Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: ”It’s an internal matter. [Bulls GM] Gar [Forman] and myself will handle it. … It’s unfortunate timing, but in the short run there’s a responsibility. No one player is bigger than the team, and there’s a responsibility to do things right. And I think by handling the situation the right way, which I think we are, I know we are. It’s not one person. It’s a group. And you have to be committed to your teammates, your coaches, the organization. That doesn’t go just for Tyrus. It goes for everybody. The guys know how things run around here. That’s how it’s going to be.”
At least one thing is clear: That’s how “it” is going to be.
As for Thomas, shouldn’t we have seen this coming? After all, Tyrus had sky high hopes for this season. In case you don’t remember, Thomas believed he had a very real chance to become a 20-10 guy this year. This is what he had to say about that possibility last October: “First, I have to figure out my role as far as the offensive end. I have to figure out where I’m going to get my shots. But on the defensive end, definitely 10 (rebounds a game).”
Ty’s current averages: 8.5 PPG and 6.2 RPG. I guess you could say things haven’t quite gone according to plan.
Since that bold prediction, Thomas has fractured the radius bone in his left forearm during a weightlifting session at practice, missed 23 games, lost his starting job to rookie Taj Gibson, endured a constant stream of trade rumors, and watched his minutes slowly dwindle to the point that — even with Noah shut down until some time after the All-Star break — he logged only 16 minutes of PT in a loss to the Hawks in Atlanta.
Make no mistake: Thomas has the physical tools necessary to be an All-Star-caliber player. However, whenever his future is discussed, words like “enigmatic” and “mercurial” always pop up. Tyrus has over halfway through his fourth season as a pro, but the Bulls still have no idea what he’s going to give them on a nightly basis. He might score 20 points and grab 15 boards. He might go 2-for-13 from the field and finish with more turnovers and rebounds.
If it seems as though the coaching staff has lost faith in him, it’s probably because they have. There simply is no other way to explain his sporadic appearances. And whatever he said or did behind the scenes isn’t going to help his standing with his teammates, coaches or management.
Meanwhile, the Bulls — losers of three in a row — had a basketball game to play. And they had to squeeze 20 meaningful minutes out of Chris Richard, whom they waived in October but recently signed to a 10-day contract. Richard, who no doubt can be counted on to bust his butt without complaining about minutes, responded to his big chance with 7 rebounds (including 4 on the offensive end), 2 points, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal.
Just imagine if Richard had Thomas’ raw talent.
Richard wasn’t the only Chicago player who came up big. Luol Deng earned a game-high 11 free throw attempts and finished with a game-best 25 points. Derrick Rose added 24 points and made some big plays down the stretch. John Salmons came off the bench to score 15 points and dish out a team-high 5 assists. And Brad Miller chipped in with 13 points, 8 boards and a career-best 5 steals.
All this on the second night of back-to-backs after traveling back to Chicago from Atlanta. It was a real gut check. And it turns out the Bulls still have their guts intact.
Said Rose: “Definitely, we needed this one. It gives us more confidence. Our locker room was way more cheerful than it was the past couple of games. Now, we just got to keep it going.”
It won’t be easy. There were signs of trouble in this game, like how Chicago got outrebounded 52-41. However, they did have the edge in second-chance points (19-15), points in the paint (38-30), fastbreak points (20-12), points off turnovers (21-16) and free throw attempts (35-19). Both teams wanted this game…but the Bulls wanted it more.
Too bad Tyrus couldn’t be a part of that.
1st timeout: Deng was fouled before the timeout (1-for-2)
2nd timeout: Bulls forced Miami into a turnover
3rd timeout: Udonis Haslem hit a jumper
4th timeout: Salmons missed a 14-footer
5th timeout: Deng was fouled (2-for-2)
6th timeout: Deng was fouled (2-for-2)
Vinny called one timeout after the Heat had already committed a fouls. He called two timeouts immediately after a Miami timeout when the Heat had possession of the ball. The final timeout was called at a point when Miami was forced the fouls. So the Bulls had only two offensive possessions coming out of a timeout. One resulted in a missed jump shot, the other in two free throws for Deng (thanks to a sweet feed by D-Rose) that put the Bulls up by five points with 37 seconds left.
Under the circumstances — no Joakim Noah, playing on the road against a great home team — the Bulls were pretty darn good through three quarters. And during that opening stretch, Derrick Rose gave us one of the great highlights of this season…or any other for that matter.
Freaking amazing, right?
Anyway, the Bulls played really well for three quarters and even entered the fourth with a 70-64 lead. Then they were outscored 27-11 in the final 12 minutes.
Credit the Hawks defense, and some truly shoddy play calling and execution, for the Bulls collapse. For your viewing displeasure, here’s a list of Chicago’s fourth-quarter possessions. Read ‘em and weep.
Kirk Hinrich turnover (pass stolen by Josh Smith)
Devin Brown missed 17-footer
John Salmons missed layup
Taj Gibson turnover (traveling)
Taj Gibson missed 20-footer
Salmons missed 14-footer
Salmons made jumper (Brad Miller assists)
Miller missed three-pointer
Salmons missed three-pointer
Luol Deng missed three-pointer
Rose missed 19-footer
Deng made 17-footer
Rose made 18-footer
Hinrich missed 8-footer
Rose made layup
Rose missed three-pointer
Hinrich missed 21-footer
Deng missed jumper
Deng missed jumper
Rose drew a fouls (1-for-2)
So…the Bulls went 4-for-18 (mostly on long jump shots), committed a couple turnovers and made only one trip to the line (with 24 seconds left in the game). Ugly.
Chicago also gave up five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, including two possessions in which the Hawks snared two offensive boards in the same sequence. After those five offensive boards, Atlanta got a layup by Joe Johnson (Hawks 76, Bulls 72), a putback by Josh Smith (Hawks 78, Bulls 72), and a three-point dagger by Mike Bibby with 2:10 left (Hawks 86, Bulls 78).
Those were three critical possessions. Man, the Bulls sure could have used Joakim Noah. They also could have used Rose’s jump shot, which was MIA most of the night. Derrick finished 6-for-9 at the rim and 3-for-12 away from it. His shot looked flat all night.
Even without Noah, the Bulls did a pretty good job of shutting down Atlanta’s fast break (12 points) and protecting the rim (where the Hawks were only 16-for-28). But Chicago’s defensive rotations weren’t as crisp as they could have been, and Atlanta burned the Bulls from long range (8-for-18 from downtown). Although, in all fairness, the Hawks hit some tough shots, especially when they ripped off an 8-0 run to start the final period.
And Josh Smith (18 points, 14 boards, 10 assists) played out of his mind.
Meanwhile, with Miller starting at center, the Bulls got almost nothing out of their bench (8 points, 4-for-14). Big Brad played 40 minutes but finished with only 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 3 turnovers. And Miller didn’t score in the second half. Meanwhile, Tyrus Thomas earned only 16 minutes and had 4 points, 4 boards, 2 steals and 2 turnovers. I really thought that, with Noah out, Thomas would play 20+ minutes.
Another factor in Chicago’s offensive woes is that they throw bad passes. The Bulls aren’t selfish, and the players genuinely try to hit open teammates, but there are way to many passes that end up at someone’s feet, at their waist, up by their shoulder, a foot to their left, a foot to their right, so on and so forth.
A good pass has to lead into a player’s natural shooting motion. When a player has to collect the ball and then redirect it into their shooting motion, they not only lose a critical split second during which the defense can react, they usually won’t be able to fire it up in rhythm. The Bulls are a bad shooting team this season despite having guys (like Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons) who have hit a pretty decent percentage of their field goal attempts in the past. And Devin Brown — who went 0-for-3 from the field in seven minutes off the bench — had to reach down to his knees for one pass. And yes, that pass led to a missed jumper.
It just seems like the Bulls would benefit from some work on their passing. Because when players are already struggling to find their shots, bad passes only makes things worse.
Let’s hope we see some better passes tonight against the Heat.
This continues my effort to track the Bulls’ performance coming out of a timeout.
1st timeout: Rose missed a 21-foot jumper
2nd timeout: Miller hit a short jumper
3rd timeout: Deng missed a 20-footer
4th timeout: Miller commited a turnover
5th timeout: Gibson missed a 20-foot jump shot
6th timeout: Deng drilled a 17-footer (Rose with the assist)
7th timeout: Rose missed a long three-pointer
Summary: Out of seven timeouts, the Bulls went 2-for-6 and committed a turnover. Five of their six shot attempts were from deep. It’s worth noting that Derrick’s three-point attempt happened with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter when the Bulls were making a desperate comeback attempt. However, even discounting that shot, the Bulls ended up with several empty possessions after their timeouts.