Timeouts, rebounding and robots

The second-biggest storyline coming out of Game 2 — after Jesus Shuttlesworth versus Air Gordon — was the Bulls’ lack of timeouts in the closing seconds, which forced a final (and fatal) 50-foot heave from Tyrus Thomas as time expired. And in true “I’m Italian!” fashion, the one person not second-guessing Vinny Del Negro is…Vinny Del Negro.

According to the Notorious VDN: “You always want to try and keep a time out, but you always want to try to keep yourself in the game. There’s no need to save your time outs if you’re down 15 points, or 10, or 12. At certain times, when they’re making runs like that, and we get the ball with 20 seconds to go in the game and we’re down two, I want to make sure we get a good shot and have an opportunity to tie. Because if we don’t execute well and set something up — especially with a young team — then they’re shooting free throws and the game’s probably over. So I would have liked to have had one at the end, but sometimes you can keep them and sometimes you have to use them to stay in the game.

“People are going to second guess and first guess. So what? I don’t care. They can guess. I’m the coach. I’m going to make the decisions. That’s the way it is. In two seconds or whatever we’ve got to take the ball out of bounds. The ball is going to go to Derrick, because he’s our fastest guy to get it up the court. We set up a play in the time out. We didn’t execute it because the Celtics did a good job with their execution. And that’s the end of the game. I mean, two seconds, I don’t second guess that.”

And now, the money shot. On whether he regrets his use (or, if you’re a critic, misuse) of timeouts: “No not at all. Not a second.”

First off, let’s look at the timeouts Vinny called down the stretch. There was a full timeout with 1:54 following a couple miscues by the Bulls and a quick mini-spurt by the Celtics that cut a five-point Chicago lead to 109-108. The result: A midrange shot from Ben Gordon to make it 111-108. There was a 20-second timeout with a minute left and Boston up 112-111. The result: A 20-footer from BG to put Chicago up 113-112. The final pause, another 20-second timeout with 20 ticks on the clock, predeced another Gordon jumper (from 16 feet out) that tied the game at 115-115 with 12 seconds to go.

To recap: All three late-game TOs resulted in made shots that either increased the lead, took the lead or tied the game. (Chicago’s only other second-half timeout was used with 2:50 left in the third quarter.) So in a sense, they were a success in that they all led to scoring conversions, which gave the team a very real chance to win the game. And mind you, there’s some 20-20 hindsight going on here. The only reason people are screaming about this is because Ray Allen hit an incredible shot over Joakim Noah. If Allen had missed that shot — which wouldn’t have been much of a stretch — then nobody’s talking about this now.

And honestly, what was Vinny supposed to say? Would it have made his critics — or, more importantly, his team — feel any better if he was killing himself with regret? I doubt it. And while I certainly hope that Vinny is able to hold onto a timeout (or two) in Game 3, I’d be giving him a little more hairy eyeball if the ones he called in Game 2 had ended in empty possessions.

Onto rebounding, the third-biggest storyline of Game 2. According to one AP article, the Bulls are “seething” over how badly they were beaten on the boards. (Note that there aren’t any particularly juicy quotes that communicate that seething feeling, but whatever.) To tell you the truth, I’ll be more interested to see what kind of adjustments Vinny makes in the team’s rebounding than how many timeouts he holds onto. Can he rely on Joakim, Tyrus and Brad to deny Boston the second-chance opportunities they lived off of in Game 2? Will he press the “little guys” (Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons) to crash the boards a little harder? And if he does, will that slow down the running game?

I tend to think he’ll continue to put the onus on his big men to get the job done. The Bulls have become a running team. Their fast break has really hurt the Celtics in the first two games; Chicago had a 24-13 advantage in fast break points in Game 1 and a 21-10 edge in Game 2. I doubt he’ll want to surrender that weapon.

Update! Actually, Vinny’s putting the onus on everybody. Here’s the scoop: “Everybody has to do a better job rebounding, not just the bigs. Guards have to get in there and get long rebounds. Rondo has hurt us bad with his rebounding and overall game.”

One last thing. According to a little urban legendry, Chicago’s team logo might hide a rather benign secret: “If you turn the Bull’s head upside down it reveals…a robot sitting on a park bench, reading the Bible. The Bull’s nostrils form the robot’s eyes, its furrowed brows are the open pages of the book, and the horns are the legs of a park bench. (Why the Bible? Well, it just looks like a big book.)” And in case you need a visual:

Holy Robot

Not exactly the Da Vinci Code…but mildly interesting nonetheless.

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7 Responses to Timeouts, rebounding and robots

  1. grimley73@yahoo.com'
    Raleigh St. Clair April 22, 2009 at 3:15 am #

    Once again, an insightful and well articulated post. The rebounds were absolutely defeating and I think that’s why Tyrus was pulled. We all know he lacks focus at times and I think the game plan was for him to concentrate on crashing the boards. He wasn’t and so Miller is in. He’ll learn that rebounding is critical in the playoffs.

    VDN has done a good job considering that he has a rookie pg, young bigs, and has had to contend with injuries. I feel like he’s learned from his mistakes as the season’s progressed and the team has gotten better and better. Heck, they were even playing well before the trade. Yes, he’s made mistakes and he’s brash about owning up to it. We’ve seemed to hear a lot of “I’m the coach and I make the calls” this season. But, he’s got this young team playing well and Boston is feeling the heat regardless of their own injuries. I can bet you he’ll manage those timeouts more efficiently.

  2. justinbelize@gmail.com'
    Belize April 22, 2009 at 3:48 am #

    if salmons drops 30+, we got game 3

  3. alrichca@yahoo.com'
    Casey April 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Best. Playoff. Commentary. Ever.

  4. gal.dagon@gmail.com'
    Czernobog April 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    Well said.
    And bad timeout management or not, I think VDN has out-coached Rivers so far. Pierce has been prety much a non-factor in the series so far, and Boston’s forced to rely very heavily on Rondo. I don’t know how long he can sustain this level of play.

  5. macalo07@gmail.com'
    Mike C. April 22, 2009 at 6:39 pm #

    saying the timeouts lead to scores i think is mistaking a cause for a correlation; in my opinion, the timeouts didn’t cause the scores. sure, many times you call a timeout, draw a great play, and it leads to a score– when skiles was coach here, he did this all the time, and other coaches like d’antoni and popovich are masters of this. however, vinny doesn’t do this, because as far as i can tell, we have no offensive playbook. after the timeouts, we ran the same “bg runs the width of the court, gets a stagger screen, gets the ball, and creates from there” play that we’d run the entire 4th quarter. i don’t think it would have been too hard to just run that play without calling a timeout. i think the timeout at 154 was fine, but we didn’t need timeouts at both the 1 min mark and the 20 second mark.

    and if ray missed that shot and we had a timeout, we could have gotten the rebound (a huge assumption based on how awful we rebounded the other night), called timeout, and probably had about a second left. same thing happened in game 1 after pierce’s missed ft; if we had a timeout left we could’ve called it and gotten the ball at half court with 2 secs left instead of having miller launch an 80 footer.

  6. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale April 22, 2009 at 7:05 pm #

    Raleigh St. Clair — I don’t understand why Tyrus sometimes struggles to keep his head in the game, particularly as it pertains to rebounding and shot selection. He could also use a little more upper body strength. I forget which game it was, but Rondo ripped a rebound out of his hands at some point in this series. That really shouldn’t happen.

    I’m still trying to bend my mind around Vinny The Coach. He’s made a lot of mistakes. But he is a rookie coach, and he’s been learning. The team is playing better. Honestly, I’m going to have to sift through all the video I’ve saved during the offseason and try to isolate changes from early in the season through late.

    Belize — Seriously. I sure miss the pre-groin injury Salmons.

    Casey — Hey now, you’re gonna embarrass me.

    Czernobog — It seems that Vinny has done a good job keeping the guys focused and determined. How much of that is coaching and how much of that is just the players doing their thing is impossible to tell. You could also make the argument that Del Negro has benefitted from hot games by Rose and Gordon. But you know, Mike Brown gets an awful lot of credit for LeBron’s brilliance…

    Mike C. — It’s impossible to determine why any one shot does or does not go in, in any game, ever. Simply put, there are too many factors involved. It’s reasonable to suggest that Vinny benefitted from BG’s red-hot shooting (even if the studies on TrueHoop suggest there’s no such thing as a “hot hand”). And maybe that’s the case. But maybe stopping play, giving the players some time to calm down and collect themselves helped the play along. It’s impossible to tell.

    My point was that, however you look at it, the Bulls didn’t come away with a single empty possession out of any of Vinny’s late-game timeouts. I spend a lot of time going over play-by-plays, and I can tell you that many teams have many empty, scoreless possessions out of timeouts…especially the younger, inexperienced ones. So while we can’t say for certain that the timeout helped, we do know that no stupid mistakes were made. The Bulls didn’t commit any offensive fouls or throw the ball away. And they were able to further their cause each time.

    It’s never a best-case scenario not to have any timeouts at the end of a game. But post-timeout conversions at the end of a tight, competitive playoff game — particularly on the road — are huge. And it’s certainly possible that they helped.

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