Bulls center Joakim Noah was wrong. Or maybe he misspoke.
Noah was talking about sacrifice earlier in the season when he said, ‘‘No [Bulls] player has sacrificed more than Taj Gibson.’’
That might have been the case the last few seasons. Gibson has starter talent, but he comes off the bench.
This season, though, no player on the team is sacrificing more than Noah. The free-agent addition of power forward Pau Gasol changed the
Bulls’ dynamic in the paint. Noah is comfortable being a high-post presence, but the rebound numbers that helped him become an All-Star and win Defensive Player of the Year honors last season have taken a hit with Gasol in the paint with him. Noah averaged 11.3 rebounds last season and is
averaging 9.8 this season.
Add to that the return of Derrick Rose, the breakout of Jimmy Butler and the free-agent addition of Aaron Brooks. The days when Noah was
forced to play point-center are gone. In many possessions, his offense comes from his effort rather than from his number being called.
Noah’s strength is once again the intangibles that don’t always show up in stats. That’s sacrifice.
And while he’s still finding his way, he’s totally committed.
‘‘When you feel like you have a shot to win — to win big — I think it makes it a little bit easier to sacrifice,’’ Noah said. ‘‘With the talent that we have, I think it’s a lot easier to buy in when you have a chance to get a championship at the end.’’
That’s where coach Tom Thibodeau and the culture he has forged in the locker room come in. There have been plenty of players with egos to
walk through that door — Nate Robinson, Richard Hamilton, Carlos Boozer — but they quickly learned team comes first, second and third.
The Bulls’ front office usually doesn’t consider players who can’t grasp that concept.
‘‘That’s just not the character of this team,’’ Noah said. ‘‘That’s not the guys Pax [vice president of basketball operations John Paxson]
and [the rest of the front office] bring in.’’
The latest example of that sacrifice came in the Bulls’ 107-100 victory Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center.
Thibodeau started the fourth quarter with Brooks, Nikola Mirotic, Gibson, E’Twaun Moore and Mike Dunleavy on the floor. Rose and Butler came in with 6:41 left and an 11-point lead. Thibodeau went back to Noah with five minutes left, back to Gasol for about 1:30, then closed with Rose, Butler, Moore, Gibson and Noah.
On Monday against the Indiana Pacers, it might be a totally different closing five and a completely different rotation.
‘‘We’ve asked everyone to sacrifice and put the team first,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Whatever is going to give us our best chance at winning, that’s what we’re going to do. So [Saturday] it was one way; the next game could be another. But that’s the beauty of our team. I think we have a very unselfish team.
‘‘Sometimes the game dictates what you have to do. We had a lead [against the Pelicans]; we were trying to protect the lead. They were running a lot of pick-and-roll and we wanted to go to more switching, so we tried to match up with guys that we can do that with.
‘‘When you do that, there’s going to be sacrifice involved.’’