There might not be a Bench Mob in Chicago anymore, but on Friday night it was the Bulls’ reserves that put on a show in their win over the Nuggets.
D.J. Augustin led the way with 22 points and eight assists, while Tony Snell, who saw extended minutes after Jimmy Butler left the game with a rib contusion, poured in a career-high 20 points in 37 minutes. As a whole, the second unit contributed 65 of the Bulls’ 117 points and received points from five different reserves.
Their biggest contributions came in the second quarter. An 8-2 run by the opposition had cut the Bulls’ lead to nine. Facing a momentum shortage just minutes after Butler was taken to the locker room, Thibodeau opted to stay with his bench.
The result was eight straight makes from the field and a 24-5 run that pushed the Bulls’ first half lead to 28, 65-37. Snell bookended the run with a three-point play to begin it and a 3-pointer to end it, while Augustin added six points to go with Taj Gibson’s four during the run. A Joakim Noah layup and pair of free throws tossed in, the Bulls’ pulled away in a game that, after the run, was never within single digits.
For Snell, it was a matter of staying patient and seizing the opportunity when it arose.
“I think the biggest adjustment he’s gotten down, in terms of how he works, his attitude, the way he approaches things, I think his readiness showed,” Thibodeau said of his rookie. “He hasn’t been playing a lot of minutes — he plays some every night — and when he played the extended minutes he was ready to handle it. He does a lot of things, he’s comfortable out there.”
Snell wishes he wouldn’t have played as many minutes as he did — meaning Butler wouldn’t have been injured — but he said already having the experience to step in and fill a role made it easier the second time around — Butler missed 11 games earlier in the year with a turf-toe injury.
“I was watching Jimmy, I was watching Mike (Dunleavy) on the bench and unfortunately Jimmy got hurt but that happened at the beginning of the season so I was more prepared this time around. All the hard work I put in, everything I learned this whole season, just try to go out there and prove myself,” Snell said. “At the beginning of the season I was rushing, but this time I was more patient.”
Augustin again continued his tear in the win, hitting five more 3-pointers, connecting on all seven of his free throw attempts and netting a +28 rating, second best on the team in 31 minutes.
Gibson, who put together a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, sang Augustin’s praises after the game.
“He’s a leader on the court, his defense has picked up. He never picks up his dribble, he’s a phenomenal point guard,” Gibson said.
Even Nazr Mohammed tallied four points and two rebounds. Mohammed hadn’t scored more than two points since his nine-point outing last month in a loss to the Timberwolves.
This five-game stretch might be the best the Bulls have played all year, and much of it has come from a well-balanced roster receiving output from the second unit. Gibson said none of the Bulls are playing for numbers or accolades, instead putting their collective faith and commitment in Thibodeau to make the right decisions and put the Bulls in the best position to win.
“It’s exciting. I think we’re just excited every night to play. We feel like we’re playing at a high level. Our defense is phenomenal, we’re playing real well in practice,” he said. “Guys are getting good looks, we’re playing with each other and our All Stars are playing great.”
The All Stars are playing well — Noah had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Carlos Boozer, a two-time All Star, had 10 points and five boards in just 24 minutes — but Friday night belonged to the reserves.