After a pair of devastating home losses in the first two games of their first-round playoff series against the Wizards, one might expect the Bulls to be in a state of disbelief, frustration or dejection. But other than some players sitting out—such as Jimmy Butler, who played all 53 minutes of Tuesday night’s loss at the United Center—after Wednesday afternoon’s practice, they insisted that all was well.
“This is the playoffs. We’ve been down before. You have to approach it the same way. Sometimes things are going your way. Sometimes they’re not. You have to work your way out of things,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have a lot of guys who have played well in the fourth quarter all year. As I said, it’s a make-or-miss league. If a guy is taking his shot and he’s open and it doesn’t go in, you’re not going to tell him not to take it. We’re capable. Just move on.”
“We have to do it collectively. And that’s really what we’ve done. When we lost Derrick and we lost Luol, that’s the makeup of our team. But we have more than enough to win with. We’ve done it all year and I have the belief we can do it again,” he went on to explain. “Just concentrate on the next game. You can’t get wrapped up in the first two games other than you want to learn from what happened. Get ready for the next one. Don’t look ahead. That’s the way we’ve approached it all season. We’re not changing now.”
Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson claimed that Thibodeau relayed the same message to his players behind closed doors.
“Just finish. We’ve got to finish games. We watched the film, it came down to we were like a fingernail short every time. Guys were diving for the balls, scrambling around, and they just made some great plays, playoff-style basketball I guess. He just said you got to keep going harder, and we just got to make adjustments. But it all comes down to the effort and energy. We can’t start games off in a 29-12 hole. We got to go about it the right way. You look at the way we played earlier in the year, and every time we started off the game bad it kind of hurts us, but we got to start it off the right way. We have to learn how to finish games. We’re a good road team and we’re looking forward to that task, and looking forward to coming in and getting the win,” Gibson explained. “[Washington is] a hungry team. The thing about it, though, is it’s a 12-round fight every time. They go up, we go up, but the way they start the games off, the way they finish them, especially on defense, getting loose balls, scramble plays, rugged-basketball kind of style, that’s kind of our style if you think about it. They’ve been making great players, and have had players step up and make slight, ticky-tack plays that help sway the game their way.
“We’ve been one of those teams where our bandwagon has always been empty. We’re not really worried about that. We only believe in what our locker room thinks. We believe in the higher cause. We’re going to put that forth and go ahead and try and get a win. We can’t really worry about what people think. If that’s the case, we would have been worrying about the next lottery pick, worrying about where we’re going for the summer, a lot of things, so right now, we’re just focused on the task at hand. We still have two more games in front of us that we’ve got to just get wins. Like Coach said, it’s the first team to four,” he continued. “We can’t really think like that [as if they have no room for error], really. When you start thinking like that you start questioning yourself, you start questioning your jumpers, you’re questioning your rebounding, you’re questioning your whole team mentality. Everything like that is behind us. You got to rock with what you got. You’ve got to play with whoever is out there on the court. Like you said, the room for error is short. We had a lot of mistakes in that fourth quarter, a lot of turnovers that we normally don’t make. A lot of things happened in that fourth quarter that really don’t happen for us, like turnovers, missed free throws, blown shots. The fourth quarter is where we normally get excited and they’ve just been taking advantage of us.”
Gibson baffled by late-game sequence
In the final minute of regulation Tuesday, Gibson rebounded a Kirk Hinrich missed to retain possession for the Bulls, then tracked down a D.J. Augustin miss with 10.5 seconds left, appearing to secure the loose ball on the floor and call timeout. Instead, the official closest to the play, Bennie Adams, ruled it was a jump ball, despite Gibson being the only player with clear possession of the ball.
“We looked at the film. We saw the jump ball. That was crazy. But the loose ball, I called three timeouts. I had it, nobody else was around me. D.J. called it a couple times. We had a lot of guys in his face. He just didn’t give us the timeout,” Gibson recounted, who added that Adams didn’t offer any explanation of his decision. “I was yelling, ‘Timeout.’ I yelled it three different times in his face. He’s looking right me saying it. He just called a jump ball.”
Then, on the jump ball, Wizards’ big man Nene appeared to discard Gibson to win the tip and while a shot by All-Star point guard John Wall at the buzzer didn’t fall, Washington would go on to win in the extra session.
“Yeah, I felt like it was a lot of activity. He just pushed out of the way. I didn’t know you could do that. But you learn something new every day,” an animated Gibson said. “Can you do that? He took my whole arm and just threw me. So I didn’t know that was legal and you look at the film, he hits Join the face while he does it. So I don’t know what to say.”
According to a source, the Bulls’ front office reached out to the NBA’s league office in New York, sending in video of the plays and requesting an explanation. As of Wednesday evening, the league had not issued a statement about the plays, as it did for controversial calls on the first two days of the postseason for Saturday’s Clippers’ loss to the Warriors and Sunday’s Rockets’ loss to the Trail Blazers.
Thibodeau dismisses idea of increasing Boozer’s minutes
After getting pulled from the game early in the first quarter—in the midst of the Bulls’ slow start; he would play his usual full third quarter—Carlos Boozer played only 21 minutes Tuesday, even less than his now-customary exactly 24 minutes. The much-maligned power forward only finished with five points, so it’s hard to argue that he deserved more playing time, but taking the Bulls’ scoring struggles into consideration and the heavy minutes both Gibson and All-Star center Joakim Noah logged, it’s become clear that Thibodeau is growing more and more reluctant to play Boozer by the game.
“The group that’s in there—Taj is playing well. Whenever you say, ‘Put someone else in,’ you’re taking someone else out. Who are you taking out? Joakim? Who are you taking out? Taj? Everyone has a job to do. Just do your job,” the coach said, his irritation with the assembled media apparent. “He’s doing what we’re asking him to do. We started the game off slowly. We can’t start a game off slowly. We have to start a game off quickly. It’s a 48-minute game. I know you guys [the media] sit there and say, ‘Who didn’t play? Throw that guy in there.’ We got here a certain way.
Gibson, Boozer’s de facto replacement, defended his teammate.
“I really don’t know,” he said, when asked why Boozer isn’t playing more. “In the playoffs, things just happen. You’ve just got to be sharp. You’ve got to sharpen up your game because teams, they’re on it. These guys have really been going at us. I don’t really know what to say on that one. I think he’s been doing a great job. He’s been talking on defense, talking on the sidelines, doing what he has to do to help the team win. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what people are saying. What matters is did we win and helping your team win in any type of way.”