Despite still being without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, the Chicago Bulls pulled a stunning upset of the Miami Heat in Game One of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Monday night. Five players scored in double figures, led by Nate Robinson (27 points and nine assists) and Jimmy Butler (21 points and 14 rebounds).
Center Joakim Noah missed time late in the regular season with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but he has yet to miss a game in the postseason and has posted a double-double in five of eight games, including the last three in a row dating back to Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets.
With all the attention surrounding Rose and the controversy over his apparent inability to get over some mental hurdles in his recovery from a torn ACL just over a year ago, Noah has emerged as the Bulls’ leader on and off the floor. Noah jumped to Rose’s defense after Monday night’s game, imploring those critical of the former No. 1 overall pick to “shut up” and leaving little doubt about how Rose’s teammates feel about him.
On the floor Noah’s energy, particularly in terms of rebounding, is unmistakable. He is also someone Miami does not have an answer for around the basket, so his effectiveness on both ends of the floor will continue to be essential for Chicago as the series goes on. The Bulls have been plagued by various injuries and ailments during the postseason to this point, but Noah’s willingness to play through such a painful injury is a perfect reflection of the grit that has gotten them this far. His contributions in the box score will surely continue to be notable, but Noah’s value as a leader to rally his teammates has been and will be just as vital.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.