PHILADELPHIA – The Bulls’ last line of defense was C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. It’s not a collection of talent that would inspire epic poetry.
Those five were there for a variety of reasons, few of them good. Watson was playing because Derrick Rose had a torn knee ligament, in the same way Asik was manning the center position because Joakim Noah had a badly sprained ankle. Gibson was on the floor because Carlos Boozer’s shooting had gone arctic. Brewer was there for his defensive abilities, and Deng was there because, well, a team has to have at least one guy who can score, right?
You’re not going to win with that lineup in the NBA playoffs. You’re just not. As much as we all want heart to count for a lot, it can’t make up for a lack of talent.
The Bulls looked like a worn-down, exhausted team Thursday in a 79-78 loss. Andre Iguodala drove the length of the floor, was fouled by Asik and sank two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to help send the 76ers to the second round of the playoffs.
What does a 4-2 series loss mean? It means that the Bulls are ordinary without Rose, but it goes deeper than that. It means there needs to be change. Not “a change,” as in the coach needs to go. But “change,” as in evolution, growth and please stop running your players into the ground, Tom Thibodeau.
In the days and weeks to come, we’re going to hear a strain of coach-speak that has been passed down from generation to generation. Most of us can recite it from memory: You always go over everything in the offseason and see where you can improve.
“I think you go back and evaluate everything,” Thibodeau said late Thursday.
But this is so obvious it doesn’t require contemplation. Thibs needs to lose his Bullheadedness.
He’s a very good coach who seems to be beholden to an approach that doesn’t serve his team well over a long, tough NBA season. Let’s be clear: The Bulls’ playoff collapse is not all his fault, though plenty of us thought Rose shouldn’t have been anywhere near the floor with the Bulls up 12 late in Game 1.
No matter what Thibodeau says to the contrary, the Bulls didn’t have enough to win with in this series.
“The last two years, we haven’t been healthy at the right moment,” Boozer said. “I think we’ve got the ingredients in here. We just got to be healthy at the right time.”
Thibs needs an intervention. He needs to walk into a room and listen to Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson and Gar Forman tell him that he can’t keep treating every regular-season game as if it’s Game 7 between Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Detroit’s Bad Boys.
The response to those of us in the rest-Rose camp is always the same: Take a look at other stars’ minutes or even Jordan’s minutes during his prime and you’ll see that Rose’s playing time is very similar.
That’s wonderful, but I don’t recall Jordan ever going through six injuries in one season, the way Rose did this year. It could be that we have a young star who is dancing on the edge of being injury-prone.
The call for change from Thibodeau is not simply a reaction to Rose’s torn knee ligament in Game 1. Some of us watched Rose deal with nagging injury after nagging injury this season and said Thibs needs to mellow out. He didn’t listen. The thing we liked about the coach – the basketball lifer who knows only one gear – wasn’t so likeable anymore.
Having a No. 1 seed two years in a row doesn’t mean a whole lot when your team is dragging in the playoffs. That has been the case both seasons.
The Bulls didn’t have enough to win, and Thibodeau has to ask the guy in the mirror why that was.