You set yourself up for this.
It seems like after Saturday’s incident on the United Center floor, the spin control has been in full force. The team. The media. Other teams. All leaping to the defense of Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau. The game wasn’t over, they said. It’s just bad luck, they said. So I’ll take it upon myself, as somehow a member of the sports media world, to say…bull.
Tom Thibodeau is a fantastic head coach. He should win his second straight Coach of the Year award for taking this injury-plagued roster to the best record in the league. But in his two years as head coach, one flaw has proved very apparent…his unwillingness to look forward.
In a year that has proven to be a nightmare come to life around the NBA, Thibodeau failed to adapt. A compact, 66-game season led to a rash of injuries never seen before in the league. Lack of conditioning combined with a truncated schedule, and guys like John Lucas III became prominent members of contenders. But the stubborn Thibodeau didn’t acclimate to his surroundings. In a season where pacing yourself was key, Coach Thibs rushed his stars back from injury and played them extended minutes in games that didn’t require their services. He put so much stock in the present, he could not see what was needed in the future. It’s his one flaw, and it will prove fatal for this year’s (and maybe next year’s) Bulls.
In a season that required one to pace themselves, a microcosm of the season appeared in Game 1 against Philadelphia. Sixers coach Doug Collins had conceded the game. Spencer Hawes, Jodie Meeks, Lavoy Allen, and their combined eleven points were playing down the stretch when they trailed by a dozen. Elton Brand was done. Andre Iguodala was on the bench. Collins was looking forward to Game 2. He was looking ahead, because this is a playoff series, and you have to do that to succeed. Game 1 WAS OVER. No “anything can happen” situation. No Clippers-like comeback was in store. Game 1 was done. But there was Rose, on the court with three other starters, finishing out the victory. For pride? To not show anyone up? Why, exactly?
“He’s gotta play,” Thibodeau said. “He’s gotta work on closing. He’s gotta work on finishing.”
No, Tom. He doesn’t. He’s closed out games in the past. He’s won games in the past. There’s no learning curve here. The only aspect of the game Rose needs to learn is how to control himself better. How to reel himself in and look at the bigger picture. But that’s not going to happen, since Tom Thibodeau doesn’t believe in that.
I hope you found some things to build off of in the final couple of seconds, Tom. He won’t be able to work on closing until January. And who knows how Rose will be when he returns. For a players as explosive as he, not having a healthy ACL may hinder that ability, wouldn't you say?
The injury is bad luck. Rose landed awkwardly in the lane and tore his ACL. But in sports, you set yourself up for luck, good or bad. It’s why I’ve screamed from the rooftops for the Milwaukee Bucks to miss the postseason; to at least put themselves in a position to have good luck. Tom Thibodeau put the Bulls in a position to have bad luck. And it happened. It’s very difficult to tear an ACL sitting on the bench cheering on John Lucas III.
The Bulls should still move past Philly. They may even have the capabilities to beat an Atlanta or Boston in Round 2. That’s assuming Luol Deng doesn’t rip his wrist off late in the 4th with the Bulls up 20. But their title dreams are done. All because “he’s gotta play.” You okay with that, Bulls fans? Derrick Rose is done until Christmas because HE’S GOTTA PLAY.
It’s on you, Tom Thibodeau.
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