TORONTO—If Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t want to say it specifically, Rudy Gay will.
The Raptors small forward, part of a team that’s beaten the Bulls twice in the past week, identified what’s ailing Toronto’s guest Friday night, a 97-88 loser at the Air Canada Centre.
“Well, they’re in transition. It happens a lot with injuries,” he told CSNChicago.com. “There’s a lot of different reasons why they can be up and down, but this is a bad time to be up and down. But I think with Thibs, he’s a great coach. He’ll get them together.”
Gay is no expert on the Bulls, but it’s obvious to him and every other observer that the Bulls’ combination of injuries, players returning to the lineup and an overall lack of consistency from a night-to-night basis makes them vulnerable.
What makes them unique is the fact that against the league’s premier teams, the Bulls are capable of putting together determined performances, such as Thursday night’s overtime win over then-streaking New York at the United Center, just as they’re prone to laying eggs like the one hatched against the Raptors.
“That’s the nature of the league. What happened yesterday has little bearing on today, other than you’ve got to be ready to play,” Thibodeau explained. “I thought we started the game pretty good. The end of the first quarter, we started to struggle and then we got behind the eight ball. It was a combination of soft defense, turning the ball over, getting them in the open court and we still had an opportunity to get back into it. Got it down to six in the fourth and shot ourselves in the foot a couple times.
“You can’t win in this league like that. Every aspect of the defense is five-man,” he continued, harping on his team’s effort. “If you have two or three guys jogging, not doing their part, everyone’s going to look bad, so if you’re trying to win, you make the commitment. No matter what happened down on the other end—missed call, turnover, whatever it might be, someone missed you—you’ve still got to sprint back, protect your basket, not give up an easy basket. You work your way through things. You’re going to face adversity in a game, so I didn’t like to see that type of effort, particularly the way we closed the second quarter and you play for each other, and that commitment has to be made by everybody.
“If we don’t do that, we’re not going to give ourselves a chance to win. We’re short-handed. Our chances are intensity and doing everything collectively. If we do that, we have a chance to win. If we don’t, if someone wants to stay outside the circle, it’s going to break everyone down.”
Nazr Mohammed, a well-traveled NBA veteran refused to make any excuses for the Bulls’ performance Friday or even the up-and-down nature of the season, refusing to blame the team’s inconsistency on their injury woes.
“Not to me,” he responded when asked if this season was out of the ordinary. “You’ve got to ask one of these younger guys. I’ve been around long enough where injuries are part of the game. There’s highs and lows. There’s maybe a part of the season when you win eight out of 10, nine out of 10. There’s maybe a part of the season where you lose to teams you should beat. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes teams match up against you well, sometimes teams are hot. It’s just the way it is. You don’t always lose to teams you’re supposed to and you don’t always lose to teams who are supposed to beat you.
“No but. We don’t use excuses. They won. They made shots. We didn’t. We didn’t get the stops we needed and we didn’t execute the way we normally do,” continued the center, who had a stellar outing, contributing 16 points and 13 rebounds in defeat. “They were making shots. We’re going to give the credit to them. They made a lot of shots, they stayed aggressive. They went to the line a lot, too, so whenever you can score without the clock moving, that’s a definite advantage to you. So tip our hats to them tonight.”
Carlos Boozer, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out, was understandably terse afterwards—Toronto had a 33-14 advantage at the free-throw line—but didn’t shed much light on why the Bulls appear to be world beaters one night and underachievers the next.
“A lot of things [could be the reason], but we’ve got to forget and move on to the next,” he said. “Can’t dwell on it. You guys can write about it, but we’ve got to move forward.”
As for Thibodeau, he downplayed the theory that the Bulls play up or down to their competition—the coach accused the media of playing up that notion—but acknowledged that his team doesn’t always come into games against supposedly inferior opponents with the right mindset.
“That’s you guys. You guys think you should just beat certain teams. It doesn't work that way in this league. You’ve got to be ready for everybody. Everybody’s capable of beating you, so sometimes you have travel involved, you’re down players, but you’ve still got to be ready. You’ve got to get it done. It’s that simple,” he said. “The 13th, 14th, 15th man on an NBA roster is a great player and you can never lose sight of that. Readiness to play, it’s huge.”
Of course, with the eventual returns of All-Star center Joakim Noah and top reserve Taj Gibson--Thibodeau said the ailing big men are "close" to being back in the lineup--the Bulls will have more firepower moving forward, but this close to the postseason, the team's overall schizophrenia remains a major concern.