By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Wasn’t it nice to see a complete team win by the Bulls in their home opener Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies? There were few if any glaring things to complain about as far as team play and execution.
There is one major complaint about the coaching, though, and it’s not one that all of a sudden surfaced during the 104-64 Bulls blowout in front of a packed house at the United Center.
This is not the first time head coach Tom Thibodeau has left key players on the court too long in a game that was obviously in hand. I have no idea why, but Thibodeau really hates taking his foot off the throat of the opponent, which philosophically I have no problem with. Logically, though, when it comes to risking injuries to major contributors, I have a big problem with it.
The third quarter ended with the Bulls up by 40 points. The Grizzlies team bus had started its engine by then, and not a person in the building believed there was any chance the Bulls could lose the game. Luckily Thibodeau called off some of his biggest dogs in Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah. But he didn’t call off all of them.
Luol Deng, whom an argument can be made for being second in importance to the team only to Rose, was on the court for part of the fourth quarter for some reason. John Lucas III, Jimmy Butler, and Brian Scalabrine did not walk on the floor to start that quarter. Why?
I can’t run up and down the court twice without getting dizzy—much like Scalabrine—and five of me probably couldn’t have blown that lead (especially because Memphis decided they were just not going to make shots Sunday night with their 30.9% shooting from the field).
My worries came to fruition with the elbow injury C.J. Watson suffered on a hustle play in the fourth quarter. An MRI on that elbow Monday should reveal the extent of the injury and a timetable for the guard’s return, but expect several games to be missed. Watson is not a starter on this team, and he may not be a player that makes or breaks a championship contender, but he got hurt, and he did not need to be on the floor when that happened.
Watson’s importance lies in his ability to spell Rose, and he plays a similar game to Rose which often keeps the blood pumping while the reigning league MVP is on the bench. Now that replacement heart will be gone for a while, and while Lucas stepping in Sunday night and did some nice things in garbage time, forgive me if I don’t have faith in him to not splatter the blood all over the place. Lucas hadn’t touched the court until then for a reason, and I don’t care what Thibodeau or GM Gar Forman says about having faith in him (Forman certainly is on the phone with free agents as we speak).
Lucas ended up playing 10:16, and his minutes were only that many out of necessity. Butler and Scalabrine logged 5:36 each, and that is just ludicrous in such a lopsided game.
Again, Thibodeau has done this before in games that were obviously over with lots of time left. Save the Watson injury, he has avoided serious injuries to his players in the past, but that luck can only last so long. With a team that has the talent to go deep into the playoffs, having key guys on the floor when they shouldn’t be is a practice that will end up costing this team.
If Rose or Deng are lost for any significant period, the season is over. That’s a fact. If Boozer, Rip Hamilton, or Noah is lost, it will be mighty tough to contend for a title. Chicago fans have already seen how a team can go completely in the toilet with one injury. Why even take such a risk, coach?
Consider, too, that extra minutes played by major players in garbage time take some tread of their tires as the season goes on—especially with the weird schedule full many games in short periods of time. With the Miami Heat looking better than last year, the Bulls will need to be as fresh as possible in May.
And in a game like the Memphis one, players like Lucas and Butler should be getting time to see exactly what they bring to the team and what they are capable of — especially if called on in an emergency. And while I love him mostly for his kitsch factor and the fact that if he’s on the floor the victory cigars have been lit, what is the harm in playing Scalabrine for a whole quarter up by 40 against a team that checked out already?
I’m a Tom Thibodeau fan, and I think he’s a very good coach whose tenacity for perfection may be unmatched in the NBA. I just really hope my greatest fear for this team does not become reality due to that tenacity.