Much more has been made about Tom Thibodeau's decision to bench Carlos Boozer in the fourth quarter than I'm sure the Chicago Bulls coach anticipated.
After all, the starting group wasn't getting the job done in the third quarter, and the reserves made a valiant comeback throughout the final minutes. A combination of Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Omer Asik played better than Derrick Rose and Boozer did. By a long shot.
Moreover, looking back at the game tape shows Boozer was atrocious on defense, allowing several alley-oops and letting Devin Harris drive down the lane and easily finish at the hoop.
So it is really no surprise Boozer got benched. In fact, if I were Thibodeau, I'd even consider doing it again until Boozer really makes an effort to improve his defense. We all know that's why he sat the final 12 minutes, not because the Bulls wanted to play small against a zone.
Boozer seemed disgruntled after the game, and Brian Scalabrine said on the radio today that it would be strange if he wasn't unhappy about not getting a chance to help his team. It's nice that Boozer is a competitor, but he should get the message that now that he's fully healthy, his defense should be top-notch as well.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Bulls were not in a position to trade baskets. Unfortunately, with a weak link on defense, it's going to get exposed, and Chicago was in a no-nonsense situation down by double digits.
Now is the time in the Bulls schedule when the team has to learn to keep its foot on the accelerator and not let up against lesser opposition. It has been a problem all season, and against teams like New Jersey, Chicago can win even without Boozer and Joakim Noah.
Speaking of Noah, when he comes back, it's not a stretch to imagine Thibodeau going with Taj Gibson over Boozer since the former is a much better defender. Boozer is a slightly better scorer, but the fact remains that his defense is suspect, and it's now fully clear that Thibodeau doesn't trust him on that side of the ball.
Naturally, the Bulls have more problems than just Boozer. They seemed to fall into that deep hole when Keith Bogans played shooting guard, which leaves fans wondering why Thibodeau let's him start. Most are calling for him to take a seat next to Scalabrine.
Thibodeau has been around the NBA for a long time, but he's still a first-year coach. And with the Bulls facing the Celtics and the Heat in the next nine days, his reaction to this situation will be critical to Chicago bouncing back from its bad loss.
Perhaps more importantly than Thibodeau's reaction will be how Boozer handles the situation. Ideally the message will be received loud and clear, and Boozer will have the defensive chops to stay on the court in late-game situations.
Thibodeau prides himself on his defense. Players and fans have known that since he was hired over the summer. The benching was a wake-up call to Boozer and the rest of the team, with games against the two top Eastern Conference teams on the horizon.
Thibodeau likely believes that his squad is not at the same level as the Celtics and Heat. Losing to the Nets confirmed that. But he likely also knows that wins over Boston and Miami would do wonders for the confidence of Rose, Boozer and the rest of the Bulls as they reach the halfway point in the season.