Inevitably, Tom Thibodeau will receive a lot of flak for having Derrick Rose in the game with 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers. The majority of criticism will stem from the fact that the Chicago Bulls were up by 12 when Rose got injured in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs.
Was Rose needed to finish off a game that was already in hand?
Of course not. But games in the NBA playoffs are about more than just the final numbers on the scoreboard. They are about hard fouls, highlight-reel plays, trash talking and chippyness. They are about momentum.
This is why the reigning MVP was in a game that was all wrapped up. To create momentum.
Thibodeau is already being questioned by fans and the press for his decision and was predictably succinct in defending his decision when he said, "I don't work backwards like you guys do, the score was going the other way."
Why was the reigning MVP on the floor late in a blowout win? To make a point. To tell the 76ers that the Bulls are not beatable. To make them understand that the Bulls play tough for 48 minutes a game.
Why was the reigning MVP on the floor late in a blowout win? Because he has missed 27 games this season with injury. Because he needs minutes to get back into form. In Thibodeau's own words, "He's got to play...and he's got to work on closing. He's got to work on finishing."
Thibodeau is a great coach, possibly the NBA Coach of the Year for the second consecutive year (an award which no other coach has ever won consecutively). Without Thibodeau, the Bulls would not have had the best record in the league for the second year running. Without his stubbornness, the Bulls would not be the grind-it-out team they are today.
Thibodeau has created a team where the guy at the end of the bench is going to work just as hard as the best player on the team. He has shown no regard for player's popularity or egos and has always opted for whatever player gives the Bulls the best chance to win which is nice to see in the NBA.
Does the loss of Rose kill the Bulls' championship aspirations? It certainly hurts their odds. But you can bet that the Bulls will give it their best shot and that they will still make it difficult on opponents with their league-leading defense.
The big goal this whole season was to get passed the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and win a championship, and if there is any team in the league who could do just that without a superstar, it's the Chicago Bulls.
With Rose, not winning a championship would be a failure. Without Rose, a championship would be a miracle. But, isn't miraculous exactly what the Bulls have been at 17-9 without Rose this season?
If the Bulls fail to win a championship this year, it isn't a failure for the organization, and it isn't a failure for Thibodeau. It is bad luck, plain and simple.
Injuries are a part of the game. It is unavoidable. Condensing the schedule to the point where key players are lost to injury is not. This season we have seen many good players get injured and now two Eastern Conference teams are without their superstars with both Rose and Dwight Howard missing the rest of this season.
NBA coaches are given the responsibility of making the most of their rosters, and Thibodeau is the best at what he does. Thibodeau took a team with one legitimate All-Star at the beginning of last season and turned them into the team with the best record two years running and created a second All-Star by teaching Deng how to play even better defense.
Thibodeau hasn't been the best coach in the league by resting his stars. He has been the best coach in the league by drawing as much talent from each and every one of his players as he can. Under his coaching, Rose has dealt with injuries all season long, but it was also under his coaching that Rose was able to play up to MVP caliber last season.
When Rose finally speaks on his injury, you can be almost absolutely certain that he will not blame Thibodeau for his injury. He'll blame himself. He may infer that the shortened schedule has something to do with it and may partially blame it on the hard hits he has taken all season, but he won't blame it on the coach who gives him the best shot at winning an NBA championship.
The Bulls will have to play out of their minds to have any shot at a championship, but let's remember that under Thibodeau with Rose out, the Bulls have beaten Miami once and the Boston Celtics twice. They are capable of beating great teams if they execute efficiently, so that's what they must do now.
So, the question to ask now shouldn't be about whether we should blame Thibodeau for Rose's injury. The question to ask now is, if we have to brave the playoffs without Rose, who is the coach we want leading us? Who is the one coach in the league capable of leading the Rose-less Bulls deep into the NBA playoffs? The answer is most definitely Tom Thibodeau.
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