By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) – A day after a disastrous final 20 seconds led to a 92-90 loss to the Bucks in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference first-round series, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau defended his decision to not call a timeout on his team’s final possession, which with a defensive-minded lineup on the floor resulted in a turnover that preceded Milwaukee’s game-winning shot at the horn.
With about 20 seconds left Saturday in a 90-all tie, Bulls big man Taj Gibson rebounded a Jerryd Bayless miss. Gibson passed to point guard Derrick Rose near the Bulls bench, where Thibodeau initially signaled for a timeout. After the officials didn’t see him, though, Thibodeau waved his hands, a motion to tell Rose to just go and hold for the final shot. He had ample time to still get the officials’ attention, if he so chose.
With less than five seconds left, Rose drove to his left, but with so much defensive attention on him, he had the ball stolen by Khris Middleton. The Bucks then took a timeout with 1.3 seconds left and won on a Bayless layup at the buzzer.
Often, the decision to call a timeout or not can be justified on either side. The problem for the Bulls in this case was that Thibodeau had used an offense/defense substitution approach in the final minute. He smartly had Joakim Noah, Gibson and Kirk Hinrich on the floor to stop the Bucks on their possession.
Then puzzlingly, he left Noah, Gibson and Hinrich on the floor as better offensive players in Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy looked on from the bench. The Bucks absolutely swarmed Rose on the play.
Thibodeau indicated he went with his gut. Chicago had one timeout remaining.
“Derrick, in those situations, he’s won a lot of games with that type of play,” Thibodeau said. “He had just scored (on a 3-pointer a few possessions earlier), and I felt like we’ll take a shot at it.”
Asked specifically about the offensive-minded trio of Gasol, Mirotic and Dunleavy sitting, Thibodeau didn’t give any ground. The trio had just helped the Bulls rally from down six points with 65 seconds left.
“Hingsight’s 20/20,” Thibodeau said. “I also didn’t want the defense to get set. I thought we had a chance to crack them, and it didn’t work out. Next time, hopefully it will be different.”
Bucks’ blitzing pays dividends
In his nine-minute media session Sunday afternoon, Thibodeau was defensive about more than just the final sequences. He disagreed with the idea that the aggressive Bucks defend the Bulls differently than most teams, which several Chicago players have referenced.
The Bucks are consistently double-teaming Gasol, and they’ve blitzed a number of pick-and-rolls initiated by Rose, believing their speed and long limbs can make up for the 4-on-3 disadvantage behind the ball. It worked Saturday, as the Bucks forced the Bulls into a season-high 28 turnovers.
“They’re blitzing,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve seen plenty of blitzes before, so that’s not anything new. They’re switching the small-small. That’s not new. We’re seeing more post double teams than usual, but usually when a post guy gets hot, he gets doubled. That’s not new.”
In Saturday’s postgame, Thibodeau indicated the Bulls held on to the ball too long, but he didn’t sound concerned Sunday. Dunleavy was a little more expansive.
“That in theory is what we’re trying to do – make that ball move, get it out of the double team and take advantage of 4-on-3 on the weak side or wherever that may be,” Dunleavy said.
“We’ve had trouble getting it in there (to the post). We’ve had turnovers there. And then making that first pass out, we’ve had some issues. And then lastly, when it does get out, are we making the next pass? Or are we trying to dribble into the paint and get caught in traffic and turning it over? That really sums it up.”
The Bulls watched film of all 28 turnovers they made, Dunleavy said.
“You turn it over 28 times, there’s some pretty amazing ways to do it,” Dunleavy said. “At some point, you start becoming creative.”
Bulls “fine” on health front
Health-wise, the Bulls are “fine” for Game 5 on Monday at the United Center, Thibodeau said. Chicago leads the series 3-1.
Dunleavy had a big pad on his right elbow after Sunday’s practice, saying he got banged up but will be good for Monday. Nikola Mirotic returned from a strained quadriceps to play 20 minutes Saturday, and he “should be” available for Game 5, Thibodeau said.
In his second game back from a hyperextended left knee, Kirk Hinrich played just 38 seconds in Game 4. That was a matchup-based decision, Thibodeau said.
“He’s fully healthy,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll see how it unfolds. It’s more situational right now.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.