LA Clippers

Joakim Noah posts solid debut for Clippers in NBA restart’s first scrimmage

Joakim Noah posts solid debut for Clippers in NBA restart’s first scrimmage

The first game of the NBA’s restart experiment, a scrimmage between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers, began as all basketball games do. With a tip-off.

Yes, the backdrop of the affair was unusual, and will remain that way for some time. No fans were in attendance for the most highly-anticipated game of the 2019-20 season so far. Reserves sat in slightly spaced-out chairs on the bench. One play-by-play commentator — LA radio announcer Noah Eagle, son of Ian Eagle — manned the microphone, solo, for the NBA TV (FOX Sports LA) simulcast. In bold print, “Black Lives Matter” shone off the far baseline. It all served as a reminder of the unprecedented times the NBA’s return comes amid — of pandemic and protest.

And then the ball was in the air. Joakim Noah and Nikola Vucevic went up, Noah swatted the ball to now-Clipper teammate Reggie Jackson, and the game was underway. It didn’t feel normal. Nothing these days seems to. But, man, NBA basketball was back on television, and it’s hard not to take some small satisfaction from that.

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Another lighter note: Noah didn’t disappoint starting at center in his Clipper debut, and first NBA action since March 23, 2019. He got Los Angeles in the scoring column a minute-and-a-half into the contest with an and-one layup through a ticky-tack foul by Aaron Gordon:

Some things you simply can’t script — including the ensuing missed free throw.

Noah finished the night with four points, five rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes of action. It’s hard to take much away from an exhibition in which the Clippers played without frontcourt fixtures Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac, as well as Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet. And Jo had his rusty moments. But he moved well for the most part, set waves of wide-elbowed screens and made some nice reads as a passer — two of his three assists came on short-roll darts to Amir Coffey and Marcus Morris for corner 3-pointers. He looked like he belonged.

“Well, he’s an elite passer. We already knew that,” Doc Rivers said postgame, adding to praise he offered Noah after the Clippers’ second practice earlier this month. “What I loved was his screening and rolling.”

Rivers was also quick to highlight the value in Noah’s stabilizing presence as a decision-maker, especially adapting to a role he’s not accustomed to.

“You know, he is so used to coming towards the ball and getting the ball, we’re asking him to do something totally different, and that’s screen-and-roll more,” Rivers said. “So he’s still getting used to it, but today I thought he did a great job. And he’s also starting to notice a bit the more talent we have on the floor, the more they’re going to double-team. And you give him the ball in the middle of the paint, he’s just a great decision-maker.”

On top of it all, we got a couple hot-mic screams off rebounds (though ambient trash talk generally underwhelmed), a possible LeBron jab and Noah extended a Clippers possession late in the second quarter scrapping for a contested board on the baseline. Staples.

The rest of gameplay went about as well as one could expect. There were sporadic defensive breakdowns and fumbled passes. Without spectatorial buzz to buffer on-court sound, rims rattled a little louder and sneakers squeaked a smidge sharper. Piped in chants caught the ear at first, and eventually blended into the background. The general feel, though, was that of a basketball game.

Paul George looked outstanding commanding the Clippers offense, and Lou Williams chased down 22 points-worth of buckets. Williams and Rivers both noted postgame the extra energy manufactured from the bench in the absence of fans. The Clippers won 99-90. It's a start.

“The games are the games,” Rivers said. “Once you get between the lines, you could make a case that’s probably as comfortable as the players will ever be, or as normal as everything will ever be. Because once they get between the lines, it’s a basketball game.

“I think you can see that. You can see the rust and all that. But for them, they were back in their natural habitat.”

Health willing, scrimmage games will march on through July 28, and the seeding phase from July 30 - Aug. 14. A 16-team playoff from there. We’ll be watching.


What a reinvigorated Joakim Noah can bring to title-contending Clippers

What a reinvigorated Joakim Noah can bring to title-contending Clippers

Gratitude. It was the primary energy exuding off a reinvigorated, sweat-slick Joakim Noah as he stood for a weekend Zoom call with reporters after his second bubble practice as a Los Angeles Clipper.

Gratitude to be working during a time when he said “there’s not a lot of hope.” Gratitude for the opportunity to again inspire, playing the game he loves. Gratitude for his basketball career breathing another life. Gratitude for the opportunity to compete for a championship with the team that, just under three weeks away from the restart, owns the third-best record (44-20) and title odds in the league.

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“I feel really blessed to be in this situation. In September, I had a freak accident and cut my achilles,” Noah said, referencing an incident in which he sliced his achilles — crucially, not rupturing it — while carrying a steel ice tub, which required six-plus months of rehab. “And you know I told myself that's just not how I wanted to end my career. So the day after the surgery I was in the gym working out, with the hope of making this team.” 

When the league paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Noah was less than a cup of coffee into a 10-day contract with the Clips, a product of hard work to get back in playing condition after the injury. That pact hung in limbo during the hiatus, which he said he spent hunkered down with family and training with longtime friend Laird Hamilton.  

Then, upon the opening of the transaction window in the last week of June, the Clippers converted that 10-day deal into one that runs not only through the end of the 2019-20 campaign, but 2020-21, as well, per The Athletic’s Jovan Buha. Before Noah’s aforementioned achilles injury, the team had him in for a workout in September, but the accident forced him out of consideration for a roster spot — for a time. Noah’s focus never wavered. 

“I knew that if I didn't keep training, and if I got a call from the Clippers and I wasn't ready, I knew I would have the regrets for the rest of my life,” Noah said. “So I kept training, and to be in this position right now, I feel very fortunate to be in this position. Being with God, great players, being in a position to win a championship. It's not something that I take for granted.”

Indeed, Noah’s never been one to take anything for granted. His nine-year tenure with the Bulls was defined by his relentless motor on the floor and relentless leadership off it — by both words and example. Currently slotted as the Clippers’ third-string center behind starter Ivica Zubac and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell, his voice may be the most valuable asset he brings to the team, which, while uber-talented, is headlined by two stars with gentle, if not reserved, leadership styles in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

Jo brings the fire. 

“He looks great,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “I don't know if this stoppage has helped any single player more than him, because he was not healthy when we signed him, and now he is. And so, you know, I think he's gonna help us on the floor, but even if he doesn't, he's just gonna help us with his presence, and his voice. I think he'll be invaluable for Zu(bac).”

To Rivers’ point, his defensive prowess could come in handy on the court, as well. Though an exact role for Noah hasn’t been publicly prescribed as of yet, outside of Zubac and Harrell, the Clips are bereft of much in the way of traditional bigs; they typically staff their frontcourt with one of those two and a blend of Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green and Leonard. Potentially up against a murderer's row of frontcourt towers in the Western Conference — from Anthony Davis to Nikola Jokic to Rudy Gobert and beyond — you could do worse than a former Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA center as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.

Yes, those days are long behind Noah. But the last time we saw him on the floor, he more than proved he has something left in the tank, averaging 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 “stocks” in just 16.5 minutes per contest across 42 games for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19. The heart, hustle and muscle that endeared him to Chicago lives.

More than half a year of rehabbing that achilles distances us from even that player. But Noah’s made it this far. Who’s willing to count him out now?

“I'm a guy who's been through a lot in this league. I've been on the outside looking in a couple times, as well,” Noah said. “So I think that just being here is just, especially for the younger guys, is just not taking these opportunities for granted.

“I just feel like now it's just working hard every day, competing and whatever my role is on the team is just, you know, being a positive piece.”


Report: Clippers sign former Bull Joakim Noah through 2020-21 season

Report: Clippers sign former Bull Joakim Noah through 2020-21 season

Joakim Noah's comeback bid marches on.

Late Saturday night, Jovan Buha of The Athletic reported that Noah and the Los Angeles Clippers have agreed to a contract that extends through not only the end of the 2019-20 season, but the 2020-21 campaign, as well.

Noah signed with the Clips on a 10-day deal just before the league suspended play due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It was recently reported that the Clippers planned to extend that 10-day through the rest of this season, but now, it appears he'll have a home in Los Angeles for the next one, too.

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The Clippers enter the NBA's 22-team Disney bubble with the fourth-best record in the league (44-20) and second seed in the Western Conference. They're slated to face their crosstown rival Lakers (and LeBron James) on the opening night of the restart, July 30, at 8 p.m. CT.

If or when Noah takes the hardwood, it will be his first NBA action since March 23, 2019 with the Memphis Grizzlies. He's been away from basketball during the 2019-20 season rehabbing an achilles injury he sustained in a fluke accident while moving an ice tub.

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