CHICAGO – Hustle plays and good energy never go unnoticed or underappreciated by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
Those intangibles are part of the reason center Joakim Noah is so valuable to the Bulls, even as he’s hampered by plantar fasciitis in his right foot. While Noah has said he should have rested more during the regular season, he is playing through the pain. A less mature Noah might not have been able to handle the setback, however, Thibodeau deflected any recognition for Noah’s maturation since the Bulls drafted him in 2007.
“I think [it’s] him having a better understanding of the NBA and what it takes, how to manage a season,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a very bright kid and he works hard. I think he’ll continue to improve as long as he continues to approach it that way.”
Thibodeau said before the game that he planned to limit Noah to 20-25 minutes, and he logged 27:03 in the Bulls’ 79-76 win. However, Noah struggled from the field, going 0 for 7 from the field with one point and eight rebounds. Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo credited Noah for playing despite a serious injury.
“He’s such an aggressive player, he’s such a talent, he’s such a competitor that I’m not surprised when he plays well,” Carlesimo said. “I just think he’s an excellent player, and he’s one of the best competitors in the league. So when he does anything good, that doesn’t surprise me.”
Boos greet Watson: Coming off a solid Game 2 performance against his former team, Nets guard C.J. Watson returned to the United Center with Brooklyn needing contributions off the bench.
The 21,672 fans at the United Center on Thursday weren’t thrilled to see Watson, greeting him with boos when he checked into the game with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. Keith Bogans, who played for the Bulls in 2011, was also in uniform for the Nets.
“I thought [Watson] and Keith did a lot for our team,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t overlook them. C.J. and Keith both, you can start them, you can bring them off the bench, and they’re very effective in whatever role you ask them to play.”
Asked if he prefers letting Watson shoot jumpers instead of attacking the rim, Thibodeau said he’s capable of beating you both ways and “you can never underestimate him.” Watson scored 10 points and tallied five assists off the bench in the Nets’ Game 2 loss, but he floundered Thursday. Watson was held to two points on 1 of 8 shooting.
Bulls bullets: At home in the playoffs, the Bulls are 117-40 all time in the postseason which is second best among NBA teams trailing the Los Angeles Lakers (286-94). … The Bulls have won 11 of their past 12 games against the Nets with Thursday’s win, including 3-0 all time in the playoff games in Chicago.