He declined to talk about it postgame, but it’s clear that Tyrone Green was still on Joakim Noah’s mind Sunday.
Maybe the death of his mentor and former coach last week in New York didn’t affect the way the All-Star center performed in the Bulls' 102-93 Game 1 loss to the Wizards, but while he insisted he was his normal self, it didn’t appear that way on the court, which is completely understandable.
Forget the numbers — Noah had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists — it was evident that his usual energy wasn’t quite there. That was the case for all of the Bulls, however.
“I think we all were excited about the game, but we didn’t bring it on the court. So we’ve just got to do a better job next game, and Game 2 is very important for us,” D.J. Augustin explained. “Just more intensity. That’s nothing that you can really work on. That’s just something we have to bring, especially on defense.”
Taj Gibson chimed in: “I guess you could say fatigue, whatever you want to use. We kind of got lackadaisical, and they kind of capitalized on it. It’s hard to beat a team so bad and keep them low in this league because everybody’s in this league for a reason. That team is in the fifth seed for a reason, and they did a good job.”
The Bulls extended a six-point halftime lead to as many as 13 in the third quarter, and where they typically close out opponents, instead they saw the Wizards gradually creep back into the contest, then seize control of the game. Not that Noah should be expected to bail them out every time they’re in a jam — though he’s done so for much of the season — but the hustle plays that the Bulls usually come up with when it matters most were missing.
Gibson, who's dealt with several close friends passing away during his NBA career, believes his teammate will bounce back and actually use his pain as a positive on the court.
“Just use that all on the court. Use all that sorrow, that anger and play with it, and just attack,” the sixth man said. “I thought he did a good job. It’s just one of those things that every NBA player tends to go through. You’re going to lose somebody down the road. You’ve just got to put it behind you. You’ve got to play with that, knowing they’re in a better place. He lost a good person in his life, a real good friend, and he has to play for him now. He has to just put that on his shoulder and just ride with it. I thought he had good looks. It just happens that way. You have tough games.”
The usually exuberant Noah, while more subdued after any loss, wasn’t in the mood to talk about the death of “Mr. Green,” who was more than just a basketball coach to him, but akin to a father figure.
“We need to win,” he said, curtly answering reporters’ questions. “We’ll figure it out.”
“This is the playoffs. We know we definitely have to pick up our intensity. Up 13, we exhaled a little bit, they came back. Bad turnovers. We’ve just got to make our adjustments. This is chess. This isn’t checkers,” Noah continued. “We’ve just got to find a way. We’re not happy with the result tonight. Disappointing loss at home, in front of our home crowd. But we’ll bounce back.”
And so will he.