The energy in the United Center was lagging and at every chance the Bulls squandered at building some positive momentum, it seemed more and more likely they’d continue their usual pattern of following up an exhilarating win with a puzzling loss.
But enter Aaron Brooks and Joakim Noah, members of the Bulls’ bench, who brought the requisite energy and turned the tables in what could’ve or should’ve been another disappointing Bulls effort, resulting in their 98-94 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
It seemed to happen in a flash, the man who was buried on the bench for a few games after recovering from a hamstring injury on the west coast and the forgotten man in Fred Hoiberg’s new ball-movement scheme, relegated to being a reserve after being a proud starter for so long.
It was Noah picking up a loose ball, or battling all-world forward Anthony Davis on the block or snatching one of his nine rebounds, all of which seemed to come at crucial times.
Then in that same flash, Noah blowing by Davis with a left-to-right swim move, fluidly going down the lane for a dunk that caught everybody in the building off-guard, followed by a show of emotion that made Hoiberg believe Noah was going to jump into the stands out of joy.
“I thought he was going to run into the crowd and chest-bump people,” Hoiberg said. “In a game like this we need a guy like Noah who can pick up the energy. On the bench he was yelling and screaming and foaming at the mouth.”
The natural question that usually follows such a statement is why won’t he start Noah, but with the way he’s shuffled lineups so far, one can’t rule it out even if conventional wisdom says you can’t start Noah and Pau Gasol together.
Noah finished with 10 points, his first double-digit scoring game of the season, with nine rebounds, four blocks and two assists. Not to mention he harassed Davis into a terrible night, something only he can do when you consider the frontcourt members don’t carry Noah’s defensive intensity aside from Taj Gibson—but Gibson isn’t tall or long enough to bother Davis.
“He guarded Davis as well as he can be guarded,” Hoiberg said.
His 30 minutes of playing time was second to playing 35 minutes against the Nuggets 10 days ago, and his pride is still brimming.
"It's not one of those things I can control, so I'm just trying to make the most of what I have," Noah said of playing time. "Everybody wants minutes. It's no secret in the NBA that everybody wants minutes."
Brooks would love to complain about getting just 20-some minutes a game. He’d been playing behind E’Twaun Moore and Kirk Hinrich the last three games, even after he was declared healthy from a hamstring injury he suffered in Phoenix on the west coast trip.
Hitting three fourth-quarter triples, along with his running, leaning hook shot over the outstretched arms of Alexis Ajinca with 40 seconds left to give the Bulls a two-point lead.
Brooks scored 15 of his 17 in the fourth, hitting six of seven shots from the field. Playing with Derrick Rose gives the Bulls another element of speed, pace and versatility offensively.
“Aaron was awesome,” Hoiberg said. “That whole second unit saved the day for us. They went in and took over the game.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Doug McDermott hit a couple jumpers in the second quarter to shake the Bulls from a game-long lethargy, cutting a double-digit deficit in half, so his contributions shouldn’t be ignored.
“I feel good, just staying confident and shooting when I’m open,” he said. “We showed fight down the stretch. Even when things aren’t going out way, we’ve found a way to win the last few games which is good because we beat two good teams from the West.”
Hoiberg plans to show the disastrous first quarter and the fourth back to back in Sunday’s practice to show his team the difference in ball movement, intensity and confidence.
One wonders if he’ll draw other conclusions during said film session.