Joakim Noah probably infuriates you. If so, well, that’s kind of the point.
Noah has made a living out of getting under the skin of opponents and opposing fans. He looks in desperate need of a shower and a shooting coach, but there is no mocking his contribution to the team. He’s long been one of the toughest defensive and crispest passing big men in the game, good enough to threaten Kevin Garnett‘s perch in those categories for the last several years.
Against the Celtics (13-19) on Thursday, Noah showed that he has another skill that is often overlooked as an intangible. His hustle made multiple plays for the Bulls (13-18), and the impact was far from intangible. It showed up in the only box score that mattered — the final score — of Chicago’s 94-82 victory, even if his quest for a triple-double fell short.
Noah finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the Bulls’ win, but by going through the game film it would be easy to tabulate all the other plays Noah made happen with his effort. He kept loose balls and offensive rebounds alive and rolled into the empty space around the hoop, forcing the Celtics’ defenders to adjust and opening driving or passing lanes for his teammates.
They say hustle can’t be tabulated. Anybody with a DVR, a pen and paper could tabulate the impact Noah’s hustle had on Thursday.
For stretches of the second half, the Celtics got badly outworked. They would not have left the United Center with a loss if that weren’t the case. Still, it wasn’t an all-around atrocious effort, something Celtics coach Brad Stevens tried to highlight afterward.
“I leave here very encouraged,” Stevens told reporters. “And the reason why is because we were very physical.”
The Celtics won the rebounding battle 48-41 and held the Bulls to only nine official fastbreak points, although the number in secondary transition was probably much higher. Their 19 turnovers and 39.5 percent shooting mark from the field were far more damaging to the cause, though, than a lack of physicality.
Of course, Stevens could be upbeat about a heart attack. The Celtics gave up 48 points in the paint and 18 second-chance points, both of which are indicators of effort. A team simply doesn’t outwork the Bulls easily, even if Chicago is missing Derrick Rose. The work rate the Celtics did show was apparently enough to satisfy their coach.
“This is the best we’ve played, in a lot of ways, in the last seven games,” Stevens said.
One game after being benched for the fourth quarter of a loss to the Hawks, Jeff Green was on a mission not to be forgotten on Thursday. He was a shooting machine, for better or worse, from beginning to end — but especially in the second half.
Green came out firing after halftime, throwing up 10 shots and missing seven. For the game, he was 5-for-18 overall and 1-for-4 on 3-pointers for 11 points. During one stretch in the second quarter, he took four straight Celtics shots. In another stretch in the third quarter, he took five out of six shots for the Celtics.
Did that contribute to the Celtics’ defeat? Probably. Did it make Jordan Crawford‘s 22 points and seven assists, despite questionable shot selection and five turnovers, look pretty good by comparison? Sure did.
For those who start tracking these things this early in the season, the Bulls leapfrogged the Celtics in the standings with the victory. The win put the Bulls a half-game ahead of the Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, although they hold a one-game edge in the loss column.
Still, if you are rooting for the Celtics to lose so they can secure a better draft pick, rest assured. For now, the Celtics would partake in the draft lottery. Congratulations.