Preseason Game 7: Bulls 110, Raptors 103

Last season, the Toronto Raptors ranked dead last in Defensive Rating, giving up a whopping 113.2 points per 100 possessions. From the looks of things, their D didn’t improve when Chris Bosh decided to take his talents to South Beach.

To wit: The Bulls assisted on 26 of their 39 field goals, scored 27 fast break points, earned 35 free throws, had 42 points in the paint, shot 50 percent as a team and finished with 110 points.

Players who enjoyed stat-padding nights included Derrick Rose (20 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal), Luol Deng (22 points, 7-for-13, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), James Johnson (13 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter), Brian Scalabrine (14 points on 6-for-7 shooting), C.J. Watson (12 points on, ugh, 3-for-13 shooting) and even the ancient Kurt Thomas (10 points on 5-for-6 shooting).

The bad news? Toronto assisted on 24 of their 38 field goals, scored 15 fast break points, earned 36 free throws, had 50 points in the paint, shot nearly 48 percent from the field and finished with 103 points. The Raptors also won the rebounding battle 45-36.

This wasn’t the Celtics or the Lakers. This was the Raptors…a team with a few above-average players at best. Not surprisingly, Coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t happy with his team’s defense. To say the least.

Said Thibs: “Transition, pick-and-roll defense, challenging shots, not protecting the paint, from A to Z, it just wasn’t there. I liked the way we played offensively a lot. We shared the ball, made good decisions and scored effectively. But if we’re just going to rely on our offense, we’re going to be in trouble.”

You’ve got to love this, right? That quote reads like something you’d expect a coach to say 10-20 games (or more) into the regular season. Speaking of which, Thibodeau burned a 20-second timeout less than four minutes into the game to read his team the riot act for a lackadaisical start. Clearly, this man is intense.

Said Luol Deng: “He expects a lot out of us. And we were letting him down.”

On that subject, Thibodeau also said: “I’m concerned about our rebounding, our rebounding is not good.”

In all fairness, the fact that Joakim Noah missed the game with flu-like symptoms and Carlos Boozer is still out with that broken hand probably explains the rebounding deficit. Not to make excuses, but they are, by the numbers, Chicago’s two best rebounders.

At any rate, the way Luol Deng tells it, “Defense First” has been a consistent and repetitive message from Thibodeau: “That’s coach. He expects excellence out of us and I’m glad that he does. It’s just going to make us all better and it’s going to make us better as a team.”

You know who Thibs reminds me of? Former Bulls coach (and current Bucks coach) Scott Skiles.

Like Thibodeau, Skiles was a demanding perfectionist. His bulldog’s intensity and absolute insistence on defense, hard work and hustle make the Bulls a much better team. However, his style wore on his players. A lot. By his fourth season in Chicago, many players had tuned him out and some even seemed to quit on him. Then Skiles got fired. On Christmas eve.

In the NBA, things rarely end well for taskmasters.

And although some people will tell you that today’s player is more self-centered than the old-schoolers, this isn’t a new thing. Back in the early 1980s, a former U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor named Bill Fitch coached the Boston Celtics to a 32-game turnaround and then won a league championship in only his second season with the team. Admittedly, having Larry Bird around helped, but so did Fitch’s demanding nature and attention to detail (he was one of the first NBA coaches to use video sessions).

Unfortunately, the coach’s dictatorial style got to his players. By the fourth year of the Fitch Regime, those players — Kevin McHale and Robert Parish in particular — staged a mini-revolt that culminated in an embarrassing playoff sweep by the Milwaukee Bucks. When a Larry Bird-led squad gets swept by a lesser opponent, you know there’ s a problem. Not surprisingly — and despite the fact that Bird was his biggest supporter — Fitch was canned.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that Thibodeau wants nothing but 100 percent effort from his team every single night. I liked that quality in Skiles, and I’m glad it’s back. But it’s something to think about down the road.

Right now, though, the Bulls need this. They do. The team has nine new players. Boozer is going to miss the team’s most challenging stretch of the season. Guys have ticky-tac injuries and need to learn their roles. Structure is an absolute necessity.

After all, these games are going to start counting soon.

Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

8 Responses to Preseason Game 7: Bulls 110, Raptors 103

    joe October 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Look, if the team doesn’t want to defend, they don’t want to compete for a championship.

    So I’ll keep the taskmaster coach and look to shed players who want the franchise to spend wildly for talent (that is pay them well) to get the pieces for winning a championship BUT don’t want to do the hard work to win.

    Scott Skiles ain’t going anywhere. He’s going to a fixture just as Jerry Sloan – small town franchises can’t afford to pander to players.

    BoppinBob October 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Thibs has a history of being a players coach and now you are comparing him to Skiles. Of course, becoming the head coach could cause a Jeckyll/Hyde change. On the other side of that coin is that he could find the balance that other coaches have found that is both demanding and still remains a players coach. The trait of winning coaches.Thibs is the coach the Bulls need now. We could be looking at a Collins/Jackson type situation at some point in the future. It is too early to tell.

    Hans October 21, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    Thibs communicates with his team. Skiles never really built a relationship with his players. His relationship was built on discipline and work alone. Thibs to me is more like Jerry Sloan. Sloan works his players hard and expects a lot, but his players like and respect –rather than fear– him. The players already seem to like Thibs as a person as well as a coach. I could be wrong but I don’t remember the Bulls ever really liking Skiles for anything other than his skills as an X’s and O’s guy.

    joe October 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    Thibs never had a head job offer because he’s an intense hard ass.

    The guy is intense and his reputation kept him form being picked sooner.

    The concern is real, players will tune him out. The fact he’s been a winner with the Celtics helps.

    Bulls Mgmt have to full y back the guy – like Jazz have done with Sloan and Bucks *will* do with Skiles.

    Bucks and Jazz can’t afford to have players whine about playing hard. These small franchise markets and even the Spurs show a good, tough coach with a good backing from the front office can be successful.

  5. Anonymous October 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    People like Thibs and Skiles will always be good coaches but will never last with any team. They’ll get squads to overachieve, then the players will feel they’re good enough to win without the constant bullying, they’ll rebel, and the coach will be out of town. Simple.

  6. letsgobulls_24 October 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    I haven’t commented in a while but I still check your blog, religiously, every single day. Keep up the good work Matt.

    Mario October 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    Just what a young and up “N” coming team needs. You see what kind of results Stan Van Gundy gets from his players, he’s known as a hard ass, but the Magic have been looking like the 97 Bulls (Unbeatable) this


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