With 1:10 left on the clock Saturday in the first playoff game for the Chicago Bulls, their season ended as star guard Derrick Rose writhed on the court after a drive through the lane. With the Bulls ahead by 12 points at the time 99-87, you could ask the question why he was even in the game, but that would be for the Coach of the Year candidate, Tom Thibodeau, to answer.
He did just that when posed the question after the game in K.C. Johnson's column in the Chicago Tribune Sunday. He said, "I don't work backward like you (reporters) do.
"The score was going the other way. He has to play. He has to work on closing. That's what I was thinking."
The Bulls were leading 95-75 with 4:38 left on the clock. The Bulls were still leading 99-83 with 2:24 left after a Rose bank shot. The fateful play that ended the Bulls championship hopes this year started with just 1:34 on the clock and the Bulls ahead 99-87.
So, yes, Philadelphia was cutting a bit into the Bulls' lead, but did anyone think they wouldn't win the game? They were in control most of the game with a comfortable lead.
Teams make runs all the time. It's expected. If the Bulls were playing Miami, maybe there's a bit more concern, but the Sixers?
For Thibodeau, he viewed this as a teaching moment, perhaps looking ahead to the Miami series, if that's something possible in his world.
It's easy to paint Thibodeau as the fall guy, but there is a pattern here that has to be discerning to Bulls fans.
There are those who hold Thibodeau at fault for the injury, and others who say keeping Rose in the game had nothing to do with what happened.
Here's what the guys announcing the game on TNT had to say about it. Kevin Harlan said, "We just talked about how many games he missed with an assortment of injuries, and now he's holding his knee late in a game that was already decided for all intents and purposes."
Reggie Miller added, "I'm sure everyone around the country is going to say why was he in the game."
Rose's assorted injuries throughout the year had nothing to do with his torn ACL. That's a freak injury that could have happened at anytime, or maybe not at all.
I have no problem if he injured himself early in the game, or in the third quarter, or even late in the game if it was still in doubt—but it wasn't.
This injury did not have to happen, and it shouldn't have. It was due to Thibodeau's stubbornness and not understanding what's really important.
Having the best record in the regular season means nothing. You have to look at the big picture, and I think Thibodeau continues to fail to do that.
The Bulls work harder than any team in the league, and that's why they have finished with the best record in the league two years in a row. But that should not be the objective.
The objective should be to make the playoffs and win the last game you play—or in other words, win the championship.
Thibodeau continues to play his key players too many minutes during regular season games. Rose had multiple injuries throughout the season, yet every time he came back from one, Thibodeau played him the same way he always has, just like nothing happened.
He needs to learn from this, and if he doesn't, his bosses need to step in to tell him.
Thibodeau only knows one way to coach, and that is with his foot on the pedal all the time. He needs to learn when to back off.
Thibodeau is up for coaching honors with Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. Popovich has four titles under his belt, and he understands that the regular season is just a necessary evil to get through until the real games start.
All he cares about is making the playoffs. He doesn't necessarily care about home court advantage. He wants his players to be healthy and rested when the games really mean something. The results speak for themselves.
Thibodeau is a great X's and O's coach. He teaches a great defensive scheme. He did that in Boston, and he's done that here, but in Boston he was an assistant to Doc Rivers. He didn't have the autonomy he has here.
Some guys are great assistants, and that's what they're best at. Others can take the next step.
Thibodeau was an assistant for a long time in the league before the Bulls gave him a chance, and he walked into a great situation inheriting Rose and the cast around him.
He's done a very good job based on their regular season accomplishments, but until he understands what really matters, he'll never be a championship coach.
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