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Noah a pain who’s got game

CHICAGO – If you like Joakim Noah – as Celtics coach Doc Rivers does – that’s fine with Noah. If you don’t like him – as was the case with many Bulls fans during most of his first two seasons with the team – well, that’s fine with Noah, too.

“That’s not what I play for,” Noah said Tuesday, when he grabbed 16 rebounds in the Bulls’ crucial 101-93 victory against the Boston Celtics.

“I was raised by my father and mother to never be afraid to express yourself and to be who you are. I’m always myself. Some people don’t like it, and some people like it. Either way, I really don’t care.”

Noah does care about making the playoffs – saying the season will be a bust if the Bulls fail to do so – and he knows better than most what a good postseason series can do for a player.

A high-energy guy with little offensive game, Noah was best known for being an outspoken flake with crazy hair. Then he wore out the Celtics last spring with his aggressive rebounding and hustle. The Celtics prevailed in an epic, seven-game series that included four overtime games.

Noah said the experience helped him become the player he is this season: a valuable rebounding machine, shot-blocker and hard worker. If All-Star Derrick Rose is the Bulls’ No. 1 player, Noah has to be No. 1A.

When Noah missed 10 games because of plantar fasciitis from Feb. 27 to March 19, the Bulls went 0-10. He is averaging 10.9 rebounds – and his numbers would be more impressive if not for the injury.

Rivers called Noah one of his five favorite NBA players.

“He plays with the spirit you wish every high school, college and pro played,” Rivers said. “He’s far more skilled than anybody gives him credit for. He’s the closest to Dennis Rodman that I’ve seen. Everybody gets caught up in the antics and you take your eye off what he does on the floor. He’s a pain in the butt to play against.”

Doc pays tab: Rivers’ son, Austin, is a big-time recruit who is considering Duke, North Carolina and Florida. He isn’t considering DePaul even though new Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell and Doc Rivers are good friends.

Doc had dinner with Purnell on Monday night. A potential recruiting violation?

“I bought dinner,” Rivers said, “so it was legal.”

Block party: The Bulls blocked six shots Tuesday and are averaging 5.83 – tied with Oklahoma City for best in the NBA. The Bulls never have led the league in blocks. Both teams have one game to play.

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