- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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TORONTO -- The Bulls should have known that things would be a little off from the start on Wednesday night.
After sitting for more than two months and 30 games because of thumb surgery, Joakim Noah sat anxiously on the bench waiting for his name to be called during pregame introductions. Only problem was that it was Kurt Thomas' name that got called instead.
Given what unfolded over the next three hours for Noah and his teammates, the announcing miscue seems apropos. It wasn't so much that Noah played poorly, he had 17 rebounds in just under 25 minutes, it was that the entire defensive identity the Bulls built both with and without Noah over the course of their first 54 games flew out the window against a bad Raptors team.
Tom Thibodeau might have summed up his team's lack of execution on the defensive end best this way just moments after the game. When asked what disappointed him most about his team's defensive effort, "what didn't?" the frustrated coach said. "Every aspect. Start with defensive transition, keeping the ball out of the paint, challenging shots. Every aspect of our defense -- out the window."
For a team that has played so well most of the year defensively, the performance was hard to swallow.
"I really don't know," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said, when asked what the problem was defensively. "You've got to look at film, miscommunication, it was just our lack of energy on [the defensive] end. And we all know we can't play like that. Thank God that we play tomorrow so that we can come out and play aggressive throughout the whole game and get back in rhythm."
But why weren't the Bulls in rhythm against the Raptors, one of the worst teams in the league? Nobody had a specific answer, but there were lots to choose from. Many will point to power forward Carlos Boozer as a major reason the Bulls were torched for 118 points. Boozer struggled all night defensively and looked like he was still adjusting to having Noah on the floor.
"We learn from everything we do," Boozer said. "We learn from practices, and obviously, games as well. We know for us, this is an offensive type of team and we played their game. We've got to make teams play our style of basketball and we've done a pretty good job of that all season. Tonight, we didn't do a good job of that and it came back to kick us in the butt. We learn from this and we've got to hang our hat on the defensive side of the ball. We had plenty of points to win, but we gave up 118 and that's not like us."
No, it's not. And all the players knew it.
"Defensively, we just weren't there," Rose said. "When we needed stops towards the end, we just couldn't get it. You know us, towards the end that's when our defense gets better, but tonight we just didn't have it tonight, but we play [Thursday]."
For the Bulls, that may be the best news of all coming out of Noah's long awaited return game.