At the time Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls met with the media at the Four Seasons hotel on Saturday afternoon, the NBA had yet to announce whether Wizards forward Nene would receive a suspension. We now know the Brazilian big man will miss Game 4 on Sunday for what the league deemed an attempted two-handed takedown of Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler in Friday's Game 3 loss.
Asked whether he thought Nene's action warranted a suspension, Noah said, "As a player, those aren't things I can control. The only thing I can control right now is eating lunch and ice baths and sleeping and shooting free throws and things like that."
The real question is whether the Wizards have now lost control of a series they ruled initially with two road victories at Chicago. Washington still leads the best-of-7 Eastern Conference first-round series 2-1. For a 3-1 lead, the Wizards must survive without Nene, who averaged 20.5 points in the two wins.
“You prepare for everybody. To me, it’s like you would prepare for any game. If you don’t know who may be injured or who may be sick, so you prepare for everyone. We’re assuming everyone is there,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said before learning of the suspension. “We have to be ready for everyone. That’s the way we’re looking at it. We’re not speculating on what might be. That’s not our concern. Just get ourselves ready. Don’t get lost in what could happen, what might happen. We know we need to prepare for everybody and be ready for them."
Washington maintains home court advantage and the Bulls must win at the Verizon Center to even the series heading back to Chicago for Game 5.
"I'm not sure. I don't think it changes our mindset, though," Noah said of Nene's possible absence. "It's a crucial game for us. All three games really came down to the end. Attention to detail is huge. The game in these situations is so mental. For us, it's just about staying focused on the things that we can control."
It's fair to say Nene lost focus with 8:28 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Wizards trailing by two points. Based on replays, the initial bumping with Butler seemed innocent enough especially compared to some of grappling taking place in the paint during the series.
"When you play physical both ways, things get hot," was Nene's response on Friday about the situation escalating.
On Saturday, Noah took questions about how much of the defensive-oriented Bulls plan involved attempting to have Nene and the Wizards lose their mental focus.
"I don't know. I think we're just trying to make it as difficult as possible on them. They're a very talented group. They have very few holes in what they do defensively and offensively. We're just trying our best, man. Like I said, these games are really coming down to nothing. Paying attention to detail is everything," he said.
Pressed further if some are perhaps making too much of the Bulls supposedly trying to set a trap for Nene with aggressive tactics, Noah replied, "It's crazy how to me how quick people are to pass judgment and say, 'Oh this is who they are.' Every game is different. Every situation is different. They have a lot of physical players. We try to play a physical game. We try to win the game, but every situation is different. At the end of the day, it's the way the referees see it. Their perspective is what matters most."
As for Thibodeau's perspective on the physical nature of the series, "This is the playoffs. It's all normal stuff. You got the same teams going at it game after game. It's great competition and that's what you look forward too."