As the seconds waned in the final game of February, the best month for the NY Knicks in years, center Nerlens Noel walked off the court exasperated. His legs wobbly and sweat dripping down his face – he still held his head up high.
He may be exhausted, but the unsung hero of the Knicks’ success can continue to hold his head high if he keeps performing like he did yesterday.
Nerlens Noel played 40 minutes of his team’s 109-90 shellacking of the Detroit Pistons – easily the most of any player on either team. It was the second straight night he played at least 40 minutes.
The towering center contributed four points, but his presence was felt on the defensive side of the ball. He instilled fear into his opponents – holding down the paint en route to 11 rebounds, three blocks, and three steals.
Knicks: How Nerlens Noel has Stepped Up
When budding star Mitchell Robinson went down February 13th with a fractured hand, Noel had to step up as the starting center. Now, with veteran Taj Gibson hurt with a sprained ankle – he’s having to step up as the only true center.
Noel has proved to be a key member of the Knicks’ redemption tour – helping the wheels stay on the bus when they very well could’ve fallen off. Instead of Robinson’s injury leading to a disappointing month, Noel helped the team to their best month since Carmelo Anthony was on the team.
The ‘Kentucky Knicks’ has been a running joke this season, as the team features a bevy of former Wildcats – including former assistant coach, Kenny Payne. Once upon a time, Noel was a revered member of Big Blue Nation – even the consensus number one pick of the NBA Draft.
Instead, Noel would be passed on – falling to sixth overall. He’s continually been overlooked in his NBA career because he doesn’t put up eye-popping offensive numbers – but what really sets him apart from other centers is his defensive ability.
Nerlens Noel made a living in the National Basketball Association with his defense, and coach Tom Thibodeau has helped him bring that prowess with him to New York. He’s been good for some rim-shaking dunks as well, but he’s at his best swatting spaldings into the seats.
“Thibs is my dog, man,” said Noel, after the Knicks’ victory. “You just look at him and you know what you got to do. He’s definitely an exceptional coach who gives you the energy you need to go out there and do your job.”
Noel was the recipient of MSG’s post-game interview after the victory against the Pistons, but technical difficulties didn’t allow us to hear from him. Still, Mike Breen asked him a simple question – “Are you tired?”
Noel shrugged, smiled, and tried to answer before realizing they couldn’t hear him. Thankfully, his play talked enough for him all night.