“It's always tough before the game. Once it starts, they're feeling it, too,” Joakim Noah said. “They bleed just like us.”
The All-Star center made that statement after playing nearly 39 minutes in Saturday afternoon’s 142-134 triple-overtime win over the Nets at the United Center, which gave the Bulls a 3-1 advantage in the first-round playoff series.
Noah was only supposed to play 25-30 minutes, due to his well-chronicled case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but with the gravity of the situation, his minutes restriction apparently went out the window.
Although he was ailing, Noah produced 15 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots before fouling out in the early in the third and final extra session, but while he looked more spry than perhaps at any point in the series, he detailed how much he was ailing afterward.
“In the last month, I must’ve done 40 or 50 different treatments,” Noah explained. “I don’t know exactly what it is that has helped me. But it’s a little better. I’m still playing through pain, but it’s not even comparable to Game 1.
“I wasn't aware until after the game. I'm feeling it. I'm getting all the treatments possible. Compared to Game 1, it's so much better.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, not a man who is easily impressed, lauded Noah’s effort and revealed that he had an inkling that the charismatic center would be effective Saturday.
“That’s him. Great heart and again, he’s sort of mucking through it right now because he hasn’t practiced a lot. But he keeps going, he goes after every ball. His defense is always great and then he found his rhythm. He had a couple big-time offensive rebounds, hustle plays. He has an uncanny knack for getting to the ball late, so it was a big-time effort by him and as I said before, he’s doing it on will. He hasn’t practiced,” Thibodeau said. “He’s feeling a little better. He was actually in the practice facility last night shooting, so that’s usually a good sign. I haven’t seen that in a while. It was a good sign to see him in there.”
Teammate Carlos Boozer concurred: “The crazy thing is as the series has gone along, he’s done more and more. Last game, he had one point and that one point gave us a cushion that we needed to win the game. Tonight, he had a monster double-double, countless blocks. Joakim has been a complete warrior. He’s amazing. I’m very proud to be his teammate. “
As for Noah’s prescribed minutes limit, Thibodeau explained why it was exceeded.
“We have general parameters and we also see how things are going, how he’s feeling, and our doctors and our trainers felt like he could continue on, so we did that and he’s been moving a lot better,” he said. “You could see it in just the way he’s running the floor and all the things that are important for him in playing his game.”
As for Noah himself, the native New Yorker, who attended high school in Brooklyn, basked in the moment of the Bulls’ remarkable win.
“Overtime games in the playoffs are so exciting. You can just feel the energy of the crowd. The basketball gods were on our side. Being down 14 with 3:30 left, we just stayed with it,” he said. “To play in a triple overtime game and to win is the best feeling in the world. This is what it's all about. We have so many different guys stepping up.
“Guys are into it. This is why you work hard. This is a great feeling because we won. We have to stay hungry and humble and get ready for Monday.”