He screams, he yells, he bangs his chest and he pounds his fists, and Joakim Noah does it all with a head full of hair that would make even Anderson Varejao cringe. But through his exterior layer of unbridled passion and annoying enthusiasm, all Noah does is desire to win.
Chris Richard, Noah’s fellow Chicago Bull and former teammate when the two were winning national championships in Florida, knows that nothing but ‘Ws’ are driving Noah this year, just as they have ever since the two were still amateur athletes.
“The thing about that (Florida) team was everybody hated to lose,” Richard told the Chicago Tribune. “Every day, we went hard at each other. Even to this day, it’s still personal between me and Jo. Punch, whatever you got to do to win.
“Once we started drilling and going up and down (at Florida), everybody took it personal. Everybody wanted bragging rights. That’s what made us a great and unique team. Nobody wanted to lose.”
If you’re a Celtics fan, the mere sight of Noah might make you puke. Any non-Bulls NBA fan is likely to dislike Noah; his uncontrolled spasms of celebration and unrivaled ability to get under an opponent’s skin make him an easy target for fans’ hatred. But, for C’s fans, it’s even easier. They remember Noah from the grueling, seven-game, seven-overtime series of yore. They saw him bawk and crow night after night, and it was never worse than his game-altering steal, dunk, and poster sequence with Paul Pierce draped on his back as time ran low in the epic game six. As Celtics fans watched Noah’s reaction to that dunk, all popped veins and bursting voice box, Noah earned a place on the list of Boston’s most hated.
But, hate him or love him, it’s no mistake that Noah’s return from a left foot injury has coincided with the Bulls’ late push for a playoff berth. Since Noah’s March 20 return to the lineup, the Bulls have gone 8-4 and made up three games against Toronto in the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. The Bulls are now 1/2 game ahead of Toronto.
“That guy gets more out of what he does . . . he does everything for that team,” Doc Rivers said of Noah told Comcast Sports. “He’s clearly their energy beacon.”
And he’s starting to round back into shape after that injury, with an 18-point, 19-rebound, 7-assist performance in Chicago’s last outing highlighting three straight big games for Noah.
“He’s getting his edge back,” Richard said of Noah. “He knows what that playoff series last year did for him. He wants to make the playoffs bad. He’ll do whatever he can for us to get there.”
To get to the postseason Noah, and the Bulls, will likely have to defeat the Boston Celtics. A loss to Boston would be a sinister blow to Chicago’s postseason hopes, as they hold only their credit card-slim 1/2 game lead and Toronto holds the tiebreaker. Toronto also has only the New York Knicks left on its schedule, while Chicago has both Boston and Charlotte. If the Raptors beat the Knicks, the Bulls will need to win both their remaining games to make the playoffs. To do that, they’ll need to follow their outspoken, frizzy-headed leader.
“I think we always do ,” veteran guard Kirk Hinrich told ESPNChicago. “Any time he’s out there, his energy is there. And that’s a big part of who we are.”
“He’s a guy who’s always energetic,” Derrick Rose agreed. “Always yelling, talking. You see he’s giving all his energy while he’s out there. You want to do the same when you see him do all that stuff.”
The Celtics, who have playoff implications of their own riding on this game (a win will keep hopes alive of stealing the third seed from Atlanta), will try to curtail Noah’s play and limit his Bulls. But Noah will undoubtedly be energetic, and — at the first hint of good play from his Bulls — he will likely let loose a primal scream. It is no surprise, then, that the Boston Celtics would like for him to remain silent.