Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) and Taj Gibson (sprained knee) returned to the Bulls' lineup in Monday night's 102-84 victory over the Magic. Both players came off the bench and played limited minutes, with each guy showing some rust but also displaying some of the things that make them so valuable to the Bulls.
Noah checked in first, coming in with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter. He was noticeably a little slow defending the pick-and-roll, and he also picked up a few cheap fouls due to biting on pump fakes. He accumulated three fouls in a tad under seven minutes in his first half stint, while scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds.
Noah was able to get a few buckets in the second half, and he was moving pretty well, but he was still clearly not himself on the defensive end. He didn't block any shots and finished a -11 on the night in 14 minutes. The big man had six points and five rebounds on 2-of-4 shooting and 2-of-4 from the free throw line.
Gibson entered the game shortly after Noah, and the rust was evident on the offensive end. He shot just 1-of-5 in the first half and lacked a bit of the explosion we're used to seeing from him. That's certainly expected when a guy is getting used to wearing a heavy brace on his left knee after missing seven straight games. However, we did see some vintage Taj defense in the first half, including an excellent block of Nikola Vucevic in the post.
Gibson started to get his legs under him a bit more in the second half as he began to get more comfortable. He scored nine points in the half, finishing with 12 for the game on 5-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes. He didn't do much on the boards, only snagging one, but he did finish with two blocks and two assists. Like Noah, he got into a bit of foul trouble with four, but that could certainly be explained by him getting used to game speed again. Although he does commit a lot of fouls even when he's healthy.
After the game, Noah said he was feeling "pretty good" and Gibson said his knee "felt great," but the key now of course is to see how they're are doing tomorrow. Noah looked really good when he returned from plantar fasciitis against the Pistons a couple Sundays ago, but the foot swelled up really bad the next day and it forced him to miss the next four games. As yfBB noted in his recap, hopefully both guys are truly mostly healthy and that they'll be ready to roll for the playoffs. Interestingly, Tom Thibodeau said that there's "a possibility" that both players remain on minutes limits for the start of the playoffs. I have a hard time actually believing that, but perhaps Thibs and the Bulls have learned from Derrick Rose's situation last year.