Former Poly Prep star lifts Chicago over Brooklyn in Game 2
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Perhaps it was fitting that the Nets' first home playoff loss came at the hands of a tough guy who played his high school ball right here in Brooklyn.
Former Poly Prep star Joakim Noah willed his way through a painful foot injury to get the Bulls even in their best-of-7 first-round playoff series with the Nets, scoring 11 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking a pair of shots during Chicago's gritty 90-82 victory in front of 17,732 fans at the Barclays Center on Monday night.
Noah, who is playing with plantar fasciatis in his right foot, was limited to four points and five boards in only 13 minutes Saturday night as the Bulls were bullied by the Nets in a humbling 106-89 loss.
"We played like [s**t] in Game 1," Noah stated matter of factly after helping Chicago take home-court advantage back to the Windy City for Thursday night's Game 3. "It feels great to come out with a win tonight. We showed a lot of resiliency."
The 6-foot-11, 230-pound pivotman was a dominant force at the Bay Ridge Country Day School before winning a pair of national championships with the University of Florida in 2006 and 2007.
The ninth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily risen among the ranks of the Eastern Conference's most effective centers, earning his first All-Star bid this season. But he was a huge question mark coming into this series, with Chicago already playing without reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose, who has missed the entire campaign after tearing his ACL during the opening round of last year's playoffs.
After floundering with the rest of his teammates in the series opener, Noah refused to leave the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues without a more intense effort. Playing before family and friends, the son of former French Open tennis champion Yannick Noah logged 25 1/2 minutes, and helped the Bulls hold off a pair of Nets rallies in the fourth quarter.
When asked by the Eagle if Monday's win held any added significance because of the familiar locale, Noah didn't blink.
"No question about it," he said after gingerly stepping onto the podium in the media conference room. "To be able to play in the playoffs [in Brooklyn], and doing it in front of my loved ones was really special to me."
With Deron Williams enduring a brutal offensive night (eight points on 1-of-9 shooting), the Nets couldn't survive on All-Star center Brook Lopez's game-high 21-point effort.
However, a pair of 3-pointers by Joe Johnson helped them shave the deficit to four points on two different occasions in the final period, only to have Noah close the door on a comeback bid.
The ex-Blue Devil enjoyed a brilliant sequence midway through the fourth after a putback by Andray Blatch shaved the Nets' deficit to 73-68. He threw down a thunderous dunk, made an acrobatic save on a ball headed out of bounds that turned into a big 3-pointer by Nate Robinson and added a putback in a crowd of Brooklyn players in the paint as Chicago re-opened an 80-68 cushion.
Noah's final basket, an easy lay-in off one of his four offensive rebounds, gave the Bulls an 86-78 lead with just over a minute remaining, putting a stake in the Nets' heart.
"[I'm] just finding a way right now," Noah admitted when asked if he was struggling to compete through the injury. "I'm just trying to affect the game. I wasn't really thinking too much."
"Jo's giving us everything he has," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau noted. "He's doing it a lot on sheer will. He was great all-around. He really set the tone for the game. He was very rusty in Game 1, but he really willed it."
The Bulls made sure to take the game out of Williams' hands, forcing him to pass out of double-teams while locking down on the interior to force a series of long-range shots. The Nets went a dismal 4-of-21 from 3-point range and shot 35 percent overall after blistering the twine at a 56 percent clip in Game 1.
"We dug a hole in the third quarter," said Brooklyn interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who watched helplessly as a one-point halftime deficit swelled to 12 entering the fourth quarter. "Our defense the entire game wasn't good enough. Their defense was very good. Our execution wasn't as good as we needed it to be."
Unable to take a 2-0 lead back to Chicago, the Nets are now confronted with the task of trying to steal at least one of the series' next two games in Chicago, with Games 3 and 4 slated for the always raucous United Center.
Though Noah handed out plenty of plaudits to the Barclays Center crowd and the pro-Brooklyn atmosphere during Games 1 and 2, he didn't mince words when asked if the energy in the building would be different when the series shifts to the Midwest.
"These are new fans over here," he said. "They've been doing it for a long time in Chi. It's a whole other ballgame back there."
Though he didn't take the podium in the media room, Williams owned up to his poor Game 2 effort at his locker following the loss.
"I've got to do a better job of everything really. This was a bad one for me," said the Nets' $98 million point guard, who dominated virtually every aspect of the series opener with a team-high 22 points, seven assists and three steals in 35 minutes.
Obviously, Williams wasn't the only Net who couldn't find his shooting touch. Johnson made 6-of-18 shots and Gerald Wallace was 1-for-7 after a strong 5-for-7, 14-point effort in the opener.
"They had a gameplan and they stuck to it tonight," Nets veteran reserve Keith Bogans said of Chicago's amoeba-like defense. "They contested every shot, pass and cut. They played Chicago defense."
According to Thibodeau, however, Williams' poor stat line was simply a product of missed opportunities as he downplayed his team's effectiveness in shutting down the Nets' undisputed floor leader.
"He's such a smart player," Thibodeau said of Williams. "I don't think you can give him a steady diet of anything. Sometimes it just comes down to make or miss."
As for Game 3, Carlesimo knows the Nets will have to shrug off Monday night's loss quickly and get back to the type of break-neck intensity that helped them run away with Game 1.
"I don't think that we didn't match their intensity [in Game 2]," he said. "We just didn't play better than them. We gotta go in there and play with the same intensity and we have to execute and make shots better than we did tonight."
Read Thursday's Eagle, or check back here Wedensday afternoon, for a comprehensive preview of Game 3 in Chicago.
Hoop du Jour: To their credit, the Bulls found a way to keep F Reggie Evans from dominating the boards in Game 2. The NBA's top rebounder-per-48 minutes, who pulled 13 caroms in the opener, was held to only eight Monday night, none of which came off the offensive glass. ... Chicago F Luol Deng, whom Noah and Thibodeau both called "the glue" of the Bulls, had a big bounce back in Game 2. The former Duke star poured in 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, including eight of the offensive variety. ... There was a startling stretch in the second quarter when Lopez knocked down four consecutive jumpers from the top of the circle, helping the Nets close to 47-46 at the half after being down by as many as seven on two occasions in the second quarter. The final Net points of the first half came on C.J. Watson's buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner. ... Carlos Boozer and Kirk Heinrich had 13 points apiece for the Bulls, and Robinson added 11 off the bench as Chicago placed had scorers in double figures. ... Former and current New York Giants linemen Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck were at Game 2. ... After staging a Blackout in Brooklyn in Game 1, the Nets returned to their customary home whites in Game 2. ... Blatche and Watson combined for 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting to pace the "Bench Mob" in Game 2. F Kris Humphries, fresh off completing his divorce settlement with Kim Kardashian, had a solid night off the pine as well with eight points and five boards in 18 minutes.