By Nick Shepkowski –
UNITED CENTER (CBS) Against an undersized 76ers team, a big night from the Bulls “bigs” was going to be necessary if they were going to slow the bleeding of a stretch that had seen the team drop three of their last four games and eight of their last 12 entering Thursday.
Calling what Joakim Noah did “big” is drastically underselling it.
Noah proceeded to finish the night with a game-high 23 points, while pulling down a game-high 21 rebounds and managed to block a career-high 11 shots, which tied Artis Gilmore for the most ever by a Bull. His previous career high in blocks occurred in Minnesota in January of 2009 when he batted away eight shot attempts. The 23-21-11 night not only marked Noah’s third career triple-double but was only the third “points-rebounds-blocks” triple-double in team history, with the last coming by Gilmore against Atlanta in the late winter of 1977.
Both head coaches in Thursday’s rematch of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals noted Noah’s effort as the key to his historic night.
“What he did tonight was because he was everywhere,” Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s performance. “Block shots, switching, guarding everyone. Big time multiple efforts. Three, four or five efforts on the same play. It’s because how he has conditioned himself.”
76ers head coach Doug Collins was impressed too.
“He’s got a great motor,” Collins said of Noah’s effort. “He plays every play. He doesn’t ever take a play off which is a tremendous quality to have. Even if he is out on the boards, he is going to the boards.”
Noah’s effort landed him the NBA’s first performance of at least 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks since Shawn Bradley of the Dallas Mavericks had 22-22-13 vs. Portland in April of 1998.
Noah has played well in all three meetings against Philadelphia this season, averaging 16.5 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in the pair of Bulls victories over the 76ers entering Thursday. Noah was short to talk about the significance of his numbers but made if clear that a bad taste remains in his mouth after he injured his ankle in last year’s playoff series in Philadelphia.
“It was probably one of my biggest motivations just rehabbing my ankle,” Noah said, “the fans and the way they reacted, I used that as motivation.”
As for Thursday night, the Bulls needed Noah as well as fellow big-men Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng who finished the game with 21 and 12 points, respectively. With the big night himself, Boozer was still fast to speak of how important Noah’s numbers were against Philadelphia.
“We needed every one of them,” Boozer said.
Noah’s huge night won’t answer questions about how the Bulls will manage to score in the playoffs, nor will it change the outcome of the month of February which saw the Bulls win just five of their 13 contests. There is no denying though that in a critical juncture of the year, Noah performed as well as he ever has as a professional on a night that will undoubtedly go down as one of the most notable performances by a big-man in team history and on a night the Bulls were in desperate need of a win, even if it came against a struggling opponent.
In addition to covering the Bulls for CBSChicago.com, Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer for The McNeil and Spiegel Show. For Bulls information all season long, follow him on Twitter @Shep670.