In a season that has had more ups and down than a roller coaster, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah took out some of his frustrations by plucking the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday for his first triple-double of the year. His line read 19 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists. That’s the kind of performance expected of a franchise player in the prime of his career. The final score was 100 to 85, but it really wasn’t that close. Noah’s masterful game has solidified what many experts and fans view as his best season. And what a time for him to have it.
Derrick Rose may or may not come back to his former glory. Team iron man, Luol Deng hangs in limbo in Cleveland; he was traded over a month ago. And Carlos Boozer, who is currently hurt, finds himself the target of most fans when the subject of “what’s wrong with the Bulls” comes up. But here is the Bulls center standing strong, playing his best ball…perhaps ever.
Noah has changed the conversation in Chicago about who really is the face of the franchise. If that question were broached two years ago, there is no doubt that Rose would be the man, hands down. But now, with a mixture of talent, grit and heart, Joakim has established himself as the go-to-guy and the cornerstone the Bulls must build on as they move forward. In five years in the league this is only the forth time he has achieved this feat, which proves that triple-double’s don’t come easy, even against the likes of the Hawks.
Noah has always been a crowd favorite, but he proved he was their favorite as they cheered him down the stretch of the game. Not only did he excite the crowd, but he fed them as well. His final two points, which came via free throws, gave the Bulls an even 100 points. At the century mark, Bulls brass buys the entire United Center crowd Big Macs from McDonalds. “Those were tough free throws, man,” Noah said with his usual gap-toothed grin. The free throws for the burgers might have been tough, but the rest of the game was a piece of cake for him.
Tuesday night’s performance capped a strong stretch for the veteran. It was his fourth straight game with at least ten rebounds. Coach Tom Thibodeau credits Noah being healthy as the key to his strong play. “He’s gotten into a rhythm,” Thibodeau said. “I think missing training camp set him back offensively. Defensively he’s been terrific all year.”
Before the game Noah was presented with his All-Star jersey. This is his second All-Star appearance; and, judging by his play as of late, he will be making his case for a perennial All-Star spot.
The Bulls haven’t been able to count on much this season, and the future has questions marks hanging all over the horizon, but one thing they can count on is their warrior giving his all and delivering stellar, all-around play. And who knows? With Noah, a boatload of triple-doubles and more games against the Hawks, there just might be more for Bulls fans than hamburgers in the future.
By Tony Bowers