Joakim Noah: Chicago Bulls' Center Epitomizes Heart, Hustle and Muscle

James Tillman IIIAnalyst IApril 24, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22:  Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls plays against the Brooklyn Nets during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 22, 2013 in New York City. The Bulls defeated the Nets 90-82. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Most of the talk surrounding the Chicago Bulls this season has dealt with Derrick Rose returning to the lineup or not.

This is fair in the sense that Rose is the team’s franchise player and his presence on the court makes the Bulls a better basketball team.

However, I think for the time being, Bulls fans should focus on another player who is giving the team his heart and soul—Joakim Noah.

Noah has been suffering from plantar fasciitis, a foot injury that forced the Bulls All-Star center to miss 12 of the team’s final 15 games.

The injury has greatly affected his play on the court, as well.

In a win against the Orlando Magic on April 15, Noah recorded six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes of action.

He followed that up with just one rebound and one assist in the season finale against the Washington Wizards, a game in which he also logged just 14 minutes.

Both performances were a far cry from the 11.9 points and 11.1 rebounds he averaged during the season, but Noah wanted to help the Bulls secure the fifth seed so he played though the pain.

Let’s fast forward to the Bulls 2012-2013 postseason.

Prior to Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets, Noah expressed concern as to whether or not he would be able to play.  (via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago)

In spite of those doubts, Noah found a way to play 13 minutes, but his four points and five rebounds had little impact in a game where the Bulls were soundly beaten across the board.

In Game 2, Bulls fans saw a much different Noah and his energy helped the team set the tone early.

Chicago was not going to be manhandled in the same manner they were in the series-opener.

Although, Noah did struggle through the first three quarters, managing just two points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, he saved his best effort for when it mattered the most.

Not only did Noah score nine points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter, it was the timing that made the difference.

The Nets had just cut the Bulls’ 12-point lead down to five and the Bulls were back on their heels a bit.

Noah then hushed the crowd with a dunk off an assist from Luol Deng, that gave the Bulls a 75-68 lead. A few plays later, Noah grabbed an offensive rebound and found a wide-open Nate Robinson, who nailed a three-pointer, giving the Bulls an 80-68 advantage.

The Nets were not done though, and they made one more run to close within 82-78 with three minutes left to play.

Noah then scored on a driving layup following a Deng jumper that extended the Bulls lead to 86-78 and essentially put the game out of reach.

Per Kieran Darcy of ESPN Chicago, Carlos Boozer had this to say bout Noah’s contributions following Game 2:

"Gutsy. Come on man, you know what he's going through. Every game is a tough game for him. I went through the same thing two years ago with my little turf toe. I'm just proud of him. He's going out there gutting it for us every night."

So while it is understandable that the speculation surrounding Rose will continue to be a topic of conversation, what we should do is turn our focus to a player who is going to great lengths to help his team win in any way that he can.