NBA Playoffs: Loving Joakim Noah's Foul and Al Horford's Attitude...

Malik GradyContributor IApril 20, 2009

BOSTON - APRIL 18: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls reacts after he is called for a foul against Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on April 18, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Chicago Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics 105-103. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)

I lead with my heart as a sports watcher, journalist, and fan. That means that there are times when I lament and cringe at seeing a particular result or bit of news simply because "I know what people are going to think" when they see it.  It is current human nature to take the soundbite, jump on the bandwagon, and parrot what seems obvious.

On Saturday, at the very end of regulation in the Chicago Bulls' overtime upset of the Boston Celtics, former UF player Joakim Noah committed a foul on Paul Pierce's jump shot attempt with 2.6 seconds left and the Bulls only up by one.  If the Bulls had subsequently lost, Noah would have been the unquestioned goat next to the 36-point, 11-assist explosion by teammate Derrick Rose.

Despite having pulled down 17 rebounds to help his team outrebound the Celtics by eight and having given great effort and production on both ends of the floor, the simple and final epitaph would simply have read, "Noah squanders Herculean effort of Mercurial guard..."

With that emotional backdrop in mind, I was understandably pleased to see the Bulls complete the win in overtime as Pierce missed one out of two free throws.  Henry Abbott, of ESPN's True Hoop, however, quotes David Thorpe as being of the opinion that perhaps I should have celebrated Noah's play against Pierce no matter the ultimate outcome, especially in light of the non-play the Magic made in their embarrassing loss to the Sixers on Sunday:

"To play at the highest level," says Thorpe, "you're going to go over the top sometimes. You'll risk some mistakes. And that's OK. Sometimes, you're not playing percentages...you just want to go play. To me, Hedo Turkoglu is 6'10", and Andre Iguodala is 6'6"—just make a play. I don't care what happens. Make that play. That's what Joakim did, and I'll take it."

Combine Noah's effort with the Bulls in their victory and Al Horford's 14-point, nine-rebound, two-block effort (only 34 minutes needed) in the Atlanta Hawks blowout of the Heat, and the former Hogtowners had great weekends.  As much as their statistics, however, it is their emotion and will which have positively infected their teams.

Horford's role in the Hawks stretching the Celtics to seven games last year has been well-chronicled.  His refusal to back down from the intensity of Kevin Garnett inside (which has cowed many big men) COUPLED with at times calming down the youthful exuberance or lack of focus of his teammates was a key to their stellar play in the series.  On Sunday, Horford's challenges on Wade's drives, at the very least, made him work harder and gave him pause.

Thankfully for Noah, without KG there isn't an obvious veteran at the four and five positions who will easily make him pay for his mistakes as the series goes on.  I expect Paul Pierce to go inside from the small forward position to see if he can single-handedly do damage to the front line of Noah and Tyrus Thomas.  It will be interesting to see how Noah's fire on the mostly business-like and stoic group that is the rest of the Bulls continues to play out.

In looking forward to the evolution of these series, while I may watch with my heart, I do engage my mind and history as well.  The yearly bandwagoners who judge NBA seven-game series simply from the outcome of a single game (especially the INITIAL one) do so at their own peril.  The Celtics will likely really hurt the Bulls as only a veteran team can in a rebound game at home.  And, win or lose, I expect Dwyane Wade to have a sublime performance (with LOTS of free throw attempts) in his next game.

I'll also be truly surprised if the Orlando Magic don't rebound from their opening night debacle at the hands of the Sixers with brutalizing efficiency from here on out... IF Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are healthy.

Which, unfortunately for basketball fans, they may very well not be...

-- Malik


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