Joakim Noah seemed mightily amused at the small social media firestorm created by separate apparent actions during Game 2 of the Bulls-Cavaliers series at Quicken Loans Arena.
First, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones issued a couple threatening tweets at Noah last night, after Jones and his teammates were introduced to the crowd, roundly cheered for winning the national title in January.
Noah apparently mouthed to or at Jones, “You ain’t in the S.E.C.,” a nod to Noah’s University of Florida ties. When Jones was made aware of Noah’s words, he unleashed on twitter.
@JoakimNoah watch yo mouth before I give you these hands chump
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) May 7, 2015
I'm at @JoakimNoah neck the rest of the series for that comment
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) May 7, 2015
Noah, never one to tweak an opponent, especially one with Cleveland ties, smiled his way out of things Thursday, saying he didn’t start anything.
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“I heard about it this morning,” Noah said. “I didn't know who he was until this morning. I wish him nothing but the best. I like Urban Meyer, I guess?”
Meyer is currently the head coach at Ohio State and was the national-title winning coach at Florida when Noah helped lead the basketball team to back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
When asked if he made a comment about the SEC, Noah said no — with a smile.
“I didn’t even know who he was until this morning,” he said. “I wish him nothing but the best.”
The other incident is slightly more serious, because it concerns a fan who apparently spat on Noah as he was walking off the floor and to the locker room with his teammates.
From a video, it appeared Noah swiped his arm in defense at the fan’s apparent action, but declined to discuss in detail with media — and didn’t want to say if NBA security contacted him about the incident.
“I don't want to talk about that. It's unnecessary,” he said.
When pressed about the interaction with the fan, Noah smiled again and said, “I was just saying hello.”
Noah’s light mood could be created by his struggles on offense, highlighted by scoring just four points in two games against the Cavaliers. He missed a wide-open layup in Game 1, and has shockingly gone 1-14 from the free-throw line in the postseason.
“It's disappointing,” Noah said. “I've just gotta keep working and make them tomorrow.”
Tom Thibodeau appears steadfast in his belief Noah’s stretch is just an anomaly, considering he’s a 71.6 percent free-throw shooter for his career (60 percent this season).
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“Right now he’s going through a rough period with his free throw, but it will come around,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes you just have to work your way through it. Last year, he shot his free throws great and he’ll find his rhythm, he’ll get back to it.’’
He denied his struggles at the line or elsewhere are mental, and didn’t want to hear anything about lacking confidence.
Noah shrugged off any notions of losing his offensive feel, which was never the prettiest at its height, anyways.
“Yeah, I'm confident,” he said.
Thibodeau isn’t ready to pull Noah from the lineup at this point, but the longer he goes while struggling with his game and ailing body, the questions will keep coming—especially if Thibodeau keeps Nikola Mirotic on the bench.
“No, not right now,” said Thibodeau when asked about benching Noah for Taj Gibson. “I mean also look at when Jo was on the floor we were a plus, so you gotta look at a lot of things. We’ll see how it unfolds, but Jo brings a lot to our team.’’
Noah was actually a minus-11 in the Bulls’ 106-91 Game 2 loss, and upon hearing his coach’s defense of him for the second straight day, Noah was again jovial.
“Thanks, Thibs,” he said.