Thibodeau's benching of Noah shouldn't be overblown

Thibodeau's benching of Noah shouldn't be overblown
January 20, 2013, 5:55 am

When Joakim Noah exited Saturday nights Bulls 85-82 overtime home loss to the Grizzlies at the 5:53 mark of the third quarter, a reasonable assumption was that he would return later in the period.
When that didnt happen, as a unit featuring Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer up front thrived, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus decision to ride that group made sense, especially as the home team made a fourth quarter push. Still, whether it was to give Boozer or Gibson a break, add some length on the defensive end, an additional rebounding presence, an offensive playmaker or simply some fresh legs, as time went by in the final stanza, it was puzzling that Noah remained glued to the bench.
But it could be overlooked as the Bulls clawed their way back into the contest and sent the game into an extra session, as nobody could argue that whatever magic the quintet on the court which also included backup point guard Nate Robinson, reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli and second-year swingman Jimmy Butler, who replaced the injured Luol Deng in the starting lineup had, it was working. However, when Gibson fouled out of the game with 39.1 seconds remaining in overtime and Thibodeau inserted backup center Nazr Mohammed, who hadnt played a minute all evening, it was clear that something was up.
More: Bulls lose to Grizzlies at home in overtime
Just a coachs decision, Thibodeau explained afterwards, before confirming that Noah, who scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the opening period, had no health issues. Hes fine.
Noah wasnt around in the locker room to give his take on the situation, but the strong-willed center and the strong-willed coach, who both want to win as badly as any two people youll come across in the NBA, clearly dont see eye-to-eye. It might not be a lingering situation, as theyre both more concerned with on-court success than dragging out any perceived player-coach feud, but it wasnt the first, nor will it be the last time Thibodeau sits a key player for an extended amount of time, nor was Noah expressing his frustration during the course of a game, as was witnessed Saturday, an anomaly.
Hes done that before with other guys, Carlos Boozer, himself someone who knows all too well that Thibodeau will sit any player remember Derrick Rose, albeit coming back from injury, getting benched in favor of a hot-shooting C.J. Watson, in a home win over Miami last season, let alone Gibson and the departed Omer Asik playing ahead of Boozer and Noah? said. When a team is rolling, he keeps that team in there. That was the case tonight. We fought back and he just left that group in.
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Taj Gibson chimed in: You never really know. Thibs just wants effort. Theres no excuses. Youve just got to go out there and do your job. Thats the one thing about our team. Were not an excuse kind of team. Were not going to act that way because we understand that it takes all of us as a whole to get through and make it to the playoffs. Its just one game. Theres plenty more games to go. I know were a team. Were sticking together.
I thought Noah was just so amped up to play in the game, but youve just got to go with whatever Thibodeau feels and learn from it, and keep pushing. I think Joakims been doing a great job all year long and hes going to continue to learn from this game, and keep pushing, he continued. It just didnt go his way a couple of times, a couple bad calls. But its not about him getting frustrated. He has to keep working through it. Thats with me being his teammate and I know thats what the rest of us are going to say. Weve just got to keep working our way through it and hold him down.
Between me, him, Carlos and Nazr, we all talk on the bench and tell him to stay with the same mentality. Just keep being aggressive, play your game, dont worry about the refs and just do your job. Youre doing a phenomenal job. No matter how many bad calls you get, youve just got to keep playing.
Noahs teammates arent concerned because behind the scenes, theyve seen this occur before, an inevitability with people as passionate as Noah and Thibodeau. But Saturday night, due to the Bulls loss to an excellent Memphis team, playing without their leading scorer in Deng and in their third consecutive overtime game, the first time thats happened to an NBA team since the 2006-07 campaign it will be magnified, for all the wrong reasons.
However, what can be examined is Thibodeaus praise of the group that led the Bulls ultimately-failed comeback. Obviously not all of the following can be attributed to Noah, but in typical Thibodeau fashion, a subliminal message can be parsed.
The hole got bigger and the group that went in there sort of battled back, so we were just riding it out, seeing if we could find a way to creep back into it and have a chance to win it in the end, the coach said. We have to be better, were capable of doing better and that being said, all it came down to was we had to make a free throw.
Just the spirit of the group, the fight, guarded people, organized. We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in and thats the way they play credit to them and you have to stay disciplined. You cant allow frustration to take you away from what youre trying to get done out there. Its one of those things where youve got to keep battling and battling and battling. In the end, whatevers necessary, thats what you have to do to win. You have to get in the fight, its physical and you cant get thrown around. When youre getting smacked, you still have to get your job done, Thibodeau continued. You name it. No defense, turnovers, poor execution. One thing led to another. Floor balance. When we made them feel our pressure, they had a hard time and when they made us feel their pressure, we have to respond better.
Knowing Noah, whether those words are delivered to him verbatim or not probably not, knowing Thibodeau, who uses much saltier language behind closed doors the message will be received and because of the centers unique motor, in the end, things will take a turn for the better very soon. Because when it comes to two competitors like the center and his coach, things might not always be rosy, but they both desire the same results.