There's nothing he can do to get Derrick Rose back right now, nothing he can do to reverse the subsequent trade that sent another beloved teammate, Luol Deng, to Cleveland as the Bulls prepared for the long term. But as consolation prizes go, Joakim Noah knows what he values more than anything else he can imagine: beating Miami. They all do, really, every single Bulls player. It doesn't matter to them, this storyline that they can't beat Miami four times in May. They want Miami.
Some teams get a collective headache when LeBron James comes to town; the Bulls would happily send a plane for LeBron and the champs. Noah called it "playing with hate," and the Bulls ratcheted up their obsession with Miami to beat the Heat in another regular-season game, this one in OT -- just as they stopped Miami's winning streak at 27 games a year ago, just as they push and shove and annoy the champs like nobody else in the NBA.
The lasting visual from the game that didn't involve Noah had to be the sight of Jimmy Butler and LeBron, tangled on the baseline after a missed shot, kicking and flailing at each other with no real menace intended, just strength and determination. But as often happens in the games between these two, the Bulls somehow got under Miami's skin. And nobody eats at Miami quite like Noah, whose 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocked shots was another in a string of sublime performances over the past six weeks that has Noah possibly behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant as MVP of the league.
It was Butler who made arguably the play of the day in the final seconds of regulation when he stripped James cleanly and forced the game into overtime. It was Butler, who in the midst of describing his attitude against James, ended up describing his entire team's mindset in the process.
"I don't back down," he said proudly. "Let's just put it like that."
That line of thinking is why the Bulls continue to surprise many around the league, but it's also what sets the third-year Marquette alum apart from many of his peers. Even when he's having a bad day offensively, he has learned that he can still make a difference in the game. He proved that again Sunday by locking up James to the tune of just 2-for-11 shooting when the players were matched up with one another, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
"I'm pretty happy with the way he guarded [James]," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Jimmy was a warrior tonight. He's one of those guys, too, when things aren't going his way he can do so many things on the basketball court to affect winning. And you need guys like that."
The key for Butler is that he has taken that advice -- from teammates and coaches -- to heart. He was only 4-for-15 from the field, but his defense on James, and at times on Dwyane Wade, was one of the biggest reasons why the Bulls were able come back and win.
"Effort," Butler said. "I feel like that's what a lot of defense is. Just the want to and the will to fight through a screen. Just to try to never give up on a play, I feel like that's what I did."
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah had 20 points and 12 rebounds, D.J. Augustin scored 22 and the Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat 95-88 in overtime Sunday after Jimmy Butler blocked LeBron James at the end of regulation.
Dwyane Wade scored 25 for Miami, but with James struggling again, the Heat dropped their third straight to match their longest losing streak of the season.
James scored 17 points on 8-of-23 shooting and couldn't come through after Miami blew a 12-point lead down the stretch. With a chance to win it at the end of regulation, he got stripped by Butler on a layup.
In overtime, it was all Bulls.
Chicago outscored Miami 9-2, starting with Augustin's 3 just under a minute in. Butler added a jumper from the wing, Noah scored on a putback and Butler added two free throws to make it 95-86 with 1:33 left before James made a layup.
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a hard-fought 95-88 overtime win over the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon at the United Center.
How it happened: D.J. Augustin led the Bulls with 22 points while Joakim Noah had another huge game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as the Bulls earned arguably their most emotional win of the year. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 25 points, but Miami didn't make enough plays down the stretch and into overtime while the Bulls did.
What it means: Noah hated the way his team performed in its second-half collapse a few weeks ago in Miami. He challenged his teammates to play with more passion and energy against the team that has given them so many problems over the years. They answered the bell Sunday. The Bulls came back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter and did all the little things late that have defined them under Tom Thibodeau. Their defense was on point and came up huge in the waning moments. They never quit on the game and rose to the challenge when they needed a boost. A win like this will push their confidence even higher as they enter the final stretch of the season.
Hits: Jimmy Butler had 16 points and 11 rebounds, but it was his strip of LeBron James at the end of regulation that pushed this game into overtime and helped the Bulls earn the win.
Misses: Carlos Boozer was 4-for-14 from the field.
Stat of the night: Second-chance points: Bulls 27, Heat 6.
What's next: The Bulls face the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.
"Nobody," Thibodeau said.
"Because you're combining the speed, the power, the skills, the passing, the vision. I can't recall anyone that I've coached against that's like that. There's nothing that he doesn't do. He's great with the ball, great without the ball, can post, can drive, can shoot, can really pass. If you overcommit to him he's going to make you really pay. And he keeps getting better every year. So he's an all-time great."
Thibodeau always talks about how the Bulls must play team defense against a player like James. But the reality, as the veteran coach knows, is that it's much, much easier said than done as his team once against gets set to host James and the Heat on Sunday afternoon. James is the best player in the world, and he can take over the game virtually whenever he wants.
The Bulls saw that again firsthand a couple weeks ago when they got throttled by the Heat in the second half of a game they would go on to lose. The performance infuriated Noah so much that he called out his entire team and the way the Bulls played. No matter how many times Thibodeau might try to downplay a matchup against the Heat, Noah and his teammates understand that these games always mean a little more.
"When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 [minutes]," Noah said after the loss Feb. 23. "Regardless [if] shots are going in or not. Of course you want to win the game, but the way we're going to win is our edge -- our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game."
The fact that Miami has knocked out the Bulls in two of the past three postseasons is not lost on Thibodeau or his players. He liked the fire with which Noah spoke after that game, but he has always believed that actions speak much louder than words.
"You got to be ready to have the fight necessary to succeed," he said. "I think that we were disappointed that we didn't play 48 minutes against them. And we know that that's necessary in order to win. So hopefully we can bring better effort."
Effort isn't the only thing the Bulls will need Sunday. They need better execution as well. They've won 10 of their past 13 contests, but if they don't find ways to score and make the effort plays that have defined them under Thibodeau, James will find ways to break them down as he has done in the past. Thibodeau acknowledged that a case could be made that the Heat are a dynasty, having played in three consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles in a row.
The key for his team is to find the intensity that was missing in Miami. In order to do that, the Bulls must find a way to slow down James and stay in front of him. It's an assignment that Thibodeau hopes his team is ready for against the best player -- and the best team -- in the game.
"That's the challenge," he said. "In this league you're going to be challenged every day that you're in it. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're a player, coach, executive, first-year player, 15-year player -- it doesn't matter. You're going to be challenged and that's what brings out the best in people. So we're looking forward to it. We know they're tough on both ends of the floor and we got to be ready."
Like the Bulls, the Grizzlies use tough defense, especially on the interior with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, to take over games down the stretch. That's exactly what happened late in this one as the Grizzlies tightened things up and clamped down on Tom Thibodeau's offense in the waning minutes for an 85-77 win.
The Bulls were only 2-for-13 from beyond the arc and that killed their ability to spread the floor. But in Thibodeau's mind, the turning point of the game wasn't defined by the lack of made shots. It was based on the fact the Grizzlies outrebounded the Bulls and made plays in the second half that Chicago wasn't able to respond to.
"Rebounding was the name of the game," Thibodeau said. "In the third quarter they had 30 points. The last five minutes of the third quarter was a disaster."
The Grizzlies did all the little things that the Bulls usually do to beat teams. They got the extra rebound, they made the extra defensive rotation, they knocked down a shot when they needed to have it. Noah and his teammates knew what to expect on Friday night, they just couldn't execute correctly. The attention to detail was crucial in this game and that's one of the reasons why Noah was so frustrated by his six-turnover performance. The mental mistakes cost the Bulls -- especially in the end.
Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote recently about how "unlikely" bonuses in player contracts could potentially put some non-taxpaying teams past the tax thresholds. One of the subjects of his piece was Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, whose $500,000 bonus for making first-team All-NBA would push the Bulls' payroll into tax territory.
Fortunately for Chicago's bean counters, the play of Dwight Howard and the subsequent rise of the Houston Rockets, particularly over the last two months, make Noah's candidacy for a spot on the first team more and more unlikely as the season winds down.
But there's another question to be answered by Bulls management: Even when (if?) hometown hero Derrick Rose returns to full health, isn't Noah really the centerpiece of the franchise? Is Noah the face of the Bulls?
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CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Memphis Grizzlies earned an 85-77 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Marc Gasol had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Zach Randolph had 10 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Grizzlies. Taj Gibson had 18 points to lead the Bulls, but they couldn't make shots down the stretch and it cost them.
What it means: This game unfolded exactly as expected. It was a tough, hard-fought battle full of defense and missed shots. The difference was that the Grizzlies made plays when they had to and stuffed the Bulls defensively when they needed stops. The Bulls offense stalled and, unlike in games in the past few weeks, it had no answers. They couldn't hit shots from the outside and couldn't penetrate on the inside when they needed to because of Memphis' solid interior defense. The Bulls didn't score in the final 3:15 of regulation.
Hits: Joakim Noah had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but he had several costly turnovers as well.
Misses: Mike Dunleavy was 2-for-10 from the field.
Stat of the night: The Bulls went 2-for-13 from beyond the arc.
What's next: The Bulls have a showdown against the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon.
Mike Miller made four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points as the Grizzlies closed out a three-game road trip with their third victory in four games. Zach Randolph added 10 points and 11 rebounds after missing Memphis' previous game with the flu.
The Grizzlies shut out the Bulls after Taj Gibson's layup trimmed Memphis' lead to 81-77 with 3:15 to go.
Gibson had 18 points for Chicago, which had won 10 of 12. Playing with a sprained right thumb, Joakim Noah finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but also had six of the Bulls' 13 turnovers.
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The power forward sat out when Memphis lost 103-94 at Brooklyn on Wednesday night. He came to the arena in hopes of playing, but was unable to go.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger says it was "just a bout of the flu," and Randolph is all set to play against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.
Randolph is averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 57 games.
"You want me to address that?" Noah said at Friday's shootaround in response to a question about an ESPN.com report Thursday that said he told Anthony he could win a championship if he signed with the Bulls as a free agent after the season. "I don't feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say about it."
Anthony, speaking to the media Friday night after the Knicks beat the Jazz 108-81, also declined to directly address the report but denied the substance of it, saying, "I can't have that conversation."
"I heard about that one, too," Anthony said. "Every day it's a story. Every day it's going to be a new story. I have no information about that. I don't know how that story got out there who started that story. I don't know. I really don't know what to say about it."
Noah was asked if the reported recruiting pitch for Anthony had, in fact, happened, and he didn't deny the conversation took place.
"Doesn't matter," Noah said. "What does that have to do with our team right now? It doesn't matter."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau also tried to brush it off.
"It's a bunch of nonsense," he said. "People just start throwing stuff out there and then they wait for everyone to respond to it. If you waste your time on stuff like that, then you're not thinking about Memphis. So that's all we're thinking about: 'Think about Memphis.'"