When Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL in Game 1, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, “We have more than enough to win.”
No one doubted him. After all, Chicago was 18-9 this season without Rose and his myriad injuries. And the Bulls were playing the Philadelphia 76ers, quite possibly the weakest of all the postseason teams.
Then Joakim Noah went down with a severely sprained ankle in Game 3, and Thibodeau again said, “We have more than enough to win.”
Again, no one doubted him. All Chicago needed to do was win one game in Philadelphia, which had the worst home record of any playoff team.
But the Bulls couldn’t get Game 4. They couldn’t get Game 6. And they became the fifth top-seeded team in NBA history to lose to an eighth-seeded team in the first round of the playoffs.
And even after their once-promising season ended in a downpour of Philly confetti, Thibodeau maintained, “I thought we had more than enough to win.”
We still don’t doubt Thibodeau.
However, we do have one question.
If Thibodeau did “have more than enough to win,” why didn’t he use it?
It’s no surprise that coaches shorten their rotations during the postseason. Stars see their minutes rise. Subs see their minutes reduced. Some players fall out of the picture altogether.
It’s entirely understandable, and good strategy. There is more rest between playoff games, and a coach cannot afford to lose a game – or a series – because he stayed with his eighth man for three extra empty possessions in the second half.
But Thibodeau’s rotation in the second half of Game 6 wasn’t a rotation at all. Prior to going offense-defense in a failed attempt to get out of town with a win, these were the 2011 Coach of the Year’s third- and fourth-quarter substitutions:
Taj Gibson for Carlos Boozer, 4:07 left, third quarter.
In the final minute, defensive demon Ronnie Brewer spotted Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton for a combined total of 36 seconds. Besides Gibson, he was the only other player to come off the Bulls’ bench.
Center Omer Asik and point guard C.J. Watson played all 24 minutes. Deng played all but 13 seconds. Hamilton played all but 23 seconds. Gibson played the final 16:07.
Think that group might have been a little tired? They missed six of their last seven shots and didn’t get back on defense to stop Andre Iguodala’s attack on the rim after Asik missed a pair of free throws.
Compare that unit to the Sixers, who finished with Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, who was spotted defensively by Evan Turner.
Iguodala played the entire second half. Young played the final 17-plus minutes, but had a crucial bucket in the final minute. Holiday played the last 9 1/2 minutes. Hawes came on with 2:02 left and also scored a clutch hoop. And Williams alternated the final four-plus minutes with Turner, knocking down a huge 3-pointer.
In a game where your season is on the line – and don’t kid yourselves, Philadelphia’s season was on the line, too – wouldn’t you want to have the fresher team down the stretch?
Thibodeau never went back to Boozer, who shot terribly but did grab 13 rebounds. He never went to Kyle Korver when his offense was sputtering in the third quarter. He never got a blow for Watson with John Lucas, who had seven points in nine first-half minutes.
Thibodeau has to admit that he didn’t have enough to win. There’s no shame in that. He was missing the NBA MVP and his best rebounder, who also just happen to be his two best passers. That’s a lot to be without.
But if he really had enough to win, he would have used it.
TRIVIA: Who are the only two active coaches who have won a Game 7 on the road and lost a Game 7 at home? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Bulls guard C.J. Watson received no less than seven death threats on his Twitter account after passing to Omer Asik, who missed two free throws with seven seconds left and opened the door for the 76ers to steal a series-clinching 79-78 win.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo, after his team won Game 5 to stave off elimination and force Game 6 in Los Angeles:
“There’s no point leaving home if we don’t know our way back.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Garnett, Boston vs. Atlanta, May 10: 39 minutes, 10-19 FGs, 8-10 FTs, 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals, five blocks, one turnover, 28 points in an 83-80 win. Labeled as a dirty player by Hawks owner Michael Gearon a day earlier, Garnett’s points were a season high. His timely scoring turned back nearly every rally by the Hawks, and his turnaround jumper with 30 seconds to go ultimately put the Celtics into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
LINE OF THE WEAK: DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers at Memphis, May 9: 19 minutes, 0-0 FGs, 1-2 FTs, zero rebounds, two assists, two blocks, three fouls, one point in a 92-80 loss. Thanks so much for playing, DeAndre. We have some wonderful parting gifts for you.
GAME OF THE WEEK: LA Clippers at Memphis, May 13. Take your mom or wife to an early brunch or a dinner. But don’t miss this game (1 p.m. EDT start), which could go a long way toward establishing the big-game reputations of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley.
TRILLION WATCH: A very quiet week on the multiple zero front as Philadelphia’s Jodie Meeks was the only player to post more than a 1 trillion with a 2 trillion on Tuesday. Boston’s Ryan Hollins still has the postseason’s best with a 4 trillion on May 4.
TWO MINUTES: On Friday, the NBA admitted that Marquis Daniels’ foul on Al Horford at the end of Game 6 between the Celtics and Hawks should have resulted in a free throw for Horford. Atlanta trailed, 81-79, with 3.1 seconds left when Daniels grabbed Horford on an inbounds play. Referee Eric Lewis ruled the foul came as Marvin Williams was inbounding the ball, but the league said the foul occurred before the pass, which would have given Horford a free throw and the Hawks another inbounds play. It’s not like the call was important or anything like that; the only thing riding on it was Atlanta’s season. Ultimately, Daniels fouled Horford again – committing two fouls in a span of 0.8 seconds – but Horford split the free throws, and the Celtics escaped with a win that clinched the series. … Much was made of Pacers coach Frank Vogel calling the Heat “the biggest flopping team in the NBA” in advance of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. In fact, Vogel was fined $15,000 for adding, “It’ll be interesting to see how the series is officiated.” However, no one seemed to read too much into LeBron James’ assessment of the Pacers, which was much more harsh. “I don’t think they’ve given us too many problems, personally,” he said. “We played some great ball against them. I think we gave them more problems than they gave us.” During the season, Miami blew out Indiana twice, then won in overtime before the Pacers trounced the Heat in the last meeting. … Now that the Knicks have ended the longest playoff losing streak in NBA history at 13 games, it is time to start tracking the Jazz, who are up to eight straight losses dating to 2010, when they were swept by the Lakers in the West semifinals. … Oklahoma City’s James Harden may have won the Sixth Man Award, but San Antonio has had the best bench play in the postseason by far. The Spurs’ reserves scored at least 40 points in all four games vs. Utah, averaging 46.0 points. There have been just seven other teams to get at least 40 points from their subs, including three by Denver. There also have been six teams to receive single digits from the bench, including Miami and the Lakers twice apiece. … There are no back-to-back games in either of the East semifinals, but there are in both of the West semifinals, including a potential Staples Center doubleheader Saturday if the Clippers can win Game 7 today. … Part of a team’s postseason success can hinge upon whether it can keep its cool when tempers get hot. Through the first round of the playoffs, the Pacers were the only team not to be whistled for a technical foul. By contrast, the Knicks had 12 in five games and the Clippers have 13 in six. … We have a really hard time comprehending the thought process that compels someone to run onto an NBA court while the ball is in play, as a 20-year-old woman did during Game 4 of the Lakers-Nuggets series at the Pepsi Center on Sunday. She sneaked past courtside security and walked right onto the floor while carrying a scarf, which she appeared to try to throw at a player running by. She was arrested for trespassing; she should have been arrested for idiocy. .. It was kind of ironic to watch Knicks backup Mike Bibby play well in the first-round series vs. the Heat. In the last three games, Bibby averaged 8.0 points on 50 percent shooting with 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists. In four playoff series with Miami a year ago, Bibby did not average better than 4.0 points; in the Finals, he had two donuts and a DNP in the Game 6 clincher. “I know Mike has made more shots in this series than he made all last year,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “I know that. Send that to Mike.”
Trivia Answer: Stan Van Gundy and Gregg Popovich. … Happy 47th Birthday, Chris Washburn. … Why couldn’t somebody at TNT make sure Dick Stockton didn’t advance to the conference semifinals?
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.