No excuses needed in Bulls’ latest loss, falling to undermanned Pacers
The Pacers were down Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis, and even with Zach LaVine scoring 43 for the Bulls, it was still another bad stumble for the home team.
Tom Thibodeau didn’t make excuses, and didn’t ask for them.
It was simply next-man up for the former Bulls coach.
No Derrick Rose? Nate Robinson, step up. Luol Deng getting a spinal tap? Still go out and upset Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs.
In the end, the Bulls front office twisted that mentality against Thibodeau, insisting he had a championship-caliber team in that 2014-15 campaign, and wanted no excuses when it underachieved. Of course that roster proved to be anything but championship-caliber the next year under Fred Hoiberg, not even making the playoffs, despite having many of the same faces, but the precedent was set.
It’s a precedent that can’t be walked back now.
With Otto Porter Jr. sidelined for most of this season so far with a fractured left foot, Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle) is the second starter to drop out with an injury, possibly missing the next four-to-six weeks.
The second game without Carter? Another disappointing loss to an undermanned Indiana team on Friday, as the Bulls fell 116-105, making Zach LaVine’s 43 points more empty calories.
So yeah, the excuses better stay to a minimum.
“First of all, I don’t talk that way,’’ coach Jim Boylen said, when asked about making sure the entire locker room stayed away from the woes-me attitude. “We don’t dwell on those things. I’ve said it before, that when a guy gets hurt I feel for the guy. The team needs to move on, work, and fill that hole the best they can. That’s what we talk about – how do we fill that hole?
“What we would like to do this year is have a consistent style of play, so when those things happen there’s no excuse of, ‘Well, we can’t play the way we used to play.’ We’ve changed that. That’s a positive thing. I’m not talking talent vs. talent here, I’m just talking style of play. That’s a big deal.’’
The problem is that Boylen was hanging his hat on still keeping that defensive-style of play intact, and then building up from there – with or without Carter – but the coach has also been dealing with somewhat of a mirage on that end of the ball.
Yes, the defensive efficiency has been as high as fifth-best in the league recently, with the Bulls focusing on steals and taking possessions away from the opposing team. But when looking at the other key aspects of a good defense, even Boylen had to admit that his team still had a ways to go.
The three-guard attack has left the frontcourt small and exposed, with the Bulls 28th in rebound differential (minus 3.5 per game), while ranked 18th in field goal percentage for the opposition (45.7 percent).
The Pacers (24-15) exploited all of that, outrebounding the home team 46-36, and then scoring freely in the paint, finishing with a 57.1 field goal percentage.
And yes, LaVine was an offensive juggernaut, but his defense again betrayed him late when he failed to box-out T.J. Warren with 1:41 left in the game and down just six, then missed a three, and while he was complaining about what he felt was a foul, fell asleep on Aaron Holiday’s driving layup.
Even Boylen agreed the face of the organization has to be locked in for all 48 minutes of the game.
“I’ll just tell you this: I’m not going to share all my conversations I have with him, but the ones I do have with him he is very conscience of [moments like that],’’ Boylen said of LaVine. “He understands that his ability to score and play the game at an elite level is going to be defined by winning too. And he gets that, so we’ll look at those plays and we’ll coach our way through it.’’