It's practically automatic. Put Joakim Noah anywhere near the Miami Heat, and you can almost guarantee an epic performance.
The Bulls center was everywhere Sunday, shooting, blocking and screaming his team to a 95-88 overtime win over hated Miami at the United Center.
"Just being myself; I'm working on my game. I've never felt so confident as a basketball player," Noah said after putting up 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks despite an injured thumb.
"He is a hell of a player on both ends of the floor," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "I don't know what we would do without him; he is a great leader. He puts his team on his back every night."
Oh yeah, Jimmy Butler. LeBron James' newest rival. (Even though James said "there are no rivalries in the NBA.") Butler and the "King” nearly started throwing punches after a mini-wrestling match in the second quarter.
Although the Bulls are still well behind Eastern Conference leaders Indiana and Miami, at 35-28 they're creeping up on the No. 3 spot with 19 games left in the regular season. They're also not giving an inch to the Heat—having split the season series at two wins apiece--just because Derrick Rose is in a suit and tie on the bench.
"That’s a big one," Butler said. "They are a rival, defending champions with all those great players. It was a big one."
In honor of Noah and his miraculous thumb, here's what we took from Sunday's Bulls victory.
Thumbs up: Jimmy Butler
If it weren't for Butler, the Bulls would not be celebrating a win Sunday. He stripped LeBron James on the last play of regulation with the game tied at 86. Butler also led the Bulls in minutes (47:50) to go with 16 points and 11 boards.
"I just dropped the ball. I give a lot of credit to Jimmy [Butler]. He got his hand on the ball."
Thumbs down: LeBron James
Zero. That’s how many free throws the “King” attempted Sunday; it was the first time since 2009 that James made no trips to the foul line. He was also in peak whining form, including after he threw down an alley-oop dunk in the third quarter. Does he ever stop?
“[Butler] plays with such toughness, and he makes [James and Dwyane Wade] work. You can’t stop players like LeBron and Wade individually, but he battles and steps up tot make the play.”
--Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau
Thumbs up: D.J. Augustin
The Bulls guard led the team with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Not bad for a guy who comes off the bench basically every game.
"We came out aggressive, playing hard. We made some baskets right away and continued to play hard."
--Augustin, on the Bulls’ 9-0 run to start overtime
Thumbs down: Carlos Boozer
The Bulls trailed 43-37 at halftime, but it didn’t have to be that way. The usually-reliable Boozer managed only nine points Sunday and was on the bench the entire fourth quarter and overtime. Ouch.
Thumbs up: The refs
As physical as Bulls-Heat always is, it never felt like anyone would lose a limb. This time, anyway. Three technical fouls were called and both teams mostly shrugged off hard fouls in the paint.
"It was a chaotic battle. It was hard to score. It was tough on defense, it was real physical, a lot of bodies flying, a lot of elbows being thrown. You've just got to get your mind ready. But once those elbows start flying, nobody's really ready for that."
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