DEERFIELD, ILL.—Just because Nets swingman Joe Johnson is suffering from the same injury, plantar fasciitis, as Joakim Noah, don’t expect the Bulls All-Star center to feel sorry for him.
After being informed that the Brooklyn shooting guard missed the Nets’ practice Wednesday due to the ailment, Noah responded, “I hope not,” when asked if he thought Johnson would suit up in Thursday night’s Game 3 of the first-round playoff series.
Jokes aside, Noah will continue to play through his own pain in the right foot, as the postseason is what he lives for.
“I feel good. How are you feeling?” Noah quipped when asked about his health following the team’s Wednesday-afternoon practice at the Berto Center. “I’m actually feeling a little better and just doing everything I can to keep the pain under control. I don’t know, it’s an exciting time of the year. I’m just happy to be part of it.
“It really sucks. Plantar fasciitis sucks. It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing. That’s what it feels like, so you can imagine. You need to jump, you need to run, you need to do a lot of things while you’re playing basketball, so you don’t want needles underneath your foot, right?” he went on to explain. “It’s not easy, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. These are the hands I’ve been given, so I’m just trying to stay focused on trying to get better every day and I’m just happy to be able to be on the court.
“You work hard in the summertime and you work hard all season to put yourself in the best position for the playoffs. It’s all about that. Until you’re a part of it and feel it, then you know what it’s all about. I’ve been to a few of these things. I’m not taking any of it for granted. I appreciate it so much and you know I’m not taking it for granted because who knows, you never know how many of these you can play.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said it's uncertain that Noah, who played 25 inspirational minutes in Monday’s Game 2 win in Brooklyn—he was restricted to between 20 and 25 minutes--will play more moving forward.
“We’ll see after the shootaround, but roughly the same ballpark,” he said. “That’s completely up to the doctor [Bulls team physician Dr. Brian Cole] and Fred [Tedeschi, the Bulls’ head athletic trainer].
“It’s a tricky injury because a lot of guys have it. Some are able to play with it more than others because there are different degrees of pain associated with it. Some guys completely tear it. [Former Bulls forward] James Johnson did that a few years ago here and he was able to play like two or three days later without pain. Other guys tear it and you have to shut them down for six to eight weeks. For every guy it’s different. It’s a painful injury. You have to try to manage it as best you can and just hope for the best,” Thibodeau continued.
“To me, [Noah’s] feet are really what makes him so special. He can guard pick-and-rolls, catch-and-shoots, transition. You can switch him out to people. When teams go small, you can put him on a perimeter player. His foot speed and agility are a big part of what his strengths are. He’s willing it right now. It says a lot about him. We certainly appreciate what he’s putting forth.”
Thibodeau himself has dealt with the painful ailment.
“Yeah, but mine’s a little different. I just have to walk around,” he joked. “These guys are flying around, guarding world-class athletes, and doing it day after day after day. It’s very painful. What Jo’s going through, he’s just willing it now.”
Nets' Johnson suffering from same ailment as Noah
The coach also expressed skepticism that Johnson would miss Game 3 for Brooklyn due to the injury.
“Oh, he’ll play. Don’t worry. Joe is a great player. His career, he’s done amazing things. He shoots the ball. He puts it on the floor. He can post. He can pass. Those guys, I’ve got great respect for what he’s done in this league,” he said.
“I think those guys who have been around like Joakim and Joe have dealt with stuff like that before. So they sort of manage it. They get around it is basically what they do. For our Jo, he hasn’t practiced really since the All-Star break. He missed about a month. So he’s been off. Offensively, he’s not where he normally would be. I thought that was a big part of his growth at the start of the season. Defensively, that’s not going to change. His passing came back pretty quickly. He’s shooting better now. He has put a lot of time into his shooting. I think that’s the next thing that will come around. Each game he’s gotten better and more comfortable.”
Teammate Jimmy Butler chimed in: “We love having Jo out there, energy-wise and the things he makes up for on defense, the offense he brings. More than anything, he’s our leader out there. He knows more than one position and he can guard more than one position on the defensive end. It’s easy to take after a guy like that.”
Butler, the player whose primary task it’s been to defend Johnson, like his coach, is of the opinion that his Nets shooting-guard counterpart will play Thursday.
“Yeah, he’ll be out there. He’s a key part of the team,” he said. “He wants them to have every weapon they have, along with everyone else, so I’m sure he’ll rest up and be ready to go.”
The second-year swingman has been doing a solid job defending Johnson, one of the league’s most versatile scorers at his position, and addressed what it took to limit the veteran.
“Everything you have: energy, effort, being tough mentally and physically. When you’re guarding guys like that it’s all about making everything tough on them. Yeah, they’re going to make tough baskets, that’s what great players do, but as long as you’re taking up their space what more can you ask for,” Butler said. “Injury or not, I’m still going to get into him, we’re still going to get into him, play great help defense. If he’s at 90 or 100 percent, we’re still going to have to guard him into the game.”
Noah receives recognition for defense
Speaking of defense, Butler garnered a second-place vote for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award and All-Star small forward Luol Deng received one first-place and third-place vote apiece, while Noah finished fourth in the balloting, which was won by Memphis center Marc Gasol.
“I think he’s certainly deserving,” Thibodeau said about Noah. “There are a lot of guys who are. Jo continues to improve. I thought he and Luol, you can make a strong case for both of them. Jo is very unique. That’s one of the things I like about our team. Jo’s got great versatility where he can guard all five positions. Lu is not only a great team defender, he’s a great individual defender. You start looking at some of the other guys and you can make a case for Kirk to be all-league defense. Taj is as good as it gets. He’s a big who has many of the same qualities that Joakim has. We have a team of leaders. I think Jo is going to win that one year. Usually what happens is you get close one year and then people recognize it and it hopefully will happen next year.”
Still, while he championed the case for seemingly his entire team, Thibodeau did credit Gasol, an All-Star center, as well as the Grizzlies as a whole, though he couldn’t help but to mention one of his former players, a Chicago native.
“They’re a great defensive team. So I think you have to acknowledge that. I look at Gasol and he anchors that defense,” he said. “But you can make a case for Tony Allen. Tony Allen is as good as any defensive player in this league. I had him in Boston so I know how good he is. Gasol certainly deserved it. If Jo didn’t get hurt at the end, he would’ve been right there for it.”
Noah, while appreciative of the fact that he finished high in the voting process—if it wasn’t for injuries in the second half of the season, he might have won the award—isn’t worried about honors at this juncture of the season.
“It’s all right. It’s not about that right now. It’s not about individual accolades or any of that. All my energy is on Game 3 right now. We put ourselves in a pretty good position. Now we’ve got home court. That’s what it’s all about. I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “Doesn’t matter the amount of respect you’re getting. You’ve just got to go out there and get it done.”