Joakim Noah brings defense to East All-Star win


Feb 17

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It was the highest ever scoring NBA All-Star Game, a 163-155 dunk-a-thon in New Orleans Sunday won by the Eastern Conference.

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was named MVP with 31 points and 14 assists, while Carmelo Anthony made a record eight three-pointers and scored 30 points as the East rallied from an 18-point third quarter deficit. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin for the losers each had 38 points, just four fewer than Wilt Chamberlain’s single game All-Star scoring record.

But in the end it became Joakim Noah’s game, the Bulls center coming off the bench for eight points, five rebounds and five assists in 20:46 and playing the entire fourth quarter in a defensive lineup when the East scored the last 10 points to pull away in a contested final frame with seven lead changes and two ties.

“The game’s got to be defensive if you what to win,” said Noah. “In the beginning I was, ‘Oh nobody really cares.’ Toward the end it got competitive. The game changed. Overall we wanted to win."

“The game’s got to be defensive if you what to win,” said Noah. “In the beginning I was, ‘Oh nobody really cares.’ Toward the end it got competitive. The game changed. Overall we wanted to win.”

“The game’s got to be defensive if you what to win,” said Noah. “In the beginning I was, ‘Oh nobody really cares.’ Toward the end, it got competitive. The game changed. Overall we wanted to win. To be able to get that win; it’s cool.

“I’m really happy we got the win,” added Noah. “I had a great time. I’m a little tired, but there’s time to rest. The court is always the best part. It always feels good to win no matter what situation. I like competing. It was fun. Overall, it was just an unbelievable honor, especially to play down the stretch. I like that stuff. I want to be out there on the court.”

It was somewhat of a surprise, especially with Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel sitting his center, Roy Hibbert, in the fourth quarter as only Noah and Irving played all 12 minutes among the East players who were talking about needing to win after three straight All-Star game losses. And, no, Vogel wasn’t trying to use up the Bulls center to rest his. Vogel played his guy, Paul George, about nine fourth quarter minutes and second most overall to Irving, who shot 14 of 17. This one was about stopping the streak, however unimportant in the big picture it might be.

“I had a plan to get (Noah) about seven or eight minutes in the fourth quarter and, if it was close, finish with my guy, Roy Hibbert,” said Vogel. “The way that group was going, they made a little bit of a run. So a certain unit is making a run, you want to ride them out a little bit. Joakim played some great minutes there in the (fourth) quarter. I could have come back with Roy. Roy would have been a little bit stiff, would have taken him a few minutes. And that group was rolling. So a lot of times you just stay with the group that’s going.”

And while there won’t be any headlines about Noah with all the high scoring, though Noah had three dunks for his four baskets, it was an All-Star coming out of a sort for Noah.

Sure, there were some laughs as he played defense whenever he was in there, including in a summer league like first half of uncontested windmill dunks in which the West led 89-76. Noah hedged out to help on the pick and roll and recovered, switched to take Stephen Curry on a switch, boxed out against Dwight Howard. Hey, buddy, it’s an All-Star game.

But Noah gained respect as well as Vogel drew several plays to get Noah baskets on pick and roll with first Irving and then James making pocket bounce passes for Noah’s dunks.

“Any big that can set pick and rolls, catch and finish, I can work well with,” said James, who assisted on two late Noah dunks. “I don’t need no time to get chemistry. He’s a high energy guy, a high IQ guy, and I found something in that fourth quarter knowing that I could use his screen and rolls and he would dive to the rim and I could either get him an open look.

“Or the next possession down after he had just got the layup and I was able to find Paul George and he got fouled on a three point play because of him receiving that pass the time before,” said James. “So I don’t need much time with guys like that, high energy guys and high IQ basketball.”

Maybe not love, but certainly respect.

“When we play against each other, it’s competitive as hell,” Noah said. “There’s no love. But at the end of the day, I have the utmost respect for every player in the league because I know how hard it is to get there. To play in these games with the best players, to get a pocket pass here and there, get a nice pass, it’s a good feeling. That’s how I score. He’s one of the best pocket passers in the world.”

Noah, in fact, was enjoying it so much he couldn’t get over it.

Sure, there was his defense that helped hold the West stars to 37 percent shooting in the fourth quarter after they shot 55 percent in the first three quarters. But there was the offense. Not only being able to finish the plays, but standing in the huddle with James and Irving and George and Anthony and Vogel is drawing up the play for Noah.

“Can you imagine,” Noah was telling a friend as he left the media area about Vogel’s call in the huddle. “He’s saying, ‘Noah goes to the elbow,’ and LeBron is out there and he’s not getting the ball.”

It was some kind of monster ball Sunday for Joakim Noah.

It was All-Star ball to begin with plenty of dunks and long shots (100 threes attempted in the game), lots of Super Bowl style big show entertainment and tributes to greats like Bill Russell, who turned 80, and a group of Hall of Famers led the arena in a Happy Birthday chorus for Russell.

It was 44-42 West after one quarter and on the way to scoring records at 89-76 at halftime with little resistance.

Noah was the last East player to score, a dunk out of a timeout late in the first half on a pass from John Wall as Vogel ran the play for Noah. Oh, to have a center who can make plays. But Noah was busy in his way, defending, boxing out, getting a steal from Tony Parker to lead to a Wall reverse dunk and just galloping up and down the court.

“To be able to play like that in an All Star game in front of all your friends, your family watching. It’s a great feeling,” said Noah.

“To be able to play like that in an All Star game in front of all your friends, your family watching. It’s a great feeling,” said Noah.

Noah sat in the third quarter as the West seemed to take control behind Durant and Griffin for a 123-105 lead with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.

But the East team shaved the deficit down to 126-123 after three, and then it was a game, Noah’s kind.

“We got stops and we made shots. And we didn’t turn the ball over. Very key. We wanted this win,” said James. “They beat us the last three years and they had a lot of bragging rights. So to be able to come through being down 18 was huge.”

That’s where Noah came in doing all those little things he does that don’t much matter in All-Star games, but matter when you are tired of losing All-Star games.

And for Noah—and no offense to his brothers on the Bulls—it also was nice to be out there with some high scorers.

“Those guys score in bunches; it’s crazy,” said Noah. “A lot of talent on the floor. Sometimes you don’t realize until you get on the court with them. There’s a lot of talent out there. I was just happy to be there down the stretch. It’s hard to show what you can do in limited minutes, but I had a great time.

“To be able to play like that in an All Star game in front of all your friends, your family watching. It’s a great feeling,” said Noah, who had a quiet first All-Star game last year. “It’s about competing. It ended up being competitive. The game got close. That’s when the fun begins.”

Though fun also begins when Noah shows up.

Noah said he enjoyed his time with his pals from back home in New York, many of whom made the trip, as well as his public service work for the NBA over the weekend and the dinner Saturday night to celebrate Africa given his heritage and his building a basketball court in Cameroon on family property to be used by local kids.

“It’s not my element,” Noah conceded about All-Star games, “But I am just happy to be a part of it. Looking at your favorite rapper in the front row. It’s crazy, a real circus.”

Like it will be in Cleveland with Irving winning the MVP and now the talk again maybe, just maybe LeBron would consider a return. Not likely. But you never know.

“Kyrie is special,” said James. “It’s just that simple. He’s a very special basketball player, very smart basketball player. His ability to shoot the ball, get into the lane, make shots around the rim, he has a total package. I’ve always known that. I’ve always witnessed that. I’m extremely happy for him, extremely proud for him to receive this award. It’s big time.”

So Kyrie to LeBron?

“Everyone is going to have their opinion or write different stories,” said Irving when asked about the possibility. “That’s the media’s job. For me, my focus level is just on my team and our team that we have now. That’s the most important thing at this point for me, is just how I can get myself better and how I can make my teammates better every single day. All the outside sources I really don’t pay attention to.”

But it’s back to business now for the home stretch of the season, and as Noah has shown, he is not to be taken for granted along with his team.

“I love the game,” said Noah. “The NBA does such a good job with the community stuff. The whole experience was just great.”

Like Noah always says, there’s nothing like winning a basketball game. And that sort of enthusiasm and effort even overtook an NBA All-Star game. Who is this Joakim Noah?

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