Joakim Noah turns regular-season win into passion play

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist Posted: 03/10/2014, 11:54am
Array CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 05: Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls fouls Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat at the United Center on December 5, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Joakim Noah was born for this kind of game. Born to live and die with every possession. Born to scream and rant and rage at the slightest provocation — a Heat player’s inhaling or exhaling, for example. Born to celebrate a flawless Bulls’ substitution.

You could see it in his face Sunday afternoon. Every trip up the floor was a crusade. Every call against him was an outrage, an injustice, a crime against humanity. Every call that went his way was good, right and quite possibly an affirmation of the American way of life.

Noah was magnificent against the team he loves to hate, getting 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots. The Bulls’ 95-88 overtime victory against the Heat meant that the Bulls beat the Heat 95-88 in overtime, but just try telling Noah that there wasn’t more meaning to it than that.

“This what you play basketball for,’’ he said. “I love it. I’m having a great time. I’m having a blast out there. Beating Miami — I don’t care if it’s the regular season, it’s always special.’’

There is a late MVP push for Noah, thanks in part to the three triple-doubles the 6-11 center has had the last month. With Kevin Durant averaging 31.8 points and LeBron James having another excellent season, it’s not going to happen, but understand the significance of Noah even being mentioned. He is not a big scorer, and he is not playing on one of the NBA’s best teams. Some of what he does can be found in the box score, but much of it can’t.

On Sunday, whenever Noah found himself guarding either James or Dwyane Wade via a switch, his defensive crouch became more pronounced. Bring it on, he seemed to be saying.

With less than six minutes left in the second quarter, Noah stopped James, hustled down court and eventually got fouled after an all-out effort on the boards. He stomped and screamed out of sheer joy. A sold-out United Center threatened to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

Does it hurt the story that the Heat went on a 15-0 run after that? Probably, so let’s ignore it.

One keepsake: Noah blocking James’ shot in the fourth quarter, catching the ball and in one motion throwing a perfect bounce pass to Taj Gibson, whose thundering dunk gave the Bulls a two-point lead. How many big men can do what Noah did there? Yeah, get back to me on that.

The crowd was electric because Noah turned on his amp while James (8-for-23 from the floor) played an acoustic set, thanks to Jimmy Butler’s suffocating defense.

Noah got a technical in the third when the Heat’s Mario Chalmers refused to give him the ball after the whistle. That’s how Sunday’s game was. Testy.

Every now and then, Noah would point to his dad, former French Open winner Yannick Noah, who was fretting in the crowd. These two excitable guys might want to think about something to calm them down. Let’s start with aromatherapy and work our way up.

“I know he’s a nervous wreck during games and stuff,’’ Joakim said. “I always tell him to just drink a brewski and chill.’’

So this game didn’t mean anything? Tell Noah that.

“To be able to do that in front of your loved ones in Chicago, I’ll cherish this forever,’’ he said.

Let’s not turn this into Father and Son Day. This was Noah’s game, this is his season and these are his teammates, whom he will tell you about all day, if you let him. He spent the afternoon informing the defending NBA champions of all the ways he was going to score and rebound on them.

“He was really telling them everything he was going to do,’’ Gibson said of Noah’s trash talking. “I could see in their faces he was frustrating them.’’

It’s hard to picture another line of work that would accommodate Noah’s energy level. Spin-class instructor? Human electrical transformer? Congressional filibusterer?

Enjoy this guy. There aren’t many like him. When Derrick Rose comes back — and how much of Rose comes back — then we can start discussing title aspirations. Whether that will include Carmelo Anthony at a reduced price, who knows?

Until it all shakes out, savor Noah and, what the heck, dream along with him.

“We’re going for one thing, and that’s the championship one day,’’ he said. “One day, I want to party in Chicago. I want to see what that feels like one day.’’

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