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Saturday, December 18, 2010
Bulls not nearly the same without Noah

By Nick Friedell

Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah's presence, especially on defense, was sorely missed by the Bulls in Saturday's loss to the Clippers.
CHICAGO -- In just a few seconds, Carlos Boozer summed up what the Chicago Bulls were missing most in Saturday night’s 100-99 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and what they will continue to miss for the next two months while Joakim Noah recovers from a torn ligament in his thumb.

"His presence," Boozer said. "His presence defensively. I think he clogs up the middle so good for us. He blocks shots. He rebounds. Does a great job of putting pressure on the defense."

If you're wondering how the Bulls could have possibly lost to Vinny Del Negro and the lowly Clippers, there's your answer. Sure, Clippers manchild Blake Griffin is unbelievable, but the Bulls' problems went way deeper than that. They missed Noah badly. They were in desperate need of the intensity that he brings to the floor and his ability to shore up the back end of the defense.

"Energy," Derrick Rose said of what the difference was without Noah on the floor. "Of course, you know, rebounding. Just almost everything. He puts a lot into the game. Little things like passing, him talking, things like that. There's no excuses. We had a chance to win this game and we didn't.”

Rose speaks the truth. Even without Noah, the Bulls shouldn't have lost to the Clippers. But the loss illustrates the problems this team will have as long as the heart and soul of their team is sitting on the bench in street clothes. The Bulls simply got next to nothing from Noah's replacements.

Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas combined for nine points and 12 fouls. Not exactly the plus/minus ratio coach Tom Thibodeau was looking for in Noah's absence. On top of all that, Gibson suffered a concussion which knocked him out of the game in the third quarter and he may miss a game or two next week.

This was only one game, but there is no doubt that the next 8-10 weeks are going to be a lot longer than Thibodeau anticipated.

"Jo is huge for them, come on," Del Negro said. "His energy, his length, not only his shot blocking and rebounding. He can alter shots in the lane. And size wins a lot in this league."

The Bulls still have some size in Asik and Thomas, but they don't have the same intangibles or talent. The Bulls started slow yet again Saturday night, but they didn't have that guy to help Rose jump start them out of the hole.

"Our problem was intensity to start," Thibodeau said. "In this league, you have to come to play every night. If you don't, you're asking for trouble. We came out with the wrong mindset. We did not establish ourselves defensively. We took a lot of shortcuts and a lot of reaching. To do that, you are not going to win."

Thibodeau will hit the game tape hard in the next few days, looking for answers, but the most clear-cut one was sitting on the bench with a blue blazer and a splint on his thumb. The Bulls aren't close to the same team without Noah. If the players and coaches didn't know that before, they certainly do now.