- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- Welcome, everybody, to the Joakim Noah Apology Show.
First, his apology to Chicago Bulls fans, disgruntled Toronto Raptors fans, morose Cleveland Cavaliers fans, and everyone who hates the Miami Heat. Because Noah's weak game is directly linked to the Heat's 96-85 win Sunday night, giving them a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
"We didn't finish well at the rim," Noah said. "I feel like I could definitely do a better job on the boards, and I need to finish better. I'm really disappointed in myself with the way I played tonight."
That's a start. Noah missed all four shots he took from the field, and scored a whopping one point to go along with one offensive rebound in 29 minutes.
Noah, the guy supposedly in charge of generating defensive energy, grabbed four defensive rebounds. He committed five fouls, mixing in some loose-ball fouls and bad screens.
Next, an apology to society at large. Noah was caught by TNT cameras allegedly calling a fan a slur regarding one's sexual orientation after sitting down with his second foul. The video went viral almost immediately.
Noah's apology came first; a fine should be forthcoming.
"I got caught up," Noah said, looking honestly apologetic. "A fan said something and I said something back. I apologize. I don't know what's going to happen. But I got caught up. I don't mean no disrespect to anybody. I just got caught up."
While he wouldn't say the offending word again in front of the cameras -- a wise move -- after the initial media gaggle dispersed, Noah quietly repeated what he said to that fan to his locker neighbor Taj Gibson. I witnessed the brief conversation from a few feet away.
It was exactly the word the lip readers surmised, the same one that cost Kobe Bryant $100,000 when he spat it at a referee earlier this season. Noah will pay a fine and the drama over that incident should end.
It's an act that should be taken very seriously. Maybe he should read up on what Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts went through before coming out last week.
Or maybe he should just try to control himself a little bit, and then he won't have to apologize to anyone for actions on the court or off.
While Noah deserves a fine, he is, to the best of my knowledge, not a hateful person. He loves his charitable work with kids, and he prides himself on his multicultural upbringing in France and New York City.
His slip of the tongue -- all too common in our world, unfortunately -- can directly be linked to his slippage of play. When Noah "gets caught up," as he said, he loses control.
Noah's drop in activity, if not production, the past two games, might not be solely responsible for the Bulls' two straight losses, their first consecutive losses since Feb. 5 and 7, when Noah was on the shelf with his thumb injury. But it sure hasn't helped, especially when the offense has lagged.
In Game 2, he had nine points and eight rebounds. Even in the Bulls' blowout win in Game 1, he missed 10 of 14 shots, making up for it with 14 rebounds, eight on the offensive glass.
The Bulls can't match the Heat on the pure talent of their superstar players. But they can even things up with their superior depth and typically intense effort on defense and rebounding. While Derrick Rose needs to be more effective on offense, the same goes for Noah on both sides of the floor.
While it feels like the Heat are up 3-0 right now, the Bulls can easily come back to Chicago tied up at 2-2 with a win Tuesday.
First and foremost, the Bulls need Noah to show up to shore up that once-vaunted defense, which had held Miami to less than 90 the previous two games.
Miami shot 50.7 percent from the field. And while it didn't win the rebounding battle (Chicago had more, 41-32, thanks to Carlos Boozer's 17 and an overall 11-4 edge in the fourth when the Heat were shooting well), or the points in the paint (Bulls 36-32), it felt like Miami controlled everything. I was amazed it was close for so long.
Bosh led the way with a smooth 34 points on 13-for-18 shooting, and LeBron James controlled the tempo with 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Dwyane Wade didn't shoot well (6-for-17), but he scored 17 and grabbed nine rebounds.
"They're making shots," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have to get up and challenge their shots better. We have to finish our defense. The rebounding was good. Challenging their shots wasn't."
It was a three-point game going into the fourth, but the Heat closed it out 28-20, the second straight awful finish by Chicago.
"We feel like we had chances to win both of these games," said Boozer, who scored a team-high 26. "We are not frustrated to the point where we will not keep fighting, that's not our character. We are a tough-minded team, tough group of guys, and trust me, we will be right back at it in Game 4."
I believe Boozer, but watching the Heat's "big three" control the game again, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bulls go down in order the next two games. It feels like Miami wants it more and the Bulls, despite their solid bench, are outmanned.
"Everything that we're doing, they're making it tough for us," Noah said. "We've got to find a way."
The Bulls need to find a way and then someone to lead them. It can't always be Rose. It's time for Noah to grow up, step up and take charge, or he'll have a few more apologies to offer before his season is over.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.