After missing 19 consecutive games due to a back injury, shooting guard Rip Hamilton returned to the Bulls’ lineup in Tuesday night’s 101-98 loss to the Raptors at the United Center.
Hamilton came off the bench and scored four points on 2-for-5 shooting in just over 14 minutes of play.
“I felt good. It felt good to be out there, running up and down the court, battling with my teammates,” he said. “That was the first time I really did contact. That was the only thing I was worried about. All the little drills I do at the practice facility were with no contact, so tonight was the first time with contact and I was able to still move around.”
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Hamilton was a surprise insertion into the lineup, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said at the team’s morning shootaround that the veteran wouldn’t play.
The coach was pleased with what he saw from Hamilton, saying that his mobility was, “Pretty good, actually. His timing’s not there, so we’ll see. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. That’s the big thing. Same thing with Marco.”
Hamilton is confident that with more minutes in the team’s five remaining games f the regular season, he can be a significant contributor in the playoffs.
“I hope so,” Hamilton joked, when asked if he expected to play more down the stretch. “I hope so because I don’t want to be in a situation where the playoffs come and all of a sudden, I’ve got to play a lot of minutes. I think Thibs does a great job with it.
“My conditioning won’t be a problem. I think if anything, for me it’s just timing and rhythm,” he continued. “I think for any guy who’s out so long, you don’t want to go into the playoffs and not have a great sense of timing on the floor, so that was the biggest thing for me.”
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Hamilton also discussed his ailment, which was previously reported by CSNChicago.com.
“It was a bulged disk and I tore something in there. They thought it was back spasms and I said, ‘Back spasms, I should be in good in two days,’ and it wasn’t. We got an MRI and it came back, and showed that I had a bulged disk,” said the shooting guard, who also did therapy, both with the team and on his own, putting in “eight and nine-hour days” after last playing on Feb. 26.
Bulls lament slow start
Although Hamilton returned to the lineup, the Bulls continue to be short-handed, as they were without the All-Star duo of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, as well as top reserve Taj Gibson and former league MVP Derrick Rose.
But that didn’t excuse their slow start, in the minds of both Thibodeau and his players, as Toronto opened the game with a 17-3 lead.
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“It’s what you choose to do and the question you have to ask is, ‘Why did you lose?’ it’s a poor start — ‘Why did you have a poor start?’ — and it comes down to readiness to play, knowing your opponent well, knowing what your job is, doing your job, all those things, all the things that go into winning,” Thibodeau said. “You’re asking for trouble. That’s what we got.”
“Putting yourself in a hole like that when you’re short-handed, you’re not going to be successful,” Thibodeau said. “Trading buckets, big hole to start, scramble at the end. Not good.
Nate Robinson, who scored 22 points, added: “Not good enough. For us as a team, I think at the start of the game, we’ve got to come out with a great deal of energy. I think today we came out kind of flat.
Game ends on wild sequence
The Bulls did recover and scrambled to make it a close-knit affair by the end of the game, but down four points with 10.6 seconds remaining, a wild sequence occurred.
First, Robinson was fouled and after making his first attempt from the charity stripe, he missed the second, chased down the loose ball and appeared to have saved it.
Instead, the referees couldn’t decide whether that was the case and ruled it a jump ball with 9.1 seconds left.
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“I don’t know, man. The referees know it best, I guess,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to ask them that. They made the call.”
After the tip, the Robinson somehow ended up with the ball, lost it and as it was heading backcourt, he saved it off a Raptors player and managed to launch a near-halfcourt-heave that was off the mark.
“I took my eyes off the ball. I saw ‘Kirky’ [Kirk Hinrich] to my left, wide open, so when Booz threw me the ball, he threw it kind of fast, but I was in passing motion to throw it to Kirk and I took my eyes off it,” Robinson explained. “The ball kind of almost went backcourt and I couldn’t go backcourt, so I just threw it off, just so it could touch him and tried to heave a shot, but it didn’t quite go.”
Bulls refuse to use injuries as excuse
Despite their decimated roster, the Bulls continue to insist that they can get the job done.
“Well, you can [use injuries as an excuse],” Thibodeau said. ““You can choose how you’re going to approach this. You can say, ‘Hey, we’ve got injuries. We’re down, new rotation, whatever,’ but you want mentally tough people when you’re facing adversity and we’ve got to be a lot tougher mentally, and we’ve got to get the job done. Hey, look. We’ve got to get right. Fast. Fast. Things will change quickly and they have. We went from playing pretty good basketball to we’re struggling. We’ve got to get right.”
Robinson concurred: “It’s tough, but at the same time, we’re all professionals. We’ve been playing basketball our whole lives, so it’s no excuse. We’ve just got to be ready.”
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Still, the reality of the situation is that it’s difficult to gain a semblance of continuity when the rotation is constantly changing and to paraphrase Thibodeau, teams that win in the playoffs, which are approaching quickly, are usually both healthy and playing their best basketball down the stretch of the regular season.
“The biggest thing for us is to be healthy. I think any team that’s got a chance to win it, first and foremost, you have to be healthy and then, you’ve got to be playing great,” said Hamilton, one of two players—Nazr Mohammed is the other—with a ring on the roster. “For us, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back, a lot of guys going down, so it’s tough.”
Jimmy Butler took a cautiously optimistic view, saying, “I don’t know who we’re going to get back. I want everybody back, but until then, we’ve got to continue to win games and whenever they do get back, hopefully we’ll have the momentum enough to add them to the roster and win more games.”
Raptors rookie injured
On that final jump ball, Toronto rookie center Jonas Valanciunas suffered a scary “whiplash-type” injury, as described by a team spokesman, and remained on the visiting bench long after the final buzzer.
Valanciunas was sent to Rush University Medical Center for testing and stayed overnight to be evaluated.
The rest of the Raptors flew back to Toronto after the game