Joakim Noah didn’t play on Tuesday night, when Bucks center John Henson walked into the United Center and acted like he owned the place.
In the Bucks’ 78-74 win in Chicago earlier this week, Henson dominated the Bulls’ frontcourt, putting up 25 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, all while Noah sat on the bench, sidelined with a bruised right thigh, unable to do a thing about it.
Clearly, Noah was determined not to let Henson get the best of the Bulls again. He personally put up residence in the paint and dominated at both ends of the floor in Chicago’s 91-90 win at Milwaukee on Friday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Noah finished with 21 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals, his sixth double-double and best overall performance of the season.
“Joakim was a monster throughout the game,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterward.
Noah bookended his masterpiece with sterling play particularly in the first and final minutes of the game.
On the Bucks’ second possession of the game, Henson tried to post Noah on the right side, and guard Brandon Knight threw an entry pass into Henson. The young and rail-thin Milwaukee center didn’t seal Noah off well enough, though, and he darted around Henson to get the steal and kick-start a transition that he finished off himself with a soaring layup on the other end.
Noah stayed active throughout the game, adding seven points in the second quarter and 10 in the final period, when the Bulls came back to win in a dramatic final minute. It was the Bulls’ first victory of the season when trailing entering the fourth quarter, as they were, 69-62, on Friday night.
Noah has played in 19 of the Bulls’ 21 games, though he missed some time in training camp, which Thibodeau said held him back. Noah had 12 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday night’s loss to the Knicks in New York.
[WATCH -- Thibodeau: Bulls showed a lot of toughness]
“Jo has been playing at a high level,” Thibodeau said. “He had the setback with the knee, but prior to that he had two great games, and you can see his rhythm coming offensively. Defensively, he has been terrific from the start of the season. Offensively, you can really see where his timing is back and his playmaking.
“He is really getting comfortable out there, and I thought he showed a lot of toughness.”
For all his offensive production throughout the game, Noah saved his best and what he is most known for – first-class defense – for the end. With 16.2 seconds remaining, Noah hustled out to the perimeter to tie up Bucks guard Gary Neal and force a jump ball, which was easily won by the big man.
Then, at the other end, he helped Carlos Boozer set screens for Mike Dunleavy, who used them to hoist a shot over Henson that banked in, giving the Bulls the one-point margin with 5.8 seconds remaining.
And on the final play of the game, naturally, Noah blocked O.J. Mayo’s buzzer-beating floater attempt to seal the victory, a win the Bulls sorely needed.
“(Dunleavy’s shot) was a big-time shot, but the defense, and then Jo having the block on the final play, as well, was just as great,” Thibodeau said.