NEW YORK—Tom Thibodeau aired a list of grievances about his team’s embarrassingly poor performance in Saturday night’s playoff opener, a 106-89 defeat at the hands of the Nets at the Barclays Center in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“At the end of the first, they hit us with a haymaker, got us back on our heels, so end of the first, second quarter, poor defense, poor intensity, poor energy on offense. Can’t win like that,” he listed. “From A to Z, A to Z. Defensive transition, middle penetration, poor paint protection, poor help, poor on-the-ball technique, lack of a multiple-effort mentality. You name them.”
Seems like he just did.
But while he could certainly name a litany of problems the Bulls experienced in the blowout loss, the biggest issue appeared to be an apparent lack of competitiveness, something not often displayed by a Thibodeau-coached team, particularly at this point in the season.
With players shuffling in and out of the lineup all year, it almost feels like the Bulls got accustomed to being undermanned and having to survive on short-handed rotations, and now that they’re relatively healthy once again—as far as bodies, if not clean bills of health to a man—the minutes distribution and overall on-court cohesion are a work in progress.
“You can use that as excuse, just as you can when you lose guys and you have new guys coming in, and you have the old guys coming back and there’s change. It’s how quickly you can adapt to those changes and so, we have to respond a lot better than we did today. Obviously it’s good to have Jo back and it’s good to have depth, but the question becomes, ‘How sharp are we going to be?’ and we have to get that corrected quickly. But it wasn’t any one particular player or one particular thing. It was an all-around thing, so my job is to have them ready, to have the intensity right and I have to get that corrected,” Thibodeau said.
“My job is to make sure they’re ready and we have the right intensity. We do have moving parts right now. That being said, when the ball goes up, you’ve got to be ready to go and the only way you’re going to be ready to go is if you have great concentration, you know your opponent well and you give maximum effort. If we ease into it and then we react after we’re in a hole, it’s too late and you can’t do that against this team. This is a great first-quarter team, great first-half team. We have to be ready at the start.”
Thibodeau’s players also refused to use the aforementioned theory as an excuse.
“It’s been us all year. At times, it affects you. It’s hard to be consistent. But we’ve been through that all year,” said All-Star Luol Deng, who struggled against Nets counterpart Gerald Wallace, scoring six points on 3-for-11 shooting. “The game kind of got out of hand and we started rushing shots, and it affects all of us when we start playing that way. We’ve just got to do a better job of making sure it’s a closer game and I feel we’ll shoot the ball better.”
But more than anything, the Bulls’ lack of intensity was most glaring.
Aside from Carlos Boozer, who seems to torch Brooklyn offensively every time out, nobody could truly get it going. But unlike other nights, when their defensive intensity and collective determination compensates for periodic offensive droughts, they simply couldn’t muster up enough grit to make it the blue-collar type of game that they thrive on.
“Obviously I’m disappointed in the way we played tonight, but this is what it’s all about. We’ve dealt with adversity all year and we got smacked in the face, and it’s on us to bounce back,” Joakim Noah, who struggled in his surprise start. “I feel like it’s more us, the way we played. We played so poorly. We didn’t play well offensively. We didn’t execute. Playoffs are all about executing. We didn’t execute the defensive game plan, we didn’t execute the offensive game plan, so we’ll watch film tomorrow and we’ll definitely come out with a better effort on Monday.”
[MORE: Bulls throttled by Nets in Game 1]
Taj Gibson, who was saddled with foul trouble, chimed in: “Just the intensity. We got punched in the mouth early. It was kind of hard because once a team like that gets rolling, it’s kind of hard to shut them off. We kept battling back, but tough plays here and there.
“We’ve got to understand, it’s basically a new season. It’s much harder, much more physical,” he continued. “We’ve just got to adjust and play a lot better defense. Our defense was terrible tonight.
“It was a lot of easy baskets and in playoff basketball, that can’t happen. We’ve got to be a lot more physical,” Gibson went on to say. “But it’s one game, we have to adjust and get ready for the next one.”
Losing the first game of a playoff series is no time to overreact and even without the services of Derrick Rose—sitting on the bench for only the second time all season, in street clothes—these Bulls have the talent and more importantly, the resiliency to respond and then rise to the occasion.
The question is, after a season in which they've beaten the odds for so long, do they have the energy to do it again?