|"We're obviously a lot better with him on the floor," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Joakim Noah's performance|
The Chicago Bulls have become the first team to win on the road in this NBA post-season, after they held out for a 90-82 victory at the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
The first round Eastern Conference play-off series is now tied at 1-1 and the Bulls could finish off the job at home, as the two teams are travelling to Chicago for the next two games.
Ever since the NBA season started in November, media in the USA have focused on a hypothetical return to action of the Bulls superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who has been sidelined since last year.
But Chicago would not have reached the play-offs and would not look right now as the team most likely to advance to the second round without having the home-court advantage, had it not been for the very tangible contribution of two other players.
French international Joakim Noah and Great Britain international Luol Deng have delivered outstanding performances all season long, have become All Stars and, on Monday, proved once again that they can make as much of an impact in crucial games as any of the big-name players in the NBA.
Noah had a testimonial -by his standards- presence in Game 1 of the series as he played through pain because of a plantar fasciitis problem in his right foot, which had kept him out of action for a big part of the last month in the regular season.
But on Monday the Frenchman felt better and, although he has posted more impressive stat lines this season than his 11-point, 10-rebound double-double, he provided the Bulls with the missing ingredient to their biggest weapon: their defence.
With Noah back in his usual anchor role in the middle of the paint, the Bulls forced the Nets to shoot only 35 percent from the floor and then scored in transition to maintain a slim lead which they only lost once, on a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first half.
Chicago decided to really turn on the screws on defence in the third quarter and gave up only 11 points to Brooklyn in that period to take a 10-point lead into the final frame.
That was when some big plays by Noah sealed the win for Chicago; nine of his points and six of his rebounds came in the clutch, when the Nets threw everything but the kitchen sink on their guests in their effort to turn the game around and maintain home-court advantage.
"Jo's giving us everything he has and we're obviously a lot better with him on the floor," was the Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's assessment of his French player.
His team-mate Carlos Boozer said his showing on Monday was 'gutsy'.
"Every game is a tough game for him, I went through the same thing two years ago with my little turf toe," added Boozer.
"I'm just proud of him. He's going out there gutting it for us every night."
|Luol Deng led the way for the Bulls with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double, adding four assists|
Meanwhile 'Iron Man' Deng, the player who's led the NBA in minutes played, stayed on the court for 42 minutes and finished with a team-high 15 points and added 10 rebounds and four assists.
Italian international Marco Belinelli came off the bench and contributed eight point and two assists to the Bull's cause, doing exactly what is expected from him on the perimeter.
The winner of the Chicago vs. Brooklyn series will most probable have to face Miami Heat in the second round, unless the Milwaukee Bucks of Turkish international Ersan Ilyasova manage to pull off an upset over the reigning NBA champions.
In the other NBA game to take place on Monday night meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies of Marc Gasol lost 93-91 at the Los Angeles Clippers and are now trailing 2-0 in the series.
The Spanish international finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and two assists in a losing effort while Ronny Turiaf played 13 minutes for the Clippers.