Bulls take over No. 3 seed; Pau Gasol says minutes aren’t issue

SHARE Bulls take over No. 3 seed; Pau Gasol says minutes aren’t issue

Nikola Mirotic holds up his fingers after hitting a three-point shot against the Raptors on Saturday. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Pau Gasol knows a few things about playing heavy minutes.

The Bulls big man knows they weren’t a concern for him and his teammates in the 108-92 lopsided win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, and he also knows that there has been way too much made of the minutes watch across the league the past few seasons.

That’s why he had no problem speaking out about it before the Bulls took over the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and had even less problem defending Tom Thibodeau and the way the coach has paced the team.

“People make a big deal out of it,’’ Gasol said. “We have players that play a substantial amount of minutes, but we also have a deep team with guys that prove that they can play at a high level when given the opportunity.

“You got to let the coach a little bit do their job, do his job, and manage the team. I think that’s what Tom is trying to do to the best of his abilities.’’

It’s not like Gasol was speaking out of turn, either.

The veteran big man won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers putting in 37 minutes a night under then-coach Phil Jackson, and played alongside a future Hall of Famer in Kobe Bryant who clocked in over 40 minutes a game in five of his 19 seasons.

“Coaching and managing a team is a challenging job, and everything looks easier from the outside,’’ Gasol said. “We all have an opinion on how we would do things, but that’s not our job. Again, I think it is made into a little bit of a bigger issue than it needs to be.’’

It was actually a non-issue in the latest win at the United Center.

Joakim Noah met his minutes restrictions, playing 32:21 and falling just two points short of a triple-double, scoring eight points, with 10 rebounds and 14 assists, while Taj Gibson returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a sprained left ankle to play 10 minutes off the bench.

Then again, as long as rookie Nikola Mirotic continues his current hot streak, it seems life is easier for the entire rotation.

With the Bulls (42-28) trailing 19-15 with 4:03 left in the first, in came Mirotic and Gibson, and there went an 11-0 run over the next three minutes. A run that Toronto (41-28) never really seemed to recover from.

Mirotic finished with a game-high 29 points and 11 rebounds, and has now scored at least 25 points in three straight games.

“Just a continuation of what he’s been doing,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s scoring the ball so easily, and he’s playing the three, the four, he’s doing it so many different ways, too. And it just opens up the floor for everyone else. And his defense, he had four blocks [Friday]. He’s doing a really good job.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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