Thibodeau's benching of Noah shouldn't be overblown

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Thibodeau's benching of Noah shouldn't be overblown

When Joakim Noah exited Saturday nights Bulls 85-82 overtime home loss to the Grizzlies at the 5:53 mark of the third quarter, a reasonable assumption was that he would return later in the period.
When that didnt happen, as a unit featuring Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer up front thrived, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus decision to ride that group made sense, especially as the home team made a fourth quarter push. Still, whether it was to give Boozer or Gibson a break, add some length on the defensive end, an additional rebounding presence, an offensive playmaker or simply some fresh legs, as time went by in the final stanza, it was puzzling that Noah remained glued to the bench.
But it could be overlooked as the Bulls clawed their way back into the contest and sent the game into an extra session, as nobody could argue that whatever magic the quintet on the court which also included backup point guard Nate Robinson, reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli and second-year swingman Jimmy Butler, who replaced the injured Luol Deng in the starting lineup had, it was working. However, when Gibson fouled out of the game with 39.1 seconds remaining in overtime and Thibodeau inserted backup center Nazr Mohammed, who hadnt played a minute all evening, it was clear that something was up.
More: Bulls lose to Grizzlies at home in overtime
Just a coachs decision, Thibodeau explained afterwards, before confirming that Noah, who scored 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the opening period, had no health issues. Hes fine.
Noah wasnt around in the locker room to give his take on the situation, but the strong-willed center and the strong-willed coach, who both want to win as badly as any two people youll come across in the NBA, clearly dont see eye-to-eye. It might not be a lingering situation, as theyre both more concerned with on-court success than dragging out any perceived player-coach feud, but it wasnt the first, nor will it be the last time Thibodeau sits a key player for an extended amount of time, nor was Noah expressing his frustration during the course of a game, as was witnessed Saturday, an anomaly.
Hes done that before with other guys, Carlos Boozer, himself someone who knows all too well that Thibodeau will sit any player remember Derrick Rose, albeit coming back from injury, getting benched in favor of a hot-shooting C.J. Watson, in a home win over Miami last season, let alone Gibson and the departed Omer Asik playing ahead of Boozer and Noah? said. When a team is rolling, he keeps that team in there. That was the case tonight. We fought back and he just left that group in.
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Taj Gibson chimed in: You never really know. Thibs just wants effort. Theres no excuses. Youve just got to go out there and do your job. Thats the one thing about our team. Were not an excuse kind of team. Were not going to act that way because we understand that it takes all of us as a whole to get through and make it to the playoffs. Its just one game. Theres plenty more games to go. I know were a team. Were sticking together.
I thought Noah was just so amped up to play in the game, but youve just got to go with whatever Thibodeau feels and learn from it, and keep pushing. I think Joakims been doing a great job all year long and hes going to continue to learn from this game, and keep pushing, he continued. It just didnt go his way a couple of times, a couple bad calls. But its not about him getting frustrated. He has to keep working through it. Thats with me being his teammate and I know thats what the rest of us are going to say. Weve just got to keep working our way through it and hold him down.
Between me, him, Carlos and Nazr, we all talk on the bench and tell him to stay with the same mentality. Just keep being aggressive, play your game, dont worry about the refs and just do your job. Youre doing a phenomenal job. No matter how many bad calls you get, youve just got to keep playing.
Noahs teammates arent concerned because behind the scenes, theyve seen this occur before, an inevitability with people as passionate as Noah and Thibodeau. But Saturday night, due to the Bulls loss to an excellent Memphis team, playing without their leading scorer in Deng and in their third consecutive overtime game, the first time thats happened to an NBA team since the 2006-07 campaign it will be magnified, for all the wrong reasons.
However, what can be examined is Thibodeaus praise of the group that led the Bulls ultimately-failed comeback. Obviously not all of the following can be attributed to Noah, but in typical Thibodeau fashion, a subliminal message can be parsed.
The hole got bigger and the group that went in there sort of battled back, so we were just riding it out, seeing if we could find a way to creep back into it and have a chance to win it in the end, the coach said. We have to be better, were capable of doing better and that being said, all it came down to was we had to make a free throw.
Just the spirit of the group, the fight, guarded people, organized. We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in and thats the way they play credit to them and you have to stay disciplined. You cant allow frustration to take you away from what youre trying to get done out there. Its one of those things where youve got to keep battling and battling and battling. In the end, whatevers necessary, thats what you have to do to win. You have to get in the fight, its physical and you cant get thrown around. When youre getting smacked, you still have to get your job done, Thibodeau continued. You name it. No defense, turnovers, poor execution. One thing led to another. Floor balance. When we made them feel our pressure, they had a hard time and when they made us feel their pressure, we have to respond better.
Knowing Noah, whether those words are delivered to him verbatim or not probably not, knowing Thibodeau, who uses much saltier language behind closed doors the message will be received and because of the centers unique motor, in the end, things will take a turn for the better very soon. Because when it comes to two competitors like the center and his coach, things might not always be rosy, but they both desire the same results.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."