A miserable game featuring two reeling teams became Joakim Noah’s masterpiece Thursday night, as the center willed his short-handed Bulls to victory over the 76ers, 93-82, with a stat-stuffing, triple-double performance, the third time he’s achieved the feat and the occasion he did it with blocked shots.
One day after his 28th birthday, Noah dominated the interior, scoring 23 points, corralling 21 rebounds and blocking 11 shots in 45 minutes on the evening, showing not only why he made his debut All-Star appearance this season, but why he’s considered the front-runner for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in many circles.
Chicago native Evan Turner (12 points) was the catalyst for the visitors at the outset of the contest, as the versatile swingman took an aggressive approach in his hometown.
For the hosts, Noah and fellow All-Star Luol Deng (12 points, eight rebounds, four assists) led the way—the former was efficient as a scorer, while the latter was a high-activity presence in the lane on both ends, as is par for the course—in what was a nip-and-tuck affair.
Carlos Boozer (21 points, 12 rebounds) was also an offensive focal point for the Bulls (33-25), something sorely needed—shooting guard Rip Hamilton was a late scratch due to lower back spasms and was replaced in the starting lineup by Marco Belinelli, while top reserve Taj Gibson missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left MCL injury—though the Sixers (22-34) managed to keep pace behind the play of Turner and All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday (22 points), who got to basket with ease off the dribble.
But with Boozer’s point production propelling them, the Bulls escaped the opening period with a 23-22 advantage.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, lacking his primary backup big man in Gibson, utilized a small-ball lineup to start the second quarter: Deng, playing power forward, and Noah, were joined by reserves Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson and seldom-used sharpshooter Daequan Cook.
Noah’s energy carried the Bulls early in the second quarter, as the versatile center was all over the court as a defensive presence, force on the glass and strong finisher, enabling the home team to build a slim cushion.
Philadelphia was held at bay by their hosts’ by-committee approach for the time being, as Butler was a factor and even deep reserve Nazr Mohammed, inserted in Noah’s place, provided some positives minutes, but the short-handed Bulls’ scoring deficiencies eventually allowed the visitors to narrow the gap in the low-scoring contest.
After Belinelli returned to the contest, he provided a spark with his deceiving driving ability, while Boozer helped with the dismal scoring and Noah offered a boost on both ends, leading to a 45-39 Bulls lead at the intermission, following a Deng three-point play with 3.4 seconds remaining in the first half.
After the break, Noah’s shot-blocking ability remained a deterrent for the Bulls’ guests, whose shooting numbers plummeted precipitously in the early moments of the third quarter, permitting the hosts to maintain their separation from the visitors.
The center, who reached a double-double early in the second half—as did Boozer, who got to the charity stripe at a high rate—also got it done on the offensive side of the ball, to help the Bulls build a double-digit edge.
Along with timely scoring from point guard Kirk Hinrich (15 points, six assists), who scored nine points in the period after a scoreless first half, the inside tandem of Boozer and Noah buoyed the Bulls, despite the continued scoring effort of the dynamic Holiday, who went on a 7-0 individual spurt to make it a single-digit game late in the frame.
A 14-4 Sixers run—behind Holiday and the determined play of center Spencer Hawes (20 points, 15 rebounds)—enabled the visitors to trim the deficit to 68-62, in the Bulls’ favor, heading into the final stanza.
Noah’s ongoing attempt to will the Bulls to victory, particularly on the defensive end, continued as the fourth began, but Philadelphia wouldn’t relent, hanging around behind Hawes, his counterpart in the middle, in a contest that was none too aesthetically pleasing on the offensive end of the court for either squad.
Backup point guard Nate Robinson found his groove at the right time, as the diminutive scorer, who didn’t score through the first three periods of play, but Noah remained the game’s dominant figure, as he recorded a triple-double with blocked shots and also notched a 20-point, 20-rebound effort.
The big man, already having claimed ownership of the boards and daring the Sixers’ scorers to enter the paint at their own peril—his 11 blocks tied a franchise record for the most in that category during a regulation game since December 20, 1977, when Artis Gilmore, the last Bulls player to record a triple-double with blocked shots did it; Nate Thurmond owns the record for most blocks, recording 12 in a quadruple-double in his Bulls debut, an overtime game—also got it done as a scorer, making sure his tremendous evening didn’t go to waste.
Although the Bulls salted away the hard-earned win at the foul line at the game’s conclusion, it came on a bit of a downer, as Deng took an elbow to the face from Hawes and stayed down on the floor before receiving medical attention and heading to the locker room.