Before his team bulldozed the Toronto Raptors 110-93, before news broke that the Raptor he dreaded most, Andrea Bargnani, would be sitting out with a sore left knee, Chicago Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau spoke about the inexact science of playing through pain.
"You know, there's a difference between being hurt and being injured," Thibodeau said at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. "If they're hurting, we want them to play. If they're injured, we want them to sit."
He wasn't speaking about Bargnani. He meant his own two hurting stars, who soldiered on despite their serious ailments.
Joakim Noah, the Bulls' 6-11 starting centre, revealed late Wednesday that he is scheduled to undergo surgery on his right thumb.
"It sucks. It's not what I want, but I've been playing through it for a couple weeks now and I've got to get back to playing at a high level," a dejected Noah said after the game, adding that he didn't know when he'd be cleared to return. A Chicago Tribune report citing team officials said it could be as many as 10 weeks.
Noah contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday after team doctors determined he could do no further damage to the injury, which has bothered him for weeks. "Every time I throw a pass, every time I dribble, it hurts," he said.
Then there was the Bulls' starting point guard Derrick Rose, an All-Star who took a huge tumble in the Bulls' previous matchup, flipping over Indiana Pacers' Brandon Rush on a dive, spraining his right wrist, bruising his right elbow and tweaking his left ankle. Rose vowed to play against Toronto even as he was iced and attended to by therapists the day before. He scored only six points, but guided his team with 11 assists on Wednesday.
"They're both mentally tough, physically tough, and they'll keep going," Thibodeau said of his players who helped the Bulls' (16-8) to their seventh straight win of the season.
With their second straight loss, the Raptors are now 9-17.
With Bargnani sitting courtside in a navy blue suit, rookie forward Ed Davis got his first start of his professional career. "I'm just going to come in and do what I do and try to help the team," Davis said before the game.
The opportunity came on a night when the Raptors faced one of the most powerful front courts in the league.
A charging Carlos Boozer added a game- and season-high 34 points, contributing 20 points and eight rebounds in the first half to steer the Bulls to a 19-point lead. The Bulls also dominated the boards, pulling in 13 rebounds to the Raptors' six in the first half, and 28-19 total.
Davis was paired up against Noah most of the night, and Raptors coach Jay Triano seemed happy with his defensive effort. "NO! That's called straight up!" Triano shouted at a referee who called Davis for his first personal foul against Boozer. To Davis he added: "Good job."
Davis contributed 10 rebounds and 10 points, including a satisfying dunk early in the game.
Doctors assessed Bargnani's knees on Wednesday night. "I'm not sure what their next step of action will be after that," Triano said before the game.
The knees had been bothering Toronto's leading scorer for a while, Triano said, which might explain why his 23-point effort against the Charlotte Bobcats the night before seemed so listless. "It was hard for me to assess that [Tuesday]because I know that it's been bothering him for a while. It's tough, it was bothering him when he had 41 against the Knicks, too. It's just the degree of pain and degree of instability there," Triano said.
Raptors starting point guard Jose Calderone also missed his fourth consecutive game (left foot), as did Reggie Evans (broken right foot), and Peja Stojakovic (left knee).
On a night when his team was short-handed down low, it didn't help that Amir Johnson earned two personal fouls in the first quarter (he finished with a measly two points and three rebounds in 20 minutes). Joey Dorsey stepped in with a respectable 12 points and game-high 13 rebounds in 29 minutes.
The Raptors also had trouble finding the basket, shooting about 40 per cent for most of the night, compared to the Bulls who were 52.5 for the night. Leandro Barbosa was the team's leading scorer with 21 points in 13 shot attempts. Point guard Jerryd Bayless added 20.
The game Wednesday marked the first of four at home, with the Raptors hosting the New Jersey Nets on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.