Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng combined for more than half of the Bulls’ field goal attempts, which makes sense. When your best offensive weapon goes down, you look to the next-best options. To a degree, it worked. But the Jazz’s young frontcourt was also shorthanded, with Enes Kanter out because of injury and Derrick Favors in foul trouble for most of the night. This left the task of guarding an energized Boozer to the likes of Marvin Williams and rookie Rudy Gobert, human magic beanstalk. Boozer won’t have such favorable matchups in the future.
In the lead-up to the 2013-14 NBA season, Grantland will examine key players — X factors — for contending teams.
Earlier this week, Mike Dunleavy, 12-year NBA veteran and first-year Chicago Bull, was asked for his early impressions about playing for coach Tom Thibodeau.
"(Thibodeau's intensity) is higher than anything I've played at at the NBA level," Dunleavy said. “Very similar to going back to college and (playing for) Coach K. It just doesn't matter if you're playing against each other in practice, a preseason game, regular season game, you need to bring a high intensity and you need to get better every time."
It was not surprising to walk in the gym here in Las Vegas, nearly 90 minutes before tipoff of Thursday’s first Summer League game, and find Tom Thibodeau already sitting courtside, the first NBA higher-up in the building. Thibodeau is a legendary basketball junkie, fresh off one of the most successful three-season spans of any first-time NBA head coach. The principles of the defense he helped pioneer in Boston during the Celtics’ 2008 championship run have spread around the league, and Thibodeau’s ability to coax his players into almost maniacally consistent adherence to those rules is a major reason Chicago kept winning games last season amid an unending flood of injuries. With Derrick Rose set to return next season at full health, the Bulls look primed to resume their fierce pursuit of Miami’s perch atop the Eastern Conference.
Thibodeau sat down with Grantland for an extensive one-on-one about all things Bulls — but not all things Thibodeau.
In case you were busy making a new nonalcoholic mixed drink that's half soda water, half tonic water called the Van de Velde, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Playing without Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and Kirk Hinrich was too much for the Bulls, who fell 95-92 to the Brooklyn Nets. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau regrettably informed his team of their depleted forces before the game, adding, "I didn't know the games were optional." He then proceeded to drink straight from a bottle of Gilbey's gin, tell Taj Gibson that he wanted to sleep with his sister, and unleash a barrage of awkwardly profuse "real talk about love and pain" upon the injured Hinrich. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer then yelled out his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the booze stank in the room?!" before being told by Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin that games are not optional. A visibly intoxicated Boozer fouled out of his team's defeat in the fourth quarter.
Even though he had another solid outing, Atlanta starter Kris Medlen fell to 1-4 as his Braves lost to the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Medlen, snacking on biscuits after the game, blamed his spotty start to the season on fatigue based on his home life. "I've got young boys, and they're up at all hours," he said. "I've only been a little off, which just makes me think I could be 5-0 if it weren't for those Medlen kids!"
With 2:15 left in the third quarter at the United Center last night, the Bulls and Sixers made their ways to the proper benches for a TV timeout. It was that time in the night when a footrace between animated breakfast food comes on the video board, and as the racers were announced (Dashing Donut, Cuppy Coffee, and Biggie Bagel), people in the crowd reached for their cards to find out in which Dunkin’ Donuts product they had a rooting interest. My friend made a joke about how Larry Bird must hate all this, but aside from that, I see little problem in providing fans with interstitial bits of entertainment. Plus, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is delicious.
The troubling part came when we noticed that joining the viewing public was the majority of the 76ers bench. Down 11, two days after a double-digit loss to D-League Orlando followed by a public chastising by its coach, most of the Philly roster was more invested in Dashing Donut’s triumph than in whatever Doug Collins had to say.
Chicago and Philadelphia, it would seem, are in similar situations. Both are in their third year of playing for a demanding head coach who occasionally sounds like he ate a pack of Marlboro Reds for lunch. Both have spent this season without the star that was supposed to define their rosters. And both came into last night’s game mired in their worst stretch of the season. It was something, then, to watch how each responded at their lowest point. It’s not that the Sixers’ starters shared their apathy of their bench-dwelling teammates in their 93-82 loss; it’s that none of them were Joakim Noah.
There was a time, about a month ago, when the February 26 game at the United Center would have been appointment viewing. The Bulls were 24-16 and, somehow, without Derrick Rose, just a game and a half back of the second seed in the East. Rose’s return seemed imminent, and in a season where no clear challenger for Miami’s conference throne had emerged, Bulls fans held out hope that a retooling process that was supposed to take two years wouldn’t exist at all.
Along that road would be last night’s tilt against the Cavaliers, what would be the first clash of Rose and Kyrie Irving since the latter’s ascension to the fraternity of the league’s elite. That Rose didn’t end up playing comes as no surprise, given news of late. The Bulls have elected to bring him along slowly, and given what’s happened in the past few weeks, it’s hard to blame them. Chicago was 4-7 in February as of yesterday afternoon, with the average loss coming by almost 16 points.
Irving’s absence, on the other hand, wasn’t expected. He’d tweaked his right knee in practice last week but had managed to play in two games since. When the team announced yesterday morning that its star guard would be taking the night off, the month-long road from anticipated to unwatchable was complete. With the blessing of A Fate Worse Than Death architect Rafe Bartholomew, it was decided that there was no better time to resurrect Grantland’s dedication to the NBA hate-watch.
Jimmy Butler had plenty of good stretches last night in the Bulls' 95-83 win over the Lakers, but the best came with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. After stealing an errant Antawn Jamison pass and throwing it down on the other end, Butler, as he seemed to be all game, was draped over Kobe Bryant outside the 3-point line. The shot clock was ticking down, and as it hit :01, Bryant flung the ball toward the rim, but hit nothing. The horn sounded, and the ball was back to the Bulls.
Bryant finished the game 7-of-22 from the field, and everyone from Steve Kerr to the rest of the Bulls locker room had the same theory why. Kobe’s 42 minutes were topped only by Butler’s 43, and for the second straight game, Butler showed he had no trouble playing the part of Luol Deng, who’s joined Derrick Rose on the list of injured Bulls.
This year was supposed to be a lost one for Chicago. With Rose’s torn ACL keeping him out until at least the All-Star break, a team ravaged in the offseason by financial constraints seemed more destined for the lottery than the conference finals. But with last night’s win, the Bulls are now 24-16, good for fifth in the East and just a game and a half back of the Knicks for the no. 2 seed. With Rose’s return no more than a few weeks away, the question has shifted from how the Bulls will tread water without him to just how good they can be with him.
With his team nursing a 94-86 lead in the waning moments of last night’s game against Philadelphia, Chicago center Joakim Noah crouched low on the left block as Evan Turner attempted the second of two free throws. As the ball arced toward the rim, Philly’s backup center, the lumbering Spencer Hawes, took one step toward the baseline, spun off his left foot, and put Noah onto his back.
It was an odd sight considering the state of unrelenting fervor Noah brings to the court, but it’s hard to find Noah at fault for the momentary letdown. The play came as Noah was putting the finishing touches on his sixth outing in the past 12 days in which he’s played at least 41 minutes. In fact, in back-to-back games against the Clippers and Sixers, Noah played a staggering 87 minutes, raising his season average to a mind-boggling 40.1 — a number that no big man has put up since Tim Duncan averaged 40.6 during the 2001-02 season.
With the absence of Derrick Rose, this type of usage has been born out of desperation. Last year, a deep Bulls bench featuring Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, and C.J. Watson went a long way toward picking up the slack as Rose missed 27 games with an assortment of injuries. This year, those four all have new addresses, a product of the Bulls’ offseason effort to cut costs. They’ve been replaced by an assortment of bargain-priced veterans and unproven young players. Though there have been some surprising developments — most notably the steady play of second-year wing Jimmy Butler and Warriors castoff Nate Robinson — the bench is still significantly lacking compared to a year ago.
At 4:53 p.m. PST yesterday, I joined everyone else in watching the battle for America’s soul. As I took my place in front of the TV, my mind wandered to what the night meant. This wasn’t about one man. It rarely is. This was about everything. This was about those in blue looking for a handout from a broken system, and those in red pulling themselves up no matter the circumstances. This was about what we, as a nation, want to believe. This was Magic-Bulls on Fox Sports Florida.
The idea came a few hours earlier. A few Grantland staffers were discussing the lack of Tuesday-night TV and wondered which, if any, sports would compete against the election. The answer was three NBA games (and one MAC football game): Bulls-Magic, Thunder-Raptors, Nuggets-Pistons. Because everyone in the office gets twisted enjoyment out of my feelings on this year’s Bulls, the challenge emerged as such: As everyone with a television considered our nation’s future, could I go to a sports bar and watch nothing but mediocre basketball? Challenge accepted.
Here's the scenario: A team's MVP-caliber player goes down, leaving room in the spotlight for one of his teammates to finally shine. Nobody believed in him before, but, game by game, he's changing our minds.
Obviously, the MVP-caliber player I'm talking about is Carmelo Anthony and the ascendant teammate is Jeremy Lin, right? Obviously not! No, for today's lesson, class, we're talking about the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, his spasming lower back, and the Eve Harrington to his Margo Channing, none other than Luol Deng.