The promo on TNT says Win or Go Home, and that's exactly what the Chicago Bulls did Thursday night in a game where the team and the coach both choked. To lose the way they did after overcoming a 12-point third quarter deficit and leading just about the whole fourth quarter had to leave a bitter taste to fans of the team.
There are plenty of excuses for those looking for them. The loss of the teams only true star, Derrick Rose, and the heart and soul of the team, Joakim Noah, were too much to overcome.
The officiating cost the Bulls with the discrepancy in foul shots the Philadelphia 76ers benefited from.
Carlos Boozer not living up to his contract and scoring only three points in the deciding game.
You can come up with all kinds of reasons, but when you break it down, the players and the coach didn't perform with the game on the line.
Despite all the adversity the Bulls faced, as has been Tom Thibodeau's mantra all season, "They had enough to win," and they should have won.
Philadelphia is a mediocre team that beat a worn out and poorly coached Chicago Bulls team in this playoff series.
Thibodeau chose to run a couple of members of the bench mob into the ground. He played C.J. Watson and Omer Asik the entire second half, and they ended up being the key culprits in the final Bulls possession that led to Andre Iguodala's game-winning free throws.
In addition to Watson and Asik, Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng barely left the court in the second half. Thibodeau rode the players who got him the lead like a rented mule.
It clearly showed he hasn't learned anything when it comes to game management.
Asik was panting at times during that second half and had to be dead tired when he stepped to the line for those crucial free throws that cost the Bulls the game. He's a terrible free-throw shooter to begin with. When you add in the fatigue factor for a player who only averaged 14.7 minutes a game during the season, the results should have been expected.
Watson played more minutes in the second half than his season average of 23.7.
Thibodeau's time allotment for his players was all over the place. Hamilton didn't play in the fourth quarter a few games in this series after being brought here to get the team over the hump.
Kyle Korver shot well late in the season from the three-point line but only played five minutes Thursday. Ronnie Brewer was on the court for only 10 minutes after helping shut down Jrue Holiday Tuesday.
Thibodeau's pet, John Lucas, only saw nine minutes of action, while back-up PG Mike James never saw the court the entire series in another mistake by the head coach.
Sitting up in the press box Tuesday night, I was a seat away from someone I know who has been an NBA scout. I heard him mentioning James to the guy sitting next to him, so I chimed in.
I had been saying all along James should be getting some minutes because he can run the offense as a true point guard while also offering more of a defensive presence at the same time. He agreed that James should be playing and was a better option than both Watson and Lucas.
Considering how poorly Watson played the entire series, and taking into account that if Lucas was a baseball player, he would be the "Human Rain Delay 2" with how much clock he wastes dribbling the ball, James would have made sense.
Nothing made sense this entire series. The Bulls were only the fifth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 since 1984.
How could the Coach of the Year runner-up have no timeouts at the end of the game? When that happened to former coach Vinny Del Negro, he was vilified.
Maybe he gets a pass because of his 112-36 record, but it doesn't look quite as pretty when you realize his playoff record is only 11-11.
And what happened at the end when Asik missed the free throw that nobody was back defending the basket other than the guy shooting them? There was a total breakdown. For that, you can blame both the players and the coach.
One thing players always ask of a coach is consistency, and you get none of that with Thibodeau. There is no rhyme or reason for his substitution patterns. Some players can't get off the bench, and others can't get on it.
Despite the injuries the Bulls suffered, this was a winnable series. If the Sixers were named after a movie, it would be The Gang That Can't Shoot Straight.
The Bulls lost because of dumb decisions. There is no explanation for why Watson found it wise to pass the ball to a notoriously bad free-throw shooter with bad hands to boot instead of waiting to be fouled himself. Nothing good was going to come of that.
Bulls fans should be psyching up for Game 7 at the United Center Saturday instead of asking themselves, "Where does the team go from here?"
There are a lot of questions still to be asked. If the Bulls had lost on Tuesday, I had planned on asking Thibodeau if next year he would place less emphasis on getting the best record and more on the team being rested and ready for the playoffs.
I didn't have a chance to ask that question, and there weren't any right answers Thursday in the City of Brotherly Love.
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