DEERFIELD, Ill.—Joakim Noah wasn’t backing off his guarantee that the Bulls will win Saturday’s Game 7 in Brooklyn, which he made after Thursday night’s Game 6 loss to the Nets at the United Center. But after the team’s practice Friday afternoon at the Berto Center, he couldn’t explain exactly why he was so adamant.
“I don’t know,” the All-Star center said. “I just think we’re going to win.”
However, Noah did know how the Bulls could stave off the Nets and advance to the second round, where the defending-champion Heat loom in Miami for Game 1 of that series.
“Close the game out. That’s the most important thing. I think we’re ready. It’s going to be exciting. Let’s get it done,” he said. “Every game is different. We felt like we had our opportunities yesterday. Just couldn’t close it out and just got to move forward, look where we could have done better. That’s what we did today. Shot some free throws and ready to kick some [expletive].”
Teammate Taj Gibson chimed in: “We’re still confident. We just have to move forward. The series is tied. Both teams have lost at home. It’s all about who wants it more now."
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Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau downplayed Noah’s guarantee and focused on the task at hand.
“What wins is the work you put into it. It’s not going to be done on hope, talk, fans or any of that stuff. Whether you win or lose will be determined by what you do on the floor, and that’s the only thing you should be concentrating on,” he explained. “Concentrate on doing your job, going play-by-play, and giving maximum effort. That’s all we’re asking anyone to do.”
“It comes down to one game. It’s the ultimate, that’s what you play for, so we’re looking forward to it,” Thibodeau continued. “All the same things that you need to do in any game—defend, rebound, low turnovers, inside-out, share the ball, play to your strengths, cover up your weaknesses, take no possessions off, just go play by play.’’
The team had a light practice consisting of a meeting, film review and shooting, which is fitting for not just the time of year, but their current situation.
Gibson and Nate Robinson played in Thursday’s contest, despite having flu-like symptoms, but the team was missing starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, who is dealing with a bruised left calf, as well as All-Star small forward Luol Deng, who was sent home from the arena prior to the game after not being cleared to play.
Hinrich will travel with the team to New York, but although Thibodeau said the veteran floor general is faring “better”—he wore a heavy wrap or sleeve while shooting after practice—his status is still up in the air for Saturday.
“We’ll see,” the coach said. Get a little more treatment [Friday], [Friday night], [Saturday], and then we’ll see.”
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As far as Deng, Thibodeau admitted that he might not travel with the team Friday and wasn’t at the Berto Center with his teammates.
“He’s still not feeling well, so we’ll see,” Thibodeau said. ““I’m not sure everything he’s had. He’s had an examination by the doctors, treatment by the doctors.”
The coach didn’t lament his undermanned squad’s situation
“It’s part of the game. Whoever gets called upon, get in there and get the job done,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve dealt with that all season. We’ve been short-handed from the start, we lost more guys along the way, and these guys have responded all year. I thought we were in position in Game 5, I thought we were in position in Game 6, so we have to play our best game [Saturday].
“We’re capable of doing better. We did a lot of things well, some things not as well as we would have liked, but I have great belief in our team and I think we’ll have the resolve and the fight that will put us in position to win.”
On the bright side, Thibodeau said Gibson and Robinson both have improved health.
Gibson concurred: "I’m getting my strength back little by little. I had the flu. I was throwing up. It’s still rough but I have to get some shots up, do something. I couldn’t move yesterday without feeling weak."