Chicago Fire

Thibodeau bucks trend, leans on vets Boozer, Hamilton late

948751.png

Thibodeau bucks trend, leans on vets Boozer, Hamilton late

MILWAUKEEFollowing his 22-point, 19-rebound performance in the Bulls 93-86 win over the Bucks at the Bradley Center, Carlos Boozer didnt shy away from the question. Asked about playing in the fourth quarter Saturday night, Boozer sent a direct message about his feelings on the issue.

You never know how long youre going to be out there or if youre going to go back in the fourth quarter. Me and Rip talked about it before the game, just to be aggressive while youre out here, see what happens. Thats kind of been our mentality the last few games and it was going great tonight, he said. It was great. We want to be out there every fourth quarter, but thats Thibs decision.

This is his show. He runs it. He puts out there who he wants out there and we just go with the flow.

Since the much-maligned power forwards arrival in Chicago, going back to the 2011 playoffs, in which his backup, Taj Gibson finished games for him, seeing Boozer on the bench in crunch time has been a semi-regular occurrence. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus mantra about the group that functions best may pass muster when his team is cruising through the regular season and Derrick Rose is healthy, but now that the Bulls are not considered an NBA juggernautthough they did snap a three-game losing skid by beating their Central Division rival, the fact that they had the streak at all is a mild shocker itselfsitting two of the squads veterans and most talented offensive players has raised some eyebrows.

While Boozer finally opened his mouth about the pattern, Hamilton continues to stay mum. Whether or not he encouraged his teammate to speak for him or not, the shooting guard remained diplomatic after the win, in which he scored 22 points of his own.

I missed so many easy shots, but the thing about it, though, I felt comfortable because I was able to get to the spots that I wanted to get to. Thibs just rode me and the guys did a good job of trying to find me when I was out on the floor, he said. Just understanding time and situation. I thought that tonight, we really understood time and possession. We got away from the quick shots in the fourth quarter and we were able to get the ball in the paint.

Boozer chimed in, more pointedly: Same Rip Ive seen my whole career, watching him play in Detroit, just aggressive. Hes a hard cover, man. Thirty-five years old, still one of the fastest guys coming off picks. You guys see him every day. Made all his free throws. Had a tough shooting night, but he was so aggressive, they had to foul him. Then, he started making plays for everybody else.

As for the man making the decisions on the sidelines, Thibodeau praised both the play of both veterans afterwards, though hes gone to Gibson in Boozers stead and recently, has used second-year swingman Jimmy Butler in place of Hamilton.

I thought Boozer was terrific. He played hard. I thought he made great effort on the board and the rebounding was a huge key, the coach said of Boozer, before moving on to Hamiltons night. I thought Hamilton played a good game. He got it in the post. He had a good balance, ran the floor hard. I thought he made a great effort in defensive transition. I thought he did a really good job.

But when asked about his fourth-quarter lineups this season, Thibodeau essentially dismissed the question, as he did before the game and has done since the issue was first raised.

Thats the way it is, he said. All fourth quarters are going to be tough. Thats the NBA.

Perhaps Joakim Noah stated it best: Like Ive said for a long time, its a dictatorship out here.

Noah refused to outright criticize Thibodeau, but admitted that of course players would love to know if theyre going to be in the lineup to close game, particularly veterans who have been in the position before.

At the end of the day, thats not my decision. Sometimes I wish I could coach. No more player-coaches? But I always tell Thibs how I feel. Sometimes he listens to me, sometimes he doesnt, the center explained. "Sometimes he gives me that look like, Are you expletive kidding me? Are you really telling me what to do right now? Thibs is pretty stubborn and at the end of the day, hes a coach.

Noah knows both sides of the coin, having been subbed out of games late the past two seasons, in favor of his understudy, the departed Omer Asik, before joining teammate Luol Deng as one of the NBAs minutes-per-game leaders this season, a tribute to his hard work over the summer and Thibodeaus growing trust in him, as well as necessity. However, maybe remembering what it used to be like for him, while Noah refused to further elaborate on his view of Thibodeaus late-game substitution patterns, he concluded with an opinion that Boozer and Hamilton surely share.

Put it this way, he said. I want to be in there all the time.

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

9-23_phi-union_matchup_mls_fire_blank.jpg

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

nerds_in_sports.jpg

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

On this edition of Nerds in Sports, we talk with io9.com senior editor Rob Bricken.

Rob explains how he juggles being a fan with being a ‘professional’ nerd, how he came to run io9.com, plus his theory on why Rey’s parents are in Star Wars may shock you.

Kevin Anderson and Michael Piff co-host. We are Nerds. In sports.

Listen to the Nerds in Sports Podcast here.