BROOKLYN – Chicago center Joakim Noah, nearly distraught Friday over the prospect of missing playoff games against the Nets in the city he once called home, almost was willing himself – and his aching right foot (plantar fasciitis) – to be available for the first-round series opener Saturday at the Barclays Center. Noah warmed up, appeared to be moving well and essentially was going to determine his own fate, telling the Bulls if he was capable of playing or not.
Which was fine and tough and all that. But the question then simply shifted: By passing up the opportunity to rest and recuperate Saturday, were he and the Bulls pushing questions of Noah’s health and availability onto Game 2, Game 3 and beyond?
In other words, were they robbing Peter to pay Paul, in terms of their All-Star center being around to help when they need him most. Generally, the 0-0 point in a best-of-seven series isn’t considered a critical juncture.
“The thing is, it’s the type of injury where you don’t know how he’s going to feel the next day,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said about 80 minutes before tipoff. “It’s unusual. Some guys completely tear it and feel better right away. Some guys completely tear it and they have to shut it down. He’s had it before. He’s dealt with it. We just have to see how he is tomorrow.”
In a way, Noah’s scenario in fighting through his sore right foot (he’s had plantar fasciitis issues before, by the way) offers a thumbnail glimpse at the Bulls’ greater injury situation – the knee surgery and recovery of point guard Derrick Rose.
Rose’s return, once penciled in for sometime near or after the All-Star break, has yet to occur. The 24-year-old scorer/playmaker has been cleared by doctors and, behind closed doors at practice, is said to be the best player on the floor. But he hasn’t felt quite right – possibly hesitating from a lack of confidence or trust in the repaired knee or uncomfortable with the prospect of coming back rusty and less than 100 percent. The Bulls have left the matter up to Rose, and he has erred on the side of caution.
Noah seemed to be responding more urgently to the “my team needs me” call of the postseason. His injury isn’t as severe, but his zeal to play – through pain, at the risk of causing his foot to worsen – scores him more “warrior” points than Rose gets for being more patient and more cautious.
In a city like Chicago, so deep into a season built around and delayed by Rose’s presumed return, Noah’s apparent toughness seems laudable even if it puts him down for Game 2, Game 3 or thereafter.
Rose, meanwhile, is pursuing what looks to be a wait-till-next-year strategy that, in Chicago, has been played out too many times by too many teams.