Listen, unless you are a Chicago Bulls fan or a Florida Gators fan, you already know that Joakim Noah is the worst. No, he's not the worst player in the league or the worst person in the world … he just seems like the worst person in the world when he's playing against your favorite NBA team.
Noah is a classic case of a player you'd love if he's on your team but absolutely loathe if he is not. If you are a Joakim Noah fan and not a fan of the Bulls or Gators, I think you need to get your head checked. Not because Noah is nothing but an agitator — though he most assuredly one of those — because Noah certainly has game. He is a tenacious defender, all hustle all the time, a guy who does the dirty work, and oh yes, a player who has gotten better every single year he's been in the league. Hell, he even has a semblance of a jump shot now and can hit free throws, even though his shot itself is comically horrid in its form.
That is precisely why Noah is even more annoying. He is a good player. He doesn't need to do these childish things. But he does because he knows it gets under opponents' skin, or perhaps even more importantly, opponents' fans' skin. And boy oh boy was Noah at his annoying best last night in Philadelphia.
See, I headed down to the game last night with silver fox, securing upper-level, center-court seats for $5 via StubHub, all set to watch the Sixers take on a Bulls team without not only Derrick Rose, but Kirk Hinrich as well.
I figured with the Bulls down to Nate Robinson and rookie Marquis Teague at the point, Jrue Holiday would have a field day and propel the Sixers to victory. For a while, it sure seemed like that was going to happen. Holiday came out gangbusters, absolutely abusing Robinson and Teague damn near every time down the floor, and he had the hot hand. Along with a strong performance by Evan Turner, the Sixers led early and became frontrunners, albeit not by a large margin.
While Holiday and Turner were balling, Chicago was able to stay in it thanks to its size. It's no secret that the Sixers are struggling in the big man department since you know who has not and may not play a single game this season. As a result, Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng were doing some damage rebounding and scoring inside.
And of course, every time he did something well, Noah made sure to let the Philadelphia faithful know it. Apparently, Noah was not pleased at the Philadelphia fans' reaction when he got injured last year in the playoffs, so he wanted to get a reaction out of them last night. Mission accomplished. After hitting a wide open 15-footer at the end of the first quarter, with his team still trailing, Noah broke out the finger guns, back-in-the-holster celebration. After a 15-footer. In the first quarter. With his team trailing. God I hate him so very much.
Since the celebration got the exact reaction Noah was looking for, a chorus of boos, he continued this charade the rest of the game. The guns-in-holster routine, the loud, annoying clapping on defense, the encouraging fans to rain down more boos — the entire repertoire. Seriously, he's the worst.
It made it all the more agitating that Noah had an outstanding game. He finished with 21 points on 7-10 shooting, nabbed seven boards and dished out five assists. On top of that, he made some absolutely tremendous plays down the stretch, including a few spectacular passes that led to buckets. He was without a doubt one of the players of the game.
However, a big key to why the Sixers lost last night — besides going an absurdly terrible 5-11 from the foul line — is due to Doug Collins.
Normally, Doug gives me little reason to criticize him for his in-game coaching. However, last night he completely dropped the ball in the fourth quarter. There is no disputing that Holiday was having a tremendous night through three quarters. He was aggressive on the offensive end and scoring almost at will. He was the reason the Sixers were winning at half.
To start the fourth, Collins gave Holiday a breather, not out of the norm. With how much the Sixers rely on Jrue, he needs to get a blow every now and then. Here's where I have an issue. Chicago had begun to assert itself behind Noah and a resurgent Luol Deng, who suddenly found his shot after not doing much in the first half. As the Sixers' offense looked pathetic to begin the fourth with Holiday on the bench, I thought for sure Jrue would be back in after a couple of minutes — a quick breather then back out there to keep his hot hand going.
Instead, he sat, and the Sixers became stagnant. By the time we reached the TV timeout, I thought for sure Jrue would be checking in. No dice. In fact, Holiday didn't check in until there was less than 7 and a half minutes left in the game. Collins left his best player, the guy who was carrying the load offensively, on the bench for almost 20 minutes of real time, and when Holiday came back, he was not the same player. The time on the bench clearly cooled him off, and the player who had taken command in the first three quarters turned into an ice-cold turnover machine.
No two ways about it, Holiday was terrible in the fourth quarter. And while he's definitely not absolved of blame, I put a lot more onus on Collins for sitting a guy so hot for so long.
Once Jrue went back in, it all fell completely apart. The Sixers started to turn the ball over, take quick, bad shots, miss free throws and get abused underneath. Noah and Deng led the way, and Chicago walked away with a victory, Noah acting like an ass the entire time but earning it with his tremendous play.
This was a game the Sixers absolutely could have and probably should have won, but they didn't. Holiday and Turner were very good through three, terrible in the fourth. Thad Young was efficient but quiet. And Spencer Hawes, who somehow managed a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double, was horrible, missing shots and quite literally playing ole defense. Spencer Hawes is back to being terrible again, so that's fun.
Last night confirmed once again that while the Sixers are without a doubt a fun team to watch at times and a bunch that won't quit, they desperately need a guy like Andrew Bynum inside. It also confirmed that Joakim Noah is, as everyone already knew, the worst kind of worst — a great player who also relishes being an agitator in the most annoying way possible. But god damn is he a good player. Trust me, it pains me to say that.