Bulls need Joakim Noah to dominate vs. Wizards

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 04/23/2014, 12:12pm

On a very bad night, it was good to remember that Joakim Noah was made for Chicago.

This is a town that appreciates effort — and that’s what the Bulls center will give you.

He was outscored by teammates Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin on Tuesday night in a gut-wrenching 101-99 overtime loss to the Wizards. But he wasn’t outhustled. He was, however, beat.

The Bulls looked — as a team — terrified to finish out. They looked afraid. They looked like they abruptly realized they aren’t really as good as the lower-ranked Wizards.

Word is Jimmy Butler played, but we should pray it was a playground kid in a Jimmy Butler suit.

Shooting guards shoot, right? I’m not sure how it’s possible to play 53 minutes and score only six points and have but two assists. No sense in trashing young Butler, really. It would have been nice for Kirk Hinrich to have made a couple of free throws at the end, too.

Down 0-2 after two games on your home court. Go figure.

Can the Bulls win four of the next five games? Only if Noah can somehow ratchet up to superman level.

His 20 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots were pretty darned good. He was even 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. But he has been abandoned, it seems.

Early on in his seven-year career with the Bulls, Noah sometimes expended his effort doing nothing much of value. He started out his first two years averaging 1.2 assists and 6.7 points. His rebounds — 5.6 per game, then 7.6 — weren’t much for a 6-11 guy with long arms.

And then — whiz, bang! — maturity. Focus. Intensity. Adulthood.

In four of the last five seasons, Noah has averaged a double-double, just missing it in 2011-12 when he averaged 9.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. His minutes increased because of his improvement, and this season he grabbed a career-high 99 steals and handed out a crazy 431 assists.

That Noah received the Defensive Player of the Year award Monday is fitting, but in many ways, it’s an award that simply acknowledges his overall status as a fully-fledged game-changer.

How many centers ever get a triple-double in points, rebounds and assists? Noah had four this season.

Double-doubles? Noah gets those while lounging (which he never does). Indeed, he has 170 career double-doubles.

Against the Wizards, it’s clear that Noah has to dominate the way he can when he is locked in like a maniac on the task at hand. Maybe like two maniacs.

In the first quarter, he came out of the game and sat next to nicely dressed but inactive former superstar Derrick Rose. They chatted, but Noah had little to learn from Rose.

His mojo just wasn’t in full bloom yet. A 26-12 lead by the Wizards seemed as mysterious to Noah as it was to observers. The Bulls were out of sync, flat, listless.

Then they took the lead. Then they gave it all back.

Overtime came around because the Bulls once again let the Wizards own the end of the game.

Noah’s enthusiasm and mix-master frenzy is needed. But he can’t do it all. He’s a center, after all, not a one, two, three or four.

Noah had not wanted any publicity after his award presentation, deflecting all praise and thanking his teammates. He was trying desperately to stay focused on the task at hand. The award could sit somewhere and gather dust for all he cared.

After Game 1, when a couple of players were horrendous on defense and Noah’s usual double-double seemed irrelevant, coach Tom Thibodeau said he would not blame one player, that this was a team affair.

“To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,” Thibodeau said. “I could go from start to finish.’’

Said Wizards coach Randy Wittman after Washington’s Game 2 victory: ‘‘I’m an old-school coach. I come from Bobby Knight. I believe you have to play defense.’’

Is that the problem? The Bulls don’t play defense?

Scoring in the clutch helps, too. But even that might not be enough now.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander

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