CHICAGO – As the Bulls clawed their way back into their home game against Memphis Saturday night, outscoring the Grizzlies 29-16 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, Joakim Noah sat. Well, sure, coach Tom Thibodeau was sticking with the five guys who brought Chicago back. That had to be it.
When the Bulls slipped behind 83-80 in the final minute of an OT session and were searching again for offense at the bitter end, Noah sat. Why of course, Thibodeau needed shooters on the floor. That had to be it.
But when Taj Gibson picked up his sixth foul with 39.1 seconds left and Noah still was sitting, attempts to guess at Thibodeau’s reasoning hit a wall. Nazr Mohammed was sent into the game for the Bulls for size, Memphis’ Zach Randolph on the line. Z-Bo missed two, Carlos Boozer grabbed the second and, with 37.9 seconds to go, Mohammed checked out.
That li’l window of 2.3 seconds made it obvious that something else was afoot.
“That’s just a coaching decision,” Thibodeau said.
Noah didn’t say anything, at least not to reporters. Rare for him, he exited the locker room before the media arrived.
Noah wound up playing 26:40, with 10 points and five rebounds, never returning after subbing out at 5:53 of the third.
Yes, it was Chicago’s third consecutive overtime game and yes, Noah had logged 47:40 at Toronto Wednesday and 45:29 at Boston Friday. But the Bulls already were without forward Luol Deng, out with a strained right hamstring, and of course haven’t had guard Derrick Rose at all. Now they were trying to push through Memphis, by choice, without a guy who might wind up on the East All-Star squad next month.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins credited his side’s offensive rebounding – they had seven in the fourth quarter and overtime – with salvaging possessions and ultimately the game. Noah had started strong enough – 10 points, three assists and two boards in a feisty first quarter – but went scoreless, shooting 0-of-3 with three rebounds over his next 14-plus minutes.
He had struggled in previous games against the Grizzlies (4.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg in his career) and Noah’s man, Randolph, finished with 13 points and 19 boards. Still, the Bulls center had posted double-doubles in three of his last four games. Memphis surely expected to see him return.
“Yeah,” Grizz center Marc Gasol said. “Well … yeah.”
Did Thibodeau see something on the United Center floor Saturday that he didn’t like? Had Noah been listening to too much All-Star jazz? Did he just need a blow after those long minutes against the Raptors and the Celtics? Boozer said he spoke to Noah briefly after the game, revealed nothing of what they said, but added: “He’ll be fine.”
He was conspicuous by his absence for 2.3 seconds, at least.