By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) Think of the many nights this year when the undermanned, injury riddled Bulls found themselves competing in a game in which you thought they had no shot.
All those Friday night road wins. Twice at New York, twice at Miami, once at Golden State after getting blown out in Sacramento two days earlier. Streak-enders at the United Center against rolling Heat and Knicks teams.
Last night’s Game 2 in Brooklyn was just the kind of bounce back Jekyl follows Hyde game the Bulls have delivered all season long. They played it their way; muck-it-up, ugly, hard working hoops that frustrates a more talented opponent.
Keep the scoring down. That 20-17 first quarter was hideous. But it was theirs. The Bulls dictated tempo and style from the first moment. Deron Williams was off his rhythm immediately, and never really recovered. Kirk Hinrich’s defense on the best point guard of the last two months was one of the more important stories of the night.
But not the biggest one.
We like teams that bust their butts in this town. Battle, always battle. And the poster for this Bulls team that fits that mold is Joakim Noah.
It was his night in Brooklyn.
Early on, he looked awful. He didn’t seem remotely capable of being his usual self. It was awkward and painful to watch. He gimped up and down the floor, trailing on offense and defense. At one point, Brook Lopez hit three wide open jumpers in a row. Bad foot Noah just could not get out to anyone that far on the perimeter. He couldn’t help and recover.
But he found it, somehow, in the second half. Maybe a shot kicked in. Maybe adrenaline mixed with painkillers in just the right way. Maybe his force of will slapped an aching foot into cooperation. He was dominant in the fourth quarter with nine points, six rebounds and a blocked shot. But as always with Noah, his mere existence and energy can be transformational.
If you’ve read or listened to me much before, you know how I feel about Joakim Noah. He has been (and still is) my favorite athlete in town. No one works harder. He has improved his game every year. He gets the most out of his talent and abilities. It’s what life is about. How good a version of yourself can you become? Contrast it with the countless athletes, and people you know, who frittered away a gift or talent. The ones that maximize their possibilities can’t be noticed enough. Jonathan Toews is a worthy mention in this category. Paul Konerko would probably top my local baseball list. Maybe you have more that fit.
I maintain that the Nets are a sham. They regressed greatly from Game 1, taking the Bulls powerful push poorly. Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are too talented to disappear as they often do.
Here’s why I picked the Bulls to win the series: Enormous advantages at head coach, bench players, and a lack of belief that the best Nets will maintain excellence for six to seven games. I’m standing by it.
For one night and morning, let’s try and forget the young man in a suit who looms over this series, and the year.
The ones who are here, showed you what they’re made of. They’re led by a brilliant, demanding coach who brings out their best.
And they’re led by a relentless, battered big man who gets the most out of himself at just about every turn.
See you Thursday, with momentum and home court advantage stolen.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show. Follow him on Twitter at @MattSpiegel670.