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Bulls need Joakim Noah to step up his game on offense

MILWAUKEE — It’s a good thing the Bulls didn’t come onto the Bradley Center floor with their Rolex watches and 401(k)s, or they’d have turned those over to the Bucks, too.

Indeed, the Bulls couldn’t give this game away fast enough.

They opened with nine turnovers in the first quarter and finished with a wretched 28. A turnover is essentially, “Here, sir, may I give you the ball?’’

And, as coach Tom Thibodeau explained, the basic formula to winning is 13 or fewer.

How this 92-90 loss came down to the last play, I’ll never know. (And what a doozy of a Derrick Rose mental lapse that was!) The Bucks should’ve been given the game early just on grit and determination.

“Biggest thing was their intensity,’’ Thibodeau said in disgust.

We can analyze Rose’s multiple failures (eight turnovers, one game-losing defensive failure on Bucks guard Jerryd Bayless), but Rose is Rose, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

He’ll be OK. His game is built on creating chaos, and usually that works for him. Saturday afternoon it worked against him, with balls bounding away from him like loose protons from an atom.

No, it’s center Joakim Noah that I’m worried about.

The big guy with the man bun (may I call it a mun?) had a terrible Game 4.

But then his other games have not had their usual pizzazz and sparkle, either. He’ll get double-digit rebounds just by being one of the biggest guys on the floor.

But since his offseason knee surgery and attempted recovery, mixed in with rest and reduced minutes (until the playoffs), he has not looked like the crazed pinwheel  of a man who was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season. Nor has he looked like the guy who can run forever and never stop flailing or terrorizing the foe.

That he is hurt goes without question.

But everybody who plays in the NBA gets slowly whittled down by time. And you have to compensate somehow.

The Bucks are young and long and frisky — except for Zaza Pachulia, who is like a massive rusty anchor — and they make Noah look old.

I guess we just think of him as still being a rambunctious kid adapting to the pro game. But he is 30, and he’s done growing knee cartilage.

And it shows. His vertical was never great, but now it’s less. His offense (four points Saturday, two points in almost 46 minutes in Game 3, six points in Game 2, six points in Game 1) is disappearing.

We all know that the plus/minus stats for each player can be deceptive. You want to be in the plus category, but sometimes in close games, you can be in the red just from situational substitutions. It’s not all your fault or credit.

But Noah was an astounding minus-23 in Game 4. In contrast, fellow big man Pau Gasol was a plus-18. High scorer Jimmy Butler (33 points) was a plus-14.

Again, those stats are only one way of measuring a player’s value in a game.

Noah also had four assists but only five rebounds. He is a trifle slow, a beat late, an inch behind.

He’ll be there Monday for Game  5, in hopes the Bulls can close out this series and prepare for the likely next foe — the Cleveland Cavaliers — on Sunday.  The rest would do him well.

But there’s a feeling here that rest can only do so much for a big man whose knees are beginning to feel like pieces of roof shingle rubbing together.

And there is a definite sense that the Bulls can’t get very far without Noah playing the way he yet might be able to. That is, yelling, leaping, thrashing, creating havoc around the rim and actually being an offensive threat from time to time.

Yes, we could go on and on about the Bucks’ steals (an absurd 20), but steals are just turnovers flipped on their head. It takes one to steal one.

But the turnovers will go down — they have to — or Thibodeau isn’t the coach we think he is, and the Bulls will be done by Game 4 of the next round. Rose tried to burrow his way through the Bucks’ long arms, and he has to stop that.

If it weren’t for Butler’s scoring heroics, Rose’s failure to get the offense moving would have seemed much more egregious.

But big man Noah is the concern.

“He’s tried to work his way through,’’ Thibodeau said. “I believe he’ll get there.’’

Fast would be nice.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com
Twitter: @ricktelander