CHICAGO — Fifteen minutes after he finished a Sunday afternoon frothing with points (20), rebounds (12), assists (seven), blocks (five) and expletives (infinite), Joakim Noah finally showed some restraint.
The Chicago Bulls center requested a few minutes of serenity, to shower off his sweat, to stem his emotions, to unscramble his opinions.
"I don't want to say any stupid s--t," he said.
And so nearly 20 more minutes would pass before Noah, first with locks unfurled, then again bunned up, would address a throng of reporters in the home locker room.
In the meantime, in the visitors' quarters, the Miami Heat, losers of three straight on a lost road trip—including this 95-88 decision in overtime—would attempt to explain what occurred here, how they scored just 21 points in the final 17 minutes, how they gave up 27 second-chance points, how LeBron James (thanks to Jimmy Butler) couldn't convert with a chance to win in regulation, how Dwyane Wade iced up after a hot start, and how James went without a free throw for the first time with the Heat.
And maybe we'll get to some of that.
Really, no one needed to hear any of it.
This was a day on which Heat needed to hear from Noah, and not just on the court.
"Tonight, I (saw) him right in the front on the foul line, talking trash to all of them, to their face," Taj Gibson said. "Like, yeah, 'Not in here today. Not going down.' And getting them mad! It's crazy!"
It might seem crazy that the Bulls have the third-most wins in the Eastern Conference, and now a second against Miami, even though they're without Derrick Rose and they've traded Luol Deng. But it shouldn't. Because this is what the NBA's analytics gurus, for all of their attributes, can't quantify.
What Noah wants. What Noah believes. What Noah brings.
"Hustle is a talent," Erik Spoelstra likes to say.
And so the Heat need to hear what Noah said in the locker room, too. In fact, if Spoelstra has run out of ways to motivate a team that doesn't seem terribly moved by the opportunity to pass similarly-struggling Indiana, he should duck into his former workplace—the video room—and cut up Noah's best court work, from the successful defenses of James to the putbacks over Chris Andersen.
He should splice in some of Noah's most biting sound bites to create an intensely aggravating package. He should slip his players that DVD to show them the passion they must muster, if not now then sometime soon, to win a third straight title.
He could start where Noah did.
"This is what you play basketball for," Noah said. "I love it. I'm having a great time, I'm having a blast out there. Beating Miami, I don't care if it's the regular season. It's always special."
Two weeks ago, when the Heat beat the Bulls by 14 in Miami, Noah said his team needed to play with more "hate."
"We played with a lot of hate today," Noah said. "A lot of hate."
Noah took on a more serious tone when talking about his father, Yannick, the former tennis star who sat in the crowd and showed plenty of his own enthusiasm while ABC interviewed him.
"I know that he's happy right now," said Noah, who pointed at his father several times throughout the contest. "I can't wait to see him. Just so I can get to celebrate this moment with him. I don't get to see him a lot. But my father has always been there for me, my whole life. To be able to share these moments with him. I know he's a nervous wreck during games and stuff. I always tell him to just drink a brewski and chill. But I know how he is."
And the Heat know how Noah is. Everyone does. Heat fans can loathe his antics and bombard him with statistics (such as Miami's 8-2 postseason record against Chicago in the Big Three era). But they ought to respect his attitude. Their own team could use a bit more of it.
"I think the team with the better edge won tonight," Noah said. "That's usually what happens with these teams. The team that plays with the better edge usually wins."
The Bulls did.
Naturally, some will argue that if Butler hadn't stripped James three feet from the rim ("a great f-----g play," James acknowledged), no one would be emphasizing the teams' differences in emotion. But on paper, the game shouldn't be that close. Not even in this building, where the Heat have lost seven of eight in the regular season. Not with Miami resting and, most would assume, stewing, for two full days after getting whipped by San Antonio on Thursday.
But something's missing from this Heat team at times this season.
They are tired of being chased, and can't find anything worth chasing.
Not even wounded Indiana, losers of three straight entering Sunday's game in Dallas.
Meanwhile, there's Noah.
"I'm pumped up all the time," Noah said. "If you can't get excited for a game like this...."
Exhausting his ability, every game, every minute, every rotation, for a team that's been tattered, stripped down and counted out—and not just by outsiders. It was Bulls management, after all, that shipped Deng off, writing the season off to save some bucks. It is Noah who was angriest, and who has channeled that anger toward others.
He said he hasn't felt this way about any other team, other than perhaps the University of Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
"That Gator-Kentucky s--t was for real," Noah said. "But probably not as much, because we used to really destroy them. So it's different, because (the Heat) ended our seasons a lot. Yeah, I think where the hate comes from. It's not like, oh, I hate this guy...Like, I want what they have. I want a championship. And I know that to get there one day, we're going to have to get through those guys. So that's the hatred."
Maybe the Heat need to go through this stretch.
Maybe they need to see what true desire looks like.
And I was planning to provide more of their perspective, as they headed home for the second half of a back-to-back, this one against Washington. That's why I was transcribing quotes from Spoelstra, James and Wade.
Then, over my headphones, I heard this:
That was Noah, still juiced, jumping through the tunnel outside the media room.
That was 70 minutes after the final buzzer.
Really, that said everything.
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