Chicago Bulls' Tom Thibodeau: Is He Getting Outcoached by Pacers' Frank Vogel?

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIApril 25, 2011

The Indiana Pacers staved off elimination Saturday, surviving a furious Chicago Bulls rally in the last three minutes to hold on for an 89-84 victory.

The win kept the Bulls from sweeping and they now hold a 3-1 lead in the series, though they're really lucky that the Pacers aren't up 3-1 or completing their own sweep. Pacers coach Frank Vogel agrees, saying in the Chicago Sun Times: "I'm still upset it's 1-3. We should be up in this series."

I searched every article written and listened to the local sports radio stations to see if anybody else was seeing what seemed so obvious to me—that Vogel was schooling Bulls Coach of the Year candidate Tom Thibodeau in this series.

Everybody acknowledges the Bulls are the more talented team, but if that's the case, why have the Pacers dominated?

It seems like they're definitely out-hustling the Bulls. Thibodeau admitted as much in the Chicago Tribune Sunday, saying: "They fought harder and got to loose balls."

The Bulls were known during the season for playing every game at playoff intensity, and that's what led to their league-best 62-20 record.

The question was if they could ratchet up their game another notch once the playoffs started.

I guess we now have our answer.

And what has happened to the coach? Along with Rose, Thibodeau shared the credit for the resurrection of the team from a .500 club to the best in the NBA.

He did a great job during the regular season, but his genius hasn't been evident in this playoff series.  

While Vogel has effected changes when he has noticed breakdowns by his team, Thibodeau has failed to make adjustments and stuck with what got him to this point.

Rose went off the first two games for 39 and 36 points, almost defeating the Pacers by himself.

Vogel reacted by reenacting the "Jordan Rules" that were made famous by the Detroit Pistons to guard Michael Jordan.

Pacers thug Jeff Foster has played the Bill Laimbeer role to perfection when Rose has attacked the lane, twice causing Rose to get in his face.

Instead of anger from Coach Thibodeau, he has complimented Foster after Game 3 as a "hard-nosed player who he has always admired." He's not looking for retaliation, preferring for his team to remain calm and play their game.

While you don't have to retaliate in a way that's going to get a player suspended, you do have to send a message that trying to hurt Derrick Rose will not be tolerated. Otherwise it's open season on him, especially if the Bulls face the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard in the next round, which is now a long shot with Orlando down 3-1.

After Game 2, Vogel put 6'6" Dahntay Jones on Rose. Jones didn't get off the bench for the first two games, but he has totally shut down Rose's game ever since with a little help from his friends.

Jones is built like an NFL linebacker, and between him and Paul George, they have held Rose to 4-of-18 shooting in Game 3 and 6-of-22 in the last game, including 0-of-9 from the three-point line. Rose had 23 points and 15 points respectively in the last two games.

The switch of coverage means that diminutive point guard Darren Collison has been guarding Bulls shooting guard Keith Bogans.

When you consider that Bogans is averaging 3.3 points a game along with 4-of-13 shooting in 18.8 minutes a game, you realize that the Pacers don't need anyone guarding him.

Indiana has dominated all four games, leading from start to finish on Saturday, along with holding the lead the entire time in Game 1 until the Bulls finally overtook them in the final minute.

You would think that with the Pacers constantly double-teaming Rose, there would be open looks for other players that the Bulls could take advantage of.

In K.C. Johnson's column in the Sunday Chicago Tribune, Kyle Korver said: "They're taking us out of what we want to do for sure. We're not getting good looks. When they have two on the ball, it should be easy offense. We should have guys wide open."

Knowing this is happening, what is Coach Thibodeau doing about it?


He puts out the same lineup game after game, and he has done that the entire season, despite cries for Bogans to be taken out of the starting lineup. 

He had a previous history coaching Bogans, who appears to be a pet of his, but at what price?

Wouldn't inserting Kyle Korver into the starting lineup instead of Bogans help the Bulls jump-start the team and put pressure on the Pacers to try to mount a comeback? The Pacers have dictated the pace of every game in this series, and they look like they're the No. 1 seed instead of the Bulls.

Would Darren Collison be able to cover the 6'7" Korver, who has averaged 9.8 points in just 21.3 minutes while shooting 14-of-25 from the field, including 8-of-10 from the three-point circle?

Derrick Rose also has to be more aggressive early in games. He tries to get his teammates involved to start games, but if the Bulls want to avoid falling behind, he's going to need to be more selfish and dominate the first quarter like he dominates the end of games.

The results should be in soon for the Coach of the Year award, and Thibodeau is the prohibitive favorite to pick up the hardware.

I'm not questioning the award because he deserves it, for the regular season. But when is he going to start earning it in the playoffs?

The Bulls final play on Saturday, trying to tie the game, was a perfect example of Vogel getting the best of Thibodeau. The Bulls had 14.1 seconds left after the timeout, with Thibodeau known as one of the best tacticians in the league in drawing up plays after a timeout.

After botching the play and failing to call another timeout, the ball ended up in Carlos Boozer's hand, and he was forced to attempt the game-tying three. Boozer hasn't attempted a three since 2007, and he hadn't made one since his rookie year in 2003.

In the postgame press conference, Thibodeau said: "There are three or four different options to get a three. We didn't get a good look. They defended it well."

Derrick Rose added: "We didn't execute it right."

The question was: Why was Boozer even in the game at that point? You want as many three-point shooters as possible to make it difficult for Indiana to guard the play.

Why wasn't C.J. Watson in the game with Rose, Korver, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to attempt to get a rebound? With Boozer in at that time, Indiana was able to leave him open in the corner and overplay Rose and Korver.

The boo-birds have been merciless on Boozer, who has not had a very good series.

While nobody denies that except for Boozer, who insists he doesn't care about his numbers, "as long as we win," when is somebody going to question Coach Thibodeau's performance so far?

The Bulls will still win the series and they should do it Tuesday night, though I'm not as confident as I was before the series started.

It turns out the Game 1 performance from Indiana that was supposed to be a wake-up call for the Bulls was the reality instead of a mirage.

What's really alarming is that these games are on tape for the Bulls future, much tougher opponents to view.

Maybe Coach Thibodeau can ratchet up his game. He's going to have to if the Bulls are going to bring home the hardware this year.


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