to their seventh straight loss, winning 93-82 to sweep the season series for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
Noah also contributed three steals, shot eight-of-12 from the field and seven-of-nine from the free throw line.
It was his third career triple-double, second this season and He became the first Bull to achieve the feat involving blocks since Artis Gilmore achieved the feat on Dec. 20, 1977. The 11 blocks also tied the franchise’s regulation record and now is the only active player in the NBA with a 20-20-10 block triple double and the fourth in the last 25 seasons.
“His will from the start of the game until the end was just incredible,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s an energy, effort player. When you get an effort like that, that unites and inspires your team. It makes other guys do the same.
“Not only the blocked shots, he did a lot of switching and was guarding everyone,” he continued. “Big time multiple efforts. Sometimes, three, four, five efforts on the same play. It’s a credit to how he conditions himself. He keeps getting better and I still think there’s room for growth.”
It was a much-needed win for the Bulls (33-25). Already without Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton was a late scratch prior to tip-off because of back spasms.
They finish February off with only the second post .500 month during Thibodeau’s tenure, winning only five of 13 games.
Noah, who’s never one to go for or celebrate personal achievements, was reminded by Carlos Boozer – who called Noah’s performance ‘legendary’ and finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds – that he was closing in on a triple-double midway in the fourth quarter.
Making the night and victory more sweeter for him was that it came against Philadelphia.
He still hasn’t forgiven Philadelphia fans for cheering when he went down in Game Three of last postseason’s first round series. Following their playoff exit, those factors gave Noah all the motivation he needed in rehabbing his ankle during the offseason.
“It feels really good to play well, to win, especially against the Sixers,” Noah said. “That was probably one of my biggest motivations, just rehabbing my ankle. Before the playoffs started last year, I really felt like we were in position to win the championship and Derrick went down, and it was very hard on the team and then getting injured, and just the [Sixers] fans, the way they reacted, I kind of used that as motivation.”
“I wanted to get the [triple-double], but I wanted to win more,” he continued. “It was a good win for us. Hopefully, we can build on it. We have some tough opponents coming up – teams that we can face, possibly in the playoffs. It’s a good win for us. We needed it bad. Now, we just have to keep going. We’ve been dealing with a lot of injuries and a lot of adversity. Nobody really cares, so it’s just on us to find a way to get it done.”
Both teammates and opponents were impressed by Noah’s stat line, but for the Bulls, every single contribution was needed.
“I’ve never played with a player with those kind of stats before,” Boozer said. “The serious thing about it is we needed every one of them. He was amazing tonight.”
The Bulls displayed better energy all around and in large part to Noah’s activity. Both teams shot 38 percent from the field and the Sixers had one more field goal, but were outscored by 14 from the free throw line (26-of-33 to 12-of-21).
Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 22 points and Spencer Hawes contributed 20 and 15 rebounds.