Tom Thibodeau has made the phrase “we have more than enough to win” famous over his three seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bulls. In fact, it has become a much-needed rallying cry for his players. The ones healthy enough to actually play at any rate. As Jimmy Butler has said more than once, when you keep hearing it, you start buying into it.
But stop and consider the origin of the phrase. Why has Thibodeau needed to utter it so often it has become the team’s unofficial motto? The answer is simple: the Bulls always have a lot of injuries.
During Thibodeau’s first season as head coach, the Bulls lost 61 player games to injury. Most of that was due to the extended absences of Carlos Boozer (23 games) and Joakim Noah (34 games). Nonetheless, the Bulls went on to win a league-best 62 games and Derrick Rose was named MVP.
The injury problem was even worse the following season, as the Bulls lost 100 player games to injury during the lockout-shorted 66-game season. Rip Hamilton (38 games) and Derrick Rose (27 games) made up the bulk of those missed games, although C.J. Watson (17 games) and Luol Deng (12 games) were up there too. Nonetheless, the Bulls once again finished with a league-best record of 50-16.
As for this season? The Bulls are already at 172 player games lost to injury. And counting. And sure, Derrick Rose (76 games) is responsible for a big chunk of those lost games, but Hamilton (31 games), Kirk Hinrich (22 games), Taj Gibson (13 games) and Noah (12 games) have also missed long stretches.
Yet the Bulls and their fans have bought into the “more than enough to win” concept. And why not? They’ve had plenty of big wins this season. A couple weeks ago, they enjoyed big wins against the Pacers and Heat. Then this past week they pulled off a brutal back-to-back series that started in Brooklyn and ended at home against the Magic despite essentially using a 6.5-man rotation.
We have gotten rather spoiled to this gutsy team grinding out impressive wins. So spoiled that tough losses — like last night’s defeat in Detroit — feel kind of shocking even though they shouldn’t.
I’ll admit things seemed promising with the return of both Noah and Marco Belinelli. Of course, the Basketball Gods giveth, and they also taketh away. To wit: Luol Deng missed the game with a sore hip.
Despite having a net gain of +1 warm bodies, the Bulls just looked…tired.
It was evident in their jumpers, as they went 5-for-19 from 16-23 feet and 3-for-15 from three-point range (per Hoopdata). It was also evident at the foul line, where they went 16-for-25.
It was evident in their transition defense, which allowed 16 fast break points. It was also evident in both their interior defense (the Pistons were 20-for-26 at the rim) and their three-point defense (Detroit went 9-for-18 from downtown).
Finally, it was evident on the boards, where they were outrebounded 40-33.
Boozer had a nice game (21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), Jimmy Butler was solid (14 points, 2-for-2 on threes, 4 rebounds) and Noah looked sharp during his limited stint (21 minutes, 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal). But the team really had no zip to speak of. Not even Nate Robinson, who scored 18 points but needed 19 shots to get there.
And so Chicago’s 18-game winning streak over the Pistons came to a sour end. I guess nothing lasts forever.
Still, it was a little hard watching Brandon Knight (20 points, 7-for-12, 5 assists), Jonas Jerebko (17 points, 7-for-8, 9 rebounds) and Charlie Villanueva (12 points) light the Bulls up. I can’t help but feel that a even a slightly healthier Chicago team would have shut the Pistons down and won this in a blowout. Instead, it was the Bulls finishing on the wrong end of a 14-point loss.
As usual, the Bulls offered no excuses after the game, and Thibs again stressed the need for focus, intensity and maximum effort. And I have a feeling his players will respond and beat the Raptors on Tuesday night.
The Bulls (42-34) are still fifth in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Nets (44-32) and one game ahead of the Hawks (42-36). And they remain something of a mystery — a proud and hard-working but injury-riddled team that can either win or lose against anybody on any given night.