Thibodeau: Good to get a win, the road is going to get tougher
SALT LAKE CITY—Nate Robinson can relate to teammate Luol Deng, the NBA’s minutes-per-game leader.
In Friday’s win in Utah, the point guard played 46 minutes—rookie point guard Marquis Teague started the fourth quarter to give him a quick breather—but afterwards, the energetic instant-offense scorer, who is quietly developing into an improved playmaker and defender, insisted that he wasn’t affected by the heavy workload.
“I think I’m in the best shape of my life. The minutes that I’m playing, the amount, I’m just giving it my all and pushing it to the limit, and it’s been working for me,” the former two-sport athlete said. “It’s basketball, man. I’ve been playing—college, I played a lot; high school, I rarely came out of the game—so I’m used to playing. I played football; football’s one of the toughest sports to really be in condition, so for me, I’m just happy to be playing. It’s a blessing. I just thank God for this opportunity.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was incredulous at the insinuation that Robinson was overworked.
“High-minute load? That’s what we needed. He got the job done. Get out there, do your job,” he said. “Some guys play extended minutes. He’s young, well-rested. He hasn’t played a lot of minutes this year.”
Thibodeau was pleased with Robinson’s performance, as he played the role of setup man in the opening period, go-to scorer in the second quarter and defender down the stretch.
“I thought he got us off to a good start. He’s aggressive, set a good tempo for us. I thought his offense wasn’t quite as good late in the game, but his defense was significant late in the game,” the coach explained. “I want him to be a complete player, I want him to play both sides of the ball, make multiple effort and when you get a team that does that, your chances of winning are greatly enhanced.”
Robinson, who finished with 18 points and nine assists, concurred: “Just do whatever it takes to win. I just go out and try to lead my troops, and play basketball and have some fun.”
The emotional sparkplug said Thursday’s fiasco of an outing in Denver, the Bulls’ worst loss of the season, motivated him Friday.
“We just had to bounce back, and fight and claw, just to get a win. Yesterday’s game is in the past, but it’s something that’s in the back of our minds, that we can always use for motivation,” he said. “They’ve [the Nuggets] got to come to us, as well, so we’ll remember that, but right now, we’ll use it for motivation and continue to play as a team, and build and move forward, and get ready for San Antonio.”
Utah’s Jefferson puts on a show
Jazz big man Al Jefferson is known as one of the league’s top low-post scorers, something he proved Friday.
Jefferson scored a season-high 32 points on 15-for-22 shooting—he also grabbed 13 rebounds—by utilizing a variety of pump fakes, polished post moves, excellent footwork, a soft touch and a potent mid-range jumper.
But the underrated scorer wasn’t a big factor late in the game, as the Bulls made adjustments—Robinson helped on him, for instance—and the likes of Taj Gibson defended him well.
“He missed some shots that he normally makes. He’s a load down there. That guy, he’s one of the best low-post scorers in the league. He’s very clever and he’s got a lot of stuff to his game,” Thibodeau said. “He knows how to get his shot off and he knows how to beat a double-team. He can get a quality shot off, so you’ve got to make his catch hard and you’ve got to make him play in a crowd, but that guy can score the ball.”
Joakim Noah, who also spent time guarding Jefferson, added: “I think Al played unbelievable. He was hitting a lot of tough shots. I tried to take away his right. He’s a load down there in the post, one of the best in the post in the game and he hit a lot of tough jump shots today. We just stuck with the game plan and fortunately for us, he didn’t hit some of those shots down the stretch and we were able to win.”
Carlos Boozer, who was Jefferson’s predecessor as the Jazz’s go-to player, chimed in: “He played great tonight. A lot of jump shots, a lot of good moves. He’s been playing great all season. Al played great. They’re a very good team. Taj did a great job with those guys.”
Gibson credited his recent experience guarding centers with Noah out of the lineup for preparing him to defend Jefferson.
“I’ve been playing against Al for a long time and he’s just been getting better and better. But lately, I’ve been playing against a lot of fours and fives. Thibs has just been letting me guard fours mostly all year, but he’s just been letting me do what I want on defense when it comes to guarding the best player,” he explained. “It’s been a learning curve this whole past road trip, just guarding [Nets All-Star center] Brook Lopez, [7-foot-2 Pacers center] Roy Hibbert and then tonight, Al, so it’s one of those times where you’ve got to keep learning and hope your teammates help you.”
Robinson, one of the primary helpers, also shared his take: “Coach just wanted me to be a rover and to go out, and just help as much as I can. Al Jefferson had it going. We just tried to make somebody else score. He’s a tough cover for anybody and he makes them go, so we just tried to make it hard for him to get a good look at the basket, and to use his teammates. We knew we could come in and steal this win if we did.”
Belinelli effective in return from injury
Backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli missed Thursday’s game due to a right-ankle injury suffered in Monday’s loss to Indiana.
He returned to the lineup Friday, scoring nine points and six assists, as well as once again functioning as a primary ballhandler late in the game, as he and Boozer ran an effective two-man game in pick-and-roll scenarios down the stretch.
“I was ready to go,” Belinelli said. “I know that I’m not 100 percent, but that was important for me to play and win the game.”