As playoffs begin for Bulls, Gibson and Noah can go home again
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org April 18, 2013 10:25PM
Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) and forward Taj Gibson (22) react during the third quarter in Game 5 of a first-round NBA playoffs basketball series against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, April 26, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: April 19, 2013 7:42PM
The first time Taj Gibson stepped back in Brooklyn for an NBA game earlier this season, the Bulls power forward was moved to tears.
The way he sees it, it’s time to return the favor.
The Bulls begin their playoff journey in Brooklyn, with postseason play debuting in the burough on Saturday afternoon. It’s win or go home for most of Gibson’s teammates. But for Joakim Noah — and especially Gibson — it’s go home and win.
Crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, just off to the left is the Fort Greene Projects. It’s walking distance to the Nets’ new Barclays Center arena. That’s where Gibson called home growing up.
“It was surreal the first time I played there,’’ Gibson said of the meeting between the Bulls and Nets on Feb. 1. “We lost in a tough one, but it was just unreal to see all the love, see all the people that really saw me grow up. See them working in the [arena], guys that were 50, 60 years old that are still working, and to see them get to see me on an NBA court, it was real emotional, especially when I was leaving.
“I saw a lot of guys that I didn’t know were working there and there were a lot of tears, so I’m looking forward to going back and represent.’’
That doesn’t mean that Gibson is in a visiting mood, however.
This is a business trip as far as he’s concerned, which means “I might even change my number so I don’t get distracted.’’
“This is not a vacation,’’ Gibson said. “It’s not about just going home and seeing family. It’s all about going and getting wins.’’
And doing so alongside Noah.
Like Gibson, Noah is from New York City. Growing up, he would travel all over the five boroughs to find games, so he’s no stranger to the Brooklyn area.
“Hell yeah,’’ Noah said, when asked if this was special for him. “The playoffs at home in front of my friends and my family, it’s really special. Me and ‘Tajie’ have been talking about this for a long time, and I don’t even know what to say. I know it’s going to be emotional and there’s going to be a lot of drama. You know, it’s the playoffs. Whether I’m in Chi or whether I’m in Brooklyn, I’m at home, so that’s a good feeling.’’
A feeling made better if both can stay upright throughout the series.
Gibson is coming off a sprained left MCL that cost him 17 games since late February. Noah has battled plantar fasciitis in his right foot, missing 12 games since being named a first-time All-Star. Both are on a minutes watch, with the big problem being the unknown. Because both injuries are fluid, coach Tom Thibodeau has no idea on how many minutes are too many.
“I would prefer to have them for 30-plus minutes, but the fact that [Noah’s] back, both he and Taj, is a big plus for us,’’ Thibodeau said. “Whatever they can give us. I’m confident it will get better and better as time goes along.’’
Noah’s quota has been about 14 minutes in his two games back. Gibson is near the 22-minute mark.
Then again, this is the postseason, and playing it in your backyard might be the perfect remedy.
“Hey, nothing wrong going into this series as the underdog,’’ Noah said with a smirk. “It’s all good.’’