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Joakim Noah’s return shows Knicks he can be big help

Veteran center comes in late against Pelicans and brings strong defense to help secure rare road victory on Saturday.

Joakim Noah #13 of the New York Knicks

Joakim Noah #13 of the New York Knicks stands during a time out against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 27, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Knicks 92-87. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel

Joakim Noah’s season totals read more like what the Knicks hoped he would give them per game.

Ten points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks; that’s the extent of his contributions this season. But he gave the Knicks important minutes Saturday night and helped them end 2017 with a 105-103 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

“My situation, I’ve been through a lot,” Noah said. “What it’s telling me is appreciate every moment I get to play out there. To be able to play in the fourth quarter, competing against the best players in the world and getting a much-needed ‘W’ and being a part of it, feels great.”

The win sent the Knicks into 2018 with an 18-18 record, far better than expected in a rebuilding year.

No one knew what to expect from Noah or if he could rebuild his career this season. It’s no secret that he hasn’t lived up to the four-year, $72-million contract former team president Phil Jackson gave him in the summer of 2016. He has spent the bulk of his Knicks career injured, suspended or inactive.

Noah, 32, was suspended for the first 12 games of the season as he finished serving his 20-game sentence from last season for taking a banned performance-enhancing substance. By the time Noah returned, Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn had established themselves as the Knicks’ center tandem.

Noah has been active only 10 times and has appeared in five games. The former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year has more games inactive (14) than he has rebounds. One bothered him more than the others: Wednesday’s game in Chicago, where the Knicks opened their three-game trip with a tough loss.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you not being able to suit up in a place where I played for 10 years doesn’t sting,” Noah said. “It hurts a lot. It’s not about me. It’s about trying to help be the best I can for this team.”

To Noah’s credit, he didn’t let that pain linger.

Jeff Hornacek activated him for the Pelicans game because of New Orleans’ size, but he didn’t get in the game until 35 seconds remained in the third quarter. O’Quinn had picked up his fifth foul and Kanter hadn’t been effective against DeMarcus Cousins.

Noah played the last 12:35 and finished with four points, four rebounds and four fouls. He set hard screens and played physical defense.

“He’s a veteran guy,” Hornacek said. “Cousins is a tough guy to guard with his size. Jo’s battled him for years. We felt pretty comfortable putting him in. He did a great job helping defensively, getting back. That’s an energy-lifter that we have on our team.”

Noah’s dunk started a game-ending 14-4 run for the Knicks. He also assisted on Kristaps Porzingis’ basket in the final minute. “Joakim Noah was phenomenal,” said Jarrett Jack, whose two free throws with 9.1 seconds left broke a 103-103 tie. “He gave us the energy and the boost that we needed.”

Unless there is an injury or the Knicks trade one of their centers, Noah likely will remain in his current role. His contract — two years and $37.8 million left after this season — makes him virtually immovable.

At this point, the Knicks have no plans to buy out Noah or use the stretch provision in his contract. If they did it after the season, he would be on the Knicks’ books for $7.56 million for the next five years. Something like that likely wouldn’t happen unless the Knicks needed to free up cap room immediately to sign a player.

There are people in the organization who think Noah can help them win some games this season. He just has to wait for his chance. “Everybody here wants to play,’’ Noah said. “As a player, I can only control what I can control. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. I try to be as ready as possible so when my number is called, I’m ready. It’s not an easy task sitting there until the fourth quarter and wait until your number is called. I’m happy I was able to contribute.”

New York Sports