For three quarters offense stole the show in the All-Star Game. But when the East and West buckled in and played lockdown defense, Joakim Noah was right in the middle of it.
The Bulls center, making his second straight appearance in the midseason exhibition, scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds and handed out five assists in the East's come-from-behind 163-155 win in New Orleans.
Things started slow for Noah, who was the last player in the game to score. He started the second quarter and assisted a DeMar DeRozan layup to open the period, and after finding DeRozan for a jumper, corralling a steal and missing his first shot of the game Noah took a pass from eventual game MVP Kyrie Irving and threw down a monster dunk to get on the board. He was subbed out at the 3-minute mark of the second quarter with the East trailing by 10, 75-65.
The uninspiring second-quarter play was completely forgotten about, however, after his stellar fourth quarter. Noah played all 12 minutes and was key in the East's comeback -- they outscored the West 40-29 in the final stanza. Noah scored six points in the quarter, including a pair of dunks that both were set up by passes from rival LeBron James.
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That first dunk, in transition, gave the East their first lead since the first quarter, at 142-140. Though Kevin Durant's 3-pointer the next trip down put the West back in front, Noah's energy and pick-and-roll play with James was key down the stretch. Noah said playing with players such as James, Carmelo Anthony and Irving was an experience he could only appreciate after it happened.
"Those guys score in bunches man, it's crazy," he said. "A lot of talent on the floor. Sometimes you don't realize until you're on the floor with them."
Noah's defensive efforts were also on display. Playing for Indiana head coach Frank Vogel, whose Pacers lead the league in defense, Noah grabbed three rebounds in the quarter -- including two of the last three of the contest -- and saved his best basketball for last, also handing out two assists to Irving that resulted in five points for the East.
"The game's got to get defensive if you want to win. But overall, it's an unbelievable honor, especially to play down the stretch. I like that stuff. I want to be out there on the court and it feels great." he told reporters after the game. "Everybody's just happy, just making plays, just watching that guys wanted to win. In the beginning I was thinking nobody cares, but towards the end it got competitive.
Noah said the experience as a whole was great, and that he was happy to have been in during the stretch run as the East overcame an 18-point deficit to win for the first time in four years.
"I was happy to be there down the stretch. It's hard to show what you can do in limited minutes, but I had a great time and to be able to play like that in an All-Star game in front of all your friends, I know my family's watching," he said. "It's a good feeling."