He was severely hobbled, scoreless until the waning seconds of the game and at times, looked like a shell of himself in certain aspects of the game.
But at the end of it all, Joakim Noah, suffering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot was happy.
The All-Star center scored a lone point in Thursday night’s 79-76 Game 3 win over Brooklyn at the United Center, but eight rebounds, a pair of assists and blocked shots each and most significantly, plenty of inspiration was a major reason that the Bulls took a 2-1 series lead.
“It is what it is. It’s one of those situations where it’s only going to get better with rest and it’s not time to rest, so I feel like I can’t do everything that I want to do out there, but at the end of the day, I feel like I can help the team the best way I can. I feel like I can do better. I have to play a little bit smarter, but I’m happy we won right now,” Noah explained.
“I’m not jumping as well as I want to and I can’t jump off my right foot and well as I want to. I’m just going to get as much treatment as I can. I haven’t played in a long time either, so just keep working on my game as much I can without irritating it. It’s complicated, you know? But I’m happy we won and now it’s on me to do what I can to play better.”
Noah was 0-for-7 from the floor and at times, didn’t even look at the rim, but somehow, he managed to be effective, whether as a passer, defensive presence, force on the glass or just with his usual all-out hustle.
“Tonight, he just battled and things weren’t really going his way, but he kept battling. Even at the end, to step up. But this is to be anticipated. He missed so much time, his timing’s not quite there, but I think each day, it’s getting better and better, so the encouraging thing is he’s feeling a lot better. So I think the more he does, the more he gets in rhythm. We’re asking him to a lot right now: defend the pick-and-roll, get back to the rim, protect the rim, alter shots, rebound the ball, run the floor, set screens, pass the ball, play off him, play through him. So whatever he can give us is a huge plus and as I said after the previous game, he’s willing it. That’s what he’s doing. This guy hasn’t practiced since the All-Star break,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained.
“He’s got great touch and he’s got great hands, so right now, he’s bobbling and that’s not like him. But I think the more he goes, the better it’ll get for him and he’s bringing a lot in terms of energy and anchoring the defense, and things like that. And it’s funny, you’re seeing with his rebounding. It’s the same thing. He’s getting his hands on it, but he’s not snatching it yet. That’s when you know. When he’s at his best, he goes up, he’s in traffic and it’s a two-hand snatch, and he’s strong with it.”
Fellow All-Star Luol Deng chimed in on the issue of his longtime teammate’s health, telling CSNChicago.com, “Jo is playing with a lot of heart. He’s hurt, but he’s giving us everything he’s got.”
It was only fitting that with 4.4 seconds remaining in the game, a scoreless Noah stepped to the free-throw line and after missing his first attempt, knocked down a foul shot to give the Bulls a three-point lead.
On the other end, following a Nets timeout, none other than Noah was there to contest former teammate C.J. Watson’s game-tying attempt at a corner three-pointer.
Limping around the Bulls’ locker room afterwards, his ailing right foot hurt so good.