Bulls’ Noah hopes to return for Game 6


May 9

Though Joakim Noah’s return from a badly sprained left ankle isn’t imminent, the Bulls center expressed optimism following Tuesday’s Game 5 victory in Chicago that he could be ready in time for Game 6 Thursday in Philadelphia.

“I’m feeling better,” Noah told Chuck Swirsky on BullsTV. “Just trying to get out there for the next game. I feel like we played really hard tonight. It was a great win. Guys are giving everything they’ve got. Let’s bring it back to Chicago for Game 7.”

Noah, a team captain and the Bulls’ emotional leader, missed his second consecutive game on Tuesday after suffering the injury during the third quarter of Friday’s Game 3. It was a painful sight to see, but since then, Noah has progressed. He’s shed the crutches and air cast, and was spotted shooting free throws at the end of his team’s shootaround Tuesday morning at the Berto Center.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau did not hold practice on Wednesday as the team travelled to Philadelphia on an afternoon flight.

“It’s hard,” Noah told BullsTV of missing back-to-back postseason games. “This is what we live for is to play in games like this. So not to be out there with your teammates is hard. But we won and we live to fight another day. It’s going to be a big Game 6 and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to play.”

When asked if he was optimistic about that happening, Noah replied, “Yeah.”

“I just want to be out there with my guys,” Noah added.

In Game 5, Omer Asik again started in Noah’s absence, finishing with four points, six rebounds and a pair of assists in nearly 28 minutes of action. Taj Gibson provided his usual spark off the bench, recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in 25 minutes, along with shaking off an ankle sprain of his own. And in his usual starting role, Carlos Boozer tallied 19 points, 13 boards and six assists in 42 minutes.

“Omer had a huge game for us,” said Noah of Tuesday’s win to make it a 3-2 series. “Taj sprained his ankle and he came back. Carlos [Boozer] played huge for us. Omer has just been like a wall on defense. It’s a great experience for him and he’s playing great for us. He helped us win that ballgame.”

Should Noah be able to play in Game 6, Thibodeau knows the Sixers will be ready.

“I’m sure they’re prepared whether he plays or doesn’t play,” Thibodeau said prior to Game 5. “You go in and you know the personnel of the team. You know the strengths and weaknesses of each guy. They’ll be ready either way.”

Philadelphia coach Doug Collins, when asked before Game 5 about the possibility of facing Noah, agreed, adding, “If he plays, we know he’s going to bring great emotion. I would think probably he’s not going to be at 100 percent. His big thing is the mobility and the energy that he brings to this team.

“When he was starting out there with [Derrick] Rose, I always considered him their second best playmaker. And they miss that,” added Collins. “When Omer is in the game, you can do a few things defensively to help a little more simply because he’s not going to look to make that play as much as Joakim would.”

With or without Noah, the Bulls return to Philadelphia facing elimination for a second straight game. And while it’s easier to respond to such adversity at home—which they did on Tuesday—Thibodeau believes his group is equipped to meet the challenge once again, even if it means doing so in a hostile environment.

“Just because of their character,” Thibodeau explained when asked about his team’s resiliency. “I think their attitude and approach is the right one. Sometimes, things aren’t going your way and you have to battle through it and find ways to get things done. Things change quickly in this league. They can go from bad to good very quickly and good to bad very quickly. We can change it around.”

The Sixers’ Collins is keenly aware of that dynamic, having discussed it with associate head coach Michael Curry on Tuesday in Chicago. Curry should know—as a player, his top-seeded Pistons fell behind 3-1 to the eighth-seeded Magic during the 2003 NBA Playoffs before rattling off three wins in a row and ultimately advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Three weeks ago, the Bulls were sitting here with a great chance to win a championship and we didn’t know if we were going to be in the playoffs or not,” said Collins. “That’s how quickly things can change. And that’s how quickly they can change the other way too. We know that.”

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