(MCT) — CHICAGO — Like his unorthodox jumper, there’s something indescribable about Joakim Noah.
It’s an intangible, to be sure, and it can’t make Derrick Rose’s knee heal faster or LeBron James disappear.
But it was on full display Wednesday night at the United Center, when the Bulls opened the 47th season in franchise history with a 93-87 victory over the Kings that featured all the qualities needed during Rose’s lengthy absence.
Heart. Hustle. Defense. Rebounding.
One of Noah’s favorite phrases is that he likes to affect winning, and the spirited center did exactly that with 23 points, 10 rebounds, a career-high five steals and three blocks.
“Joakim’s all-around game was excellent,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Noah’s energy led a rocky offensive effort that featured Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer reaching double figures and the Bulls scoring 25 points off 21 Kings’ turnovers but shooting just 41.8 percent.
Noah’s spirit also proved contagious: Luol Deng, who struggled through a 3-for-13 night, hustled to save Hamilton’s missed shot from going out of bounds and got rewarded with a dunk off a Boozer feed for a seven-point lead with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining.
Boozer, who finished with 18 points, then followed with a three-point play off Noah’s miss with 2:46 remaining. The Bulls had 19 second-chance points overall.
“This team has character,” Noah said. “We’re a team that has gone through a lot of adversity with our best player being hurt being the major one. Derrick will be back. But right now, it’s on us.”
Deng split two free throws with 35.6 seconds left for a four-point lead and the Bulls forced the Kings, who shot just 40.5 percent, into a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds to ice matters.
The Bulls built a 14-point, third-quarter lead with a strong effort right after halftime.
The Bulls played fairly well offensively in the first half as well but consistently allowed dribble penetration, particularly from Tyreke Evans. He finished with 21 points to lead the Kings.
The Bulls got little scoring from Deng, who finished with seven points but a team-high 12 rebounds, and Kirk Hinrich, who missed 6-of-7 shots with a team-high seven assists.
Though all 10 players who logged action scored, Marco Belinelli got pulled for failing to contest Marcus Thornton’s 3-point shot right after Belinelli had fed Nate Robinson for his own 3-pointer.
The Bulls matched a club record (1983-87) with their fifth straight home opening victory.
“I think most games are going to be like this,” said. “You have to be able to grind them out, find different ways to win, play tough. Our defense wasn’t very good to start but got better as the game went on.
“When we played inside out, we were very effective. Getting to the free-throw line was big and we had timely buckets from Carlos and Joakim late.”
The Bulls won the rebounding, second-chance points and points in the paint battles. You know, the places where heart is needed.
“We just want to make the city proud fighting every day,” Noah said.
For at least the first night, mission accomplished.