Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in Chicago. The Pelicans won 131-128 in triple overtime. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: December 3, 2013 10:15PM
Very little good comes out of a triple-overtime loss in December.
Bulls coaches and players can throw around words like “fight’’ and “mental toughness’’ all they want, but by the time the final horn sounded Monday in their 131-128 loss to the Pelicans, all the Bulls did was take longer to lose a game.
If there was something to grab on to in dropping their sixth game in the last seven, it was 19 points and 10 rebounds from Joakim Noah, especially considering he had only five points entering the fourth quarter.
Maybe, just maybe, Noah finally had an awakening.
No player has been more affected by Derrick Rose’s season-ending right knee injury than Noah.
Rose was “like my little brother,’’ Noah whispered after a loss last week in Utah.
His demeanor on the court without Rose has been obvious. Before the game against the Pelicans, Noah was averaging 8.4 points since Rose tore his meniscus Nov. 22 against the Trail Blazers. That included a four-point clunker in Cleveland in which he shot 2-for-10 from the field.
Noah’s demeanor off the court without Rose has been even more obvious. Interviews with Noah always have been an adventure. He’ll say anything, and he’s usually very direct with certain questions.
His answers the last week have included a lot of, “Just a tough loss … fell short … fought hard.’’
At least that’s what the tape recorders have picked up because the volume on Noah’s responses are barely audible.
Noah has been a far cry from the All-Star he was a year ago without Rose. The 6-11 center became one of the more versatile big men in the league last season. He averaged 11.9 points and 11.1 rebounds, in addition to 4.0 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.2 steals — all career highs.
The excuse for his slow start this year was missing all but one preseason game because of a strained groin. But in the six games before Rose’s injury, Noah seemed to have his swagger back, averaging 11.3 points per game.
Then Rose went down in the third quarter in Portland, and Noah seemed to shut down after that. Losing their best player is one thing, but the Bulls can’t lose their heartbeat if they want to compete in a mediocre Eastern Conference.
That’s why the loss to the Pelicans just might be a blessing.
“I thought as the game went on [Noah] got into a rhythm,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “An offensive rhythm and a rebounding rhythm, and he had a tough cover [in Ryan Anderson]. I thought he did a very good job.’’
Now if only he can get back the emotion he usually plays with, the emotion he had most of last season while carrying a short-handed roster to the second round of the playoffs.
“The games just keep on coming,’’ Noah said recently. “I personally have to snap out of it and be a better leader.’’
At least that’s what it sounded like what he said.
It was a whisper.