AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulls were leading the struggling Detroit Pistons by just one, and Joakim Noah wasn’t having a great performance for the second game in a row.
But that changed in the final period.
Noah recorded eight points, five assists and three rebounds in the fourth quarter to finish with a triple-double, and the Bulls pulled away for a 105-94 win on Wednesday night. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
It was Noah’s second triple-double in three games. His three triple-doubles are tied for second most in the NBA this season.
“He’s been on an incredible roll for a long time,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The Brooklyn game was really his first down game. Then even tonight, the team got off to a good start. He’s just in there battling. He’s patient. He wasn’t struggling, but he wasn’t in rhythm like he normally is. But he just kept working the game. That’s where his experience has come in.
“He sizes things up, keeps working, and all of a sudden, you’ll see him get four or five rebounds in a row. You see him run the floor, and he’s getting more comfortable. We’re getting good movement off his post-up. He’s doing a lot of different things for us. It’s huge. The rebounding, the defense, the passing, his points. If people are going to sit on his pass, he’s got to score. I think he’s showing that.”
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Since Feb. 9, Noah is averaging 13.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. The Bulls are 10-2 in those 12 games.
“It feels good to play well,” Noah said. “I’m just trying to stay focused. I think our team is playing good basketball. We have a lot of big tests coming up against very good teams. It’s going to say a lot about our team and where we stand. I’m happy we won and that I played well.”
Noah was wearing a brace on his thumb in the locker room after the game. He said he bent it back during play, but didn’t want to talk much about it. Noah will see how it feels Thursday morning, but doesn’t expect to miss any time.
Noah’s complete game has been the key to this successful stretch as the Bulls look to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“He’s been on a run now for a long time. We need it,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a leader. The thing about Jo, he does it a lot of different ways. Sometimes, it’s the defense and rebounding. Sometimes, it’s the passing. Sometimes, it’s the scoring. His screen has gotten significantly better. His rolling to the basket is significantly better, making quicker decisions. That’s how Jo plays. He’s not satisfied with how our team is playing. We feel like there’s another jump we can make, and we’re going to have to.”
Jimmy Butler, who scored 18 and grabbed 12 rebounds, said Noah has been the most important piece in this stretch, and flirting with a triple-double is becoming the norm.
“He means the most to this team,” Butler said. “The guy, he’s our leader. He does so many things well, offensively and defensively. A triple-double, that’s another night for him.”