Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
By Aggrey Sam
PHILADELPHIANobody whos paying attention should be surprised. This was foreshadowed back in July.
When the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau as head coach in June, then acquired Carlos Boozer in July, any astute NBA observer could have predicted that the defensive guru and the offensively gifted power forward would have growing pains as the latter, never known for his defense, adjusted to a new system.
But Wednesday nights loss to the lowly Nets, in which Boozer didnt see the floor in the fourth quarter, wasnt some rubber-hits-the-road situation. It was merely a teachable moment.
Asked about his lack of playing time after the game, an obviously frustrated Boozer told reporterstwiceYouve got to ask Thibs about that.
A multiple All-Star, gold medalist, college national champion and established playoff performer, if he didnt bristle at having to sit during the contests most crucial stretch, that would be the shocker. Of course, if the Bulls had won, hed say all the right things, as hes done consistentlyby all accounts, Boozers also walked the walk and been a model teammatesince arriving in Chicago.
But perhaps thats the issue. Since Boozers debut, the Bulls have justifiably received rave reviews. The easiest way to measure a teams performance is by wins and losses and at 23-11, the end results have been unimpeachable.
However, there have been chinks in the armor. The Bulls have beaten up on the teams theyre supposed to beat since Decembersave Wednesdays game and Vinny Del Negros triumphant return to Chicagobut, as anybody who's watched them play recently can attest to, it hasnt been pretty and with losses to the likes of the Knicks, Magic and Celtics (all likely playoff teams), theres a mild cause for concern.
Thats all big-picture stuff, however. Prior to Fridays shootaround at Philadelphias Wells Fargo Centerwhere the Bulls will take on the recently-improved 76ers, whom they beat by 45 in Chicago last monthBoozer spoke about the so-called incident.
Im looking forward to tonight and on to the next one. Like Jay rapper Jay-z said, you cant live in the past. Cant worry about what happened in New Jersey. We just know weve got to play better, have more energy, play better D and give us a chance to win tonight, Boozer told CSNChicago.com. We Boozer and Thibodeau squashed it. Its already over and done with. Im looking forward to tonight.
Thibodeau was just rolling with the guys that were making the comeback. Im not worried about it. Its not really an issue. Weve got Philly tonight and Im looking forward to a bounce-back game, Boozer told reporters. I was mad we lost. I was pissed we lost. And of course when you lose, you want to be out there to help your team playing as a competitor. I felt like if I was out there I would help my team win. Thats over and done with now. You cant go backwards. We have to move forward.
I dont worry about that being on the floor in crunch time. Thats not an issue to talk about. Im looking forward to the game tonight. Any more segues where I can get us to the game tonight? Great game tonight, he went on to joke. The starters were horrible. Thats why Coach was riding with the guys who were out there. The bench played great. They got us back in the game. The way C.J. played, the way Ronnie played, those guys got us back in. Kyle hit a couple 3s to get us going. It was a good decision. We almost won the game. Because we lost, I think everybody in the locker room was upset, not just me.
It was a tough night. No excuses. But we played the night before, we got in at 4 in the morning. Every team goes through that. It was one of those nights they got the better of us. They had three days rest. We didnt have too much of it. This is the NBA. Every team goes through that. We didnt step up to the challenge, Boozer continued, We know we didnt have the energy they had. They play better at home. They play fast. We didnt have the energy to compete with it. Looking back, we wish we could do it over again, but you cant go backwards.
Thibodeau stuck to his guns before shootaround, elaborating on his Wednesday-night explanation that the starters as a whole wasnt playing with energy and he stuck with his reserves because they gave the Bulls the best chance to beat New Jersey.
It wasnt necessarily Carlos. It was our whole team. We were low energy going into the fourth quarter, down 13 points, so we were looking to get more energy into the game and the second unit went in and they were playing well. We had to make up ground. We were down 13. They made up the 13 very quickly and I just decided to ride that group because they were playing well, said Thibodeau. It had more to do with we went small with Luol at the four to get another shooter onto the floor and again, it was more to try to keep that group together because I thought they had made up the ground. Most of the time, Carlos is certainly going to be on the floor at the end of games and I prefer to have our starters on the floor closing the game, but again, it was a game in which the third quarter wasnt a good quarter for us, the start of the game wasnt a good quarter for us, so we were just searching and thats what it boiled down to, what we felt would give us our best chance to win.
More than anything else, it was the ground we had to make up in the fourth quarter that led to, Okay, that group is playing well. How far do you ride them? Thats what we did, he continued. You have to weigh everything thats going on in the game and when we did that, it came down to we were struggling, we were slow, I wanted to get more energy into the game. I also wanted to try to make up ground, try to get more 3-point shooting on the floor and thats basically what we were trying to do.
At the same time, Boozers teammates have to notice that he isnt the best individual defender, not to mention Thibodeau and his staff. When the likes of Kris Humphries (best known for dating reality-television phenomenon Kim Kardashian) and raw rookie Derrick Favors are doing damage against Thibodeaus vaunted defense, something has to give.
While a grace period is acceptable for Boozer to raise his defensive effort to Thibodeaus high standards, the lapses witnessed in the Nets game were obvious and even could be considered somewhat of a regression, although any playeror teameven a high-profile star can be granted a bad day at work, just like the average Joe (or Josephine) doesnt give his or her best performance from nine to five daily. Thibodeau, however, wouldnt budge in his stance that the decision not to play Boozer was about sending any message.
Carlos has been great. The guys a winner and hes going to be on the floor most of the time. He and Derrick sat most of the fourth quarter and theyre cheering their teammates on and at that point, were just trying to find a way to get a win. Thats what that was all about. It wasnt about any other stuff and again, I thought our team, we were slow. We were low energy and thats what we were trying to change, said Thibodeau. I think hes doing fine and again, its not only individual defense and its easy to point, to say, Well, this guy didnt do this or that guy didnt do that, but we play team defense, so I thought we werent protecting our basketthats a team responsibilityin transition and in the halfcourt.
Its not just one guy, its the entire group, so that was the big thing about the energy. I knew we were low energy. Carlos has done a lot of good things defensively and his rebounding is terrific, but again, you have to evaluate the entire team and how its functioning.
Will this prove to be a season-long issue or a one-game hiccup and ultimately, much ado about nothing? In the words of Boozer, Youve got to ask Thibs about that.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.