For a man who won two national championships at Florida, once derisively called the Heat “Hollywood as Hell” and pours sweat and primal screams into every affair, Joakim Noah’s answer sounded a bit surprising.
Asked if the Bulls need to win a championship to make this season successful, Noah shook his head.
“Not at all,” he said. “That’s always the ultimate goal and there’s nothing more than I want than to win a championship. Right now, it’s about building the right habits, playing in those big games.”
Given Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury, Noah’s realism is refreshing. And his message — build championship habits at all times — is instructive.
Dressing just nine players again, the Bulls provided another example of perseverance and perspective with Tuesday’s 100-85 blowout of the Hawks at the United Center.
Noah certainly played as if a title were at stake, building some right habits with his fourth career triple-double. Noah actually almost achieved the milestone by halftime and finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds and a career-high-tying 11 assists.
Often, the first home game following an extended trip can be troublesome. But in their first United Center appearance since Jan. 27, the Bulls got off to their third straight strong start. They led by 18 in the first quarter and 25 at their largest.
“We’re not worried about distractions or what anybody has to say,” Noah said. “We’re just focused on our improvement.”
With Carlos Boozer sitting for a third straight game due to his strained left calf, Taj Gibson posted 24 points and 12 rebounds. And Jimmy Butler joined Gibson in double-double land. Gibson had averaged 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in his seven previous starts.
“My teammates are looking for me,” Gibson said.
With the victory, the Bulls passed the Hawks by a half-game in the Eastern Conference standings.
Noah joined Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Tom Boerwinkle and Mickey Johnson as the fifth player in franchise history with at least four triple-doubles. He also provided free fast-food sandwiches for the sellout crowd of 21,325 by sinking two free throws with 38.5 seconds left to hit the century mark, punctuating the moment with a huge fist pump.