TORONTO — After seemingly being questioned by general manager Gar Forman for not playing center Joakim Noah more in the two overtime periods of the Bulls’ 127-116 double-overtime loss to the New Jersey Nets on Friday night, coach Vinny Del Negro offered his side following Saturday’s practice session at the Air Canada Centre.
“I wasn’t gonna play him 40, 45 minutes or something like that just because it was back-to-back games and Joakim’s future and his health is a big concern to everyone,” Del Negro said. “It was the first time he played back-to-back those many minutes.
“Would I have liked to have played him more? Of course, but his future and his health is the most important thing. There’s been a lot of things that have gone into it. I would have liked to have played him more, but we just couldn’t do that [Friday] night.”
Noah, who has been on a steady-rising minutes limit because of plantar fasciitis of the left foot, was supposed to play no more than 35 minutes on Friday. When he exited the game with 48.1 seconds left in regulation, Noah had played 35:39.
Because of the importance of the game, Del Negro dispatched player development assistant Lindsey Hunter to seek out general manager Gar Forman in the Izod Center and ask if it was OK to extend Noah a bit more.
By the time Del Negro got the go ahead, the game had gone to overtime. Noah saw only 12 seconds of action in the first overtime when Del Negro inserted the center for defense with 25.2 seconds remaining with the Bulls clinching to a two-point lead.
After the game, Forman made it appear Noah had been cleared to play more, but Del Negro said he had only asked to use Noah for defense when they needed a crucial stop – like at the end of the first overtime.
“My interpretation of that was not to go play him three, four, five, six, 10 minutes and get him to 40, 45 minutes, but if we needed him for a stop,” Del Negro said. “We did, so that’s why I put him back in.
“I would have loved to have played him some more minutes, especially in the overtime. But that was my understanding. There was probably a little miscommunication there as well.”
Noah, who had 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, had a big impact on the game and had a crucial tip-in to give the Bulls 100-99 lead just before exiting in regulation. But all he could do was watch and cheer on his teammates during virtually of both overtimes.
“I really don’t have much to say about it,” Noah said Saturday. “I think all I can do is get ready for tomorrow’s game. I can only control the things I can control as a player.”
By the way, Del Negro said Noah should have no minute restrictions when the Bulls face the Toronto Raptors Sunday night in what amounts to a playoff game for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I don’t think there will be a mandate on him tomorrow,” Del Negro said. “I’ll play him as fit. I’ll see how he feels after shootaround and talk to [trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] and get a good understanding of it.”