As one would assume the Bulls take the next three games to play with some kind of regular season intensity, Fred Hoiberg would likely bottle up whatever inspired Joakim Noah to perform with the kind of fervor Noah displayed against the Charlotte Hornets.
Certainly the Bulls’ 94-86 loss at Time Warner Cable Arena won’t mean anything in the big picture, nor will Noah’s overall numbers of 12 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
But the spirit in which Noah played, and the fact he only had two made field goals, shows the kind of effect he can still have.
It wasn’t pretty with Noah and it still isn’t, but it was effective and impactful, as the Bulls played without Pau Gasol (rest) and of course, Derrick Rose.
“Jo was very active,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he defended Al Jefferson very well, who’s a tough cover on the block. He was battling, he was active, enthusiastic on the bench.”
In the first half, Noah stripped Jefferson on his patented post move, ran the floor to catch a nifty bounce pass from Aaron Brooks for a dunk while beating the lumbering Jefferson downcourt.
“Yeah, I think I can do better,” Noah said. “I missed some free throws, missed some easy ones my teammates were giving me great looks. Could’ve had more.”
Then in the third quarter, he showed his intangibles, setting up Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell for their first field goals by being a safety valve, setting quick screens so they could step into a dribble and easy jump shot.
“We all know how great of a player Jo is, we want him to continue to be aggressive and look to score,” said Jimmy Butler, who scored 18 in 37 minutes. “He passes incredibly well while playing defense on the other end. We want to keep his confidence high.”
Noah went to the foul line 11 times in the first half, due to his relentless activity and energy. The word “spry” could be used to describe his energy for the first time in quite some time.
It wasn’t enough to get the Bulls into any kind of consistent offensive flow, as they shot just 38 percent and missed 21 of their 27 three-pointers, most of which came in the second half as they mustered only 35 points.
The slow pace led Hoiberg to say they took a step back, one that can’t be repeated too many times in the regular season.
“We were really good offensively in the first quarter (33 points), but from then on out we were not good at all,” he said. “Offensively we have to be better than that, we’ve been pretty good this preseason on that end. Tonight we didn’t play with any pace.”
Their perimeter defense was a problem early, as Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and P.J. Hairston all had their way with the Bulls guards, which should be to Hoiberg’s chagrin after his terse statement claiming he’s nowhere near happy with where the team’s defense is to date, following their loss to Detroit last week.
Most came in the first quarter, though, and the Bulls rebounded to hold the Hornets to 42 percent shooting, but didn’t convert offensively.
“We did a better job getting stops,” said Hoiberg, noting the Hornets shot 63 percent in the first. “I thought even when we got stops, we weren’t getting out on the break and pushing it back at them. For whatever reason, we decided to play a slow down game tonight.”
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Walker scored 22 and was bouncy enough to get Hinrich fouled out in just 18 minutes of run, while Lin had a more rounded evening, scoring 18 with seven rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes.
Noah wasn’t the only bright spot, though, as Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis again played well in different spurts. Gibson played beyond his 15-minute limit as he scored 14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes, hitting his first four shots and missing just one on the night.
Bobby Portis again made his case for a spot in the rotation, with 12 points and eight boards in 19 minutes.
But with the exception of Butler, the Bulls guards struggled on both ends of the floor, leaving Hoiberg with as much cause for concern as he does optimism with his big man who didn’t look so old Monday night.