Somewhat lost in all the excitement of Derrick Rose’s return to the United Center was Joakim Noah’s season debut Wednesday night.
The All-Star center played 20 minutes in the 96-81 victory over Detroit and wasn’t an impactful scorer, but as usual, he made his presence felt in other ways. Noah corralled eight rebounds, blocked three shots and handed out three assists to augment his two points—both on free throws—and while he’s not yet at his best, just being back on the floor after missing the Bulls’ first three exhibition games was a thrill.
“I felt pretty good,” said Noah, who suffered a strained groin in a practice during the Bulls’ first week of training camp. “Derrick makes the game a lot easier. Just really exciting, playing with Derrick, Lu, Carlos.”
While Noah acknowledged that the boisterous home crowd wasn’t there just for his first game of the campaign in uniform, he simply appreciated the atmosphere.
“That was very exciting. It was a packed house. For a preseason game, that doesn’t happen too much. It was exciting to see the reaction from the fans. Seeing Derrick come back, that was really cool, so it’s going to be a good year,” he said. “Everybody has the right mindset.”
Noah’s presence didn’t go unrecognized by Rose, the man of the hour.
“Jo is huge, man. He’s an energy guy. We missed him. He’s been practicing the whole time, but tonight was the first time on the court,” the former league MVP said of his longtime teammate. “But it felt good. Running the floor, rebounding the ball. Just him being out there, it makes everyone feel very good about themselves because he’s one of the leaders on this team.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau gave Noah’s debut performance of the season a solid evaluation.
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“I liked his reaction to the ball,” the coach said. “He was still a little rusty offensively, but that’s to be expected. I thought his defense was outstanding.”
The Bulls were missing starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler, so they still haven’t fielded a complete squad during the preseason, but Noah is optimistic about the team’s potential.
“We’re just going to keep building, keep getting better and I think the final result is going to be pretty good,” he said. “We’re a work in progress, we have a ways to go and overall, I think the attitude of the team’s really good. I think if we strive for improvement, I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”