Joakim Noah was honored Monday as the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, putting a bow on the center's incredible regular season leading the Bulls defense. Chicago finished the regular season ranked second in defensive efficiency and opponent field goal percentage, grabbed nearly 77 percent of its defensive rebound opportunities and allowed a league-best 91.8 points.
It was a picture-perfect season for the way head coach Tom Thibodeau wants his teams to play, and it was anchored by Noah. And during that regular season, the Defensive Player of the Year put on a number of defensive clinics in helping the Bulls to victory. Here are the five best:
5. vs. Houston Rockets, March 15 (6 defensive rebounds, 2 steals)
In one of the Bulls' most impressive defensive showings of the year, it was Noah who led the charge. Dwight Howard scored 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting and managed to grab five offensive rebounds, but the latter statistic was more a product of Houston shooting less than 36 percent from the field.
Howard was a non-factor most of the night and scored just two points after halftime, when the Bulls outscored the Rockets 35-16 to blow the game open. Noah also drew two offensive foul calls on Howard, one of which resulted in a technical foul on Houston's big man in the first half. One of Noah's two steals came at Howard's expense, too. The Bulls wound up holding the NBA's second highest scoring team to just 87 points, their fourth lowest output of the season.
4. at Los Angeles Lakers, Feb. 9 (9 defensive rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks)
With the Bulls leading 82-71 midway through the fourth quarter, 6:53 to be exact, Noah picked up his fifth foul on Chris Kaman, who was having one of his better games of the season. Thibodeau opted to keep his center in the game, and Noah rewarded him for it seconds later. On the next possession Noah swatted a Kaman shot attempt and finished the sequence off with a dunk to put the Bulls up 84-71. Noah played the final seven minutes and helped fend off a Lakers comeback.
And though Kaman scored 27 points, Noah corralled nine defensive rebounds, recorded two steals and blocked three shots in a key road win that got the Bulls back to .500 at 25-25. It was the last time the Bulls would be at .500, as they reeled off wins in nine of their next 10 games and never looked back.
3. vs. Miami Heat, March 9 (6 defensive rebounds, 4 blocks)
Noah's stats were impressive in the Bulls' 95-88 overtime win over the defending champs, but his impact was the real story. He managed six defensive rebounds and came up with four huge blocks, the last of which came against LeBron James with the game tied in the final two minutes of regulation. And that was the story, as James attempted zero free throw attempts in the game, the first time that had happened since December 2009, a span of 332 games.
James went just 6-for-15 in the painted area, struggling to get by the superb effort of Noah. And to cap it off, he scored two points and grabbed three rebounds (two defensive) in an overtime in which the Bulls outscored the Heat 9-2 to earn one of the most impressive wins of the season.
2. vs. Indiana Pacers, March 24 (8 defensive rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks)
Having lost to the Pacers in Indiana three days earlier, the Bulls needed a statement win back at the United Center. And they got it, thanks in large part to Noah's efforts. Counterpart Roy Hibbert missed all five of his field goal attempts and managed just one offensive rebound in 26 foul-plauged minutes, the Bulls out-rebounded the Pacers 46-42 and Noah filled the box score with eight defensive boards, four steals and three blocks.
The Pacers weren't necessarily playing their best basketball at the time, but it entered the Bulls into the conversation of Eastern Conference contenders, something Noah reiterated after the game.
1. vs. Sacramento Kings, March 15 (10 defensive rebounds, 3 steals, 5 blocks)
It would have been perfectly acceptable for Noah to take a night off mentally when the Kings came to town. He had just finished a stretch of games in which he guarded Memphis' Marc Gasol, Miami's Chris Bosh and LeBron James, San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Houston's Howard in a one-week span. The Bulls also had Kevin Durant and the Thunder on the schedule two days later, so the Saturday night matchup against Sacramento could have been a "coast" game.
Instead, Noah was as dominant as ever. He grabbed 10 defensive rebounds and four of his five blocks came against talented center DeMarcus Cousins, who needed 21 shots to score 25 points. Two of Noah's three steals led to his own layups, as he scored 21 points in the Bulls' 94-87 win. The only downside was that the Kings managed to grab 19 offensive rebounds, but they had just two in the final six minutes when the Bulls outscored them 22-15 to pull away.