Walking into the Bulls locker room earlier tonight something that caught my attention was a message on the Chicago’s whiteboard asking players: “How bad do we want it?”
Nobody would fess up after the game to writing the message but the entire team made it clear they wanted this game with a 16-point thrashing of the Toronto Raptors. While that number doesn’t sound awful things were so bad that Patrick O’Bryant made it onto the court with nearly five minutes remaining and Chicago holding on to a 21 point advantage.
While it wasn’t the kind of night fans at the Air Canada Centre envisioned when they showed up at the arena it was exactly the kind of night Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro expected from his players.
“Our guys grinded it out,” a proud Del Negro told the media after the win. “This point of the season is about making plays. We made some free throws, our ball movement was excellent and when we had some opportunities to attack the rim we did.”
A big part of that energy and smart play was due to the inspired play of Joakim Noah. With his mother sitting in the stands it gave him a bit of boost and it showed up on the stat sheet with his team-high 19 rebounds while he scored 18 points while shooting an efficient 7-10 from the field.
What won’t show up in the stat sheet is how his boundless energy impacted his teammates and the flow of the game.
“We always feed off that,” explained Kirk Hinrich after the win. “His energy has always been there and anytime he’s out on the court his energy is there. His energy is a big part of who we are as a team.”
Another player who had a strong game, Derrick Rose, had a great game with a game-high 26 points but he was quick to praise Noah for his energy.
“He’s a guy where he’s always energetic and he’s always yelling and talking,” a humble Rose admitted to the media after the game. “When you see him giving all of his energy when he’s out there it makes you want to do the same thing.”
Even thought his teammates were willing to lavish him with praise, after the game Noah wasn’t concerned with nearly posting a triple-double individual stats; for him it was all about playing with intensity so that his teammates could feed off of that energy.
After the game the only stat Noah seemed to care about was the win which allowed Chicago to leapfrog Toronto in the standings.
“It just feels good to have this big win right now,” an uncharacteristically mellow Noah told the media. “It feels good but we’re a team that can play against the best teams and win but then we can also play against some of the worst teams in the NBA and lose. It’s just really important for us to understand what is at stake and not have any letdowns.”
One of the teammates that fed off Noah’s energy was Rose. The second-year point guard played with a sense of urgency and made sure to attack the rim early and often on his way to scoring a game-high 26 points.
Rose went 12-23 from the field but even though he was playing with a lot of energy he still played in control. In his previous game against New Jersey, Rose committed seven turnovers and tonight he made it a point of emphasis to limit his turnovers tonight while talking with the media he joked he was bitter with the ref for giving him a turnover late in the game.
Even if Rose was bitter about the one turnover he was given credit for he was happy with the energy and focus he played with.
“I made sure I attacked the rim no matter what,” a modest Rose told the media after the game. “I wanted to play as if it was our last game. I went to the hole early and some of my shots were going in and out but I knew if I attacked the hole game those shots were going to eventually go in and it would help get my teammates open.”
This game came down to who wanted it more and it was clear after 48 minutes that Chicago wants to make the playoffs more than Toronto. Chicago was the team that grasped the importance of this game and played at a high level from start to finish.
With Noah controlling the glass and Rose attacking the rim it left little doubt in the minds of fans or members of the media that Chicago wanted this game more than Toronto did.