Here are the facts: Taj Gibson subbed out Joakim Noah with 5:53 left in the third quarter. At that point the Bulls center had 10 points and five rebounds and had played admirably against Marc Gasol and the big front line of Memphis.
Noah never got back in the game — Tom Thibodeau benched him for the fourth quarter and overtime. Even when Gibson fouled out with 39.1 seconds left in overtime of a close game, Thibodeau went with Nazr Mohammed. The Grizzlies went on to win.
The other fact is there seemed to be tension. The usually media friendly Noah was gone before reporters were let in the locker room. Thibodeau wasn’t saying much other than that Noah was not injured, reports Aggrey Sam at CSNChicago.com.
“That’s just a coaching decision,” Thibodeau said.
If you want, you can rationalize the move.
For one, the Bulls were in their third consecutive overtime game in four days. Noah has been racking up heavy minutes and resting key guys during the season with an eye on the big picture can be a smart move. Although if you’re going to do that, you sit him the entire game, not just the crucial end.
Second, and more plausible, is that Thibodeau was riding the hot hand. The Bulls were down 17 in the third quarter and a lineup of Carlos Boozer (17 points for the game), Jimmy Butler (12 in the fourth quarter), Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Gibson brought them all the way back.
But Noah had played pretty well and when Gibson fouled out and Mohammed came in you couldn’t just explain it away. Mohammed played 2.3 seconds then Kirk Hinrich subbed in for him (they needed shooters).
Little coach/star player feuds happen all the time. What matters is does it carry over to the next game, does the tension linger, or do Noah and Thibodeau hug it out (or whatever Thibodeau does instead of hug) and move on? That’s what will be interesting to watch. We’ll have to watch, because nobody is talking yet.