Bulls’ roller coaster ride returns to Cleveland for Game 5
The Tom Thibodeau Era has always been fascinating in Chicago.
The Bulls made Thibodeau their head coach on June 23, 2010 and storylines have been plentiful ever since. Countless columns and conversations stemmed from Derrick Rose’s meteoric rise, fall and return. Short-handed playoff teams muddled through postseasons with bumps, bruises and season-ending injuries. Minute management evolved into such a serious concern this season that VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman placed restrictions on certain players.
And to this day, details of a long, growing rift between Thibodeau and the Chicago front office continue to seep out into mainstream media.
Debates in bars all around the city have raged for years over Thibodeau’s habits at the helm. Pro-Thibs people applaud his hunger to win every single game and ability to create the “next man up” mentality. Anti-Thibs people knock his demanding style, stubbornness and obsession with perfection.
Regardless of which side of the Thibsian fence you stand on, this season’s end result is really all that should matter. Problem is, the only healthy Cleveland Cavaliers superstar standing in their way has a history of sending the Bulls home for the summer.
LeBron James has won all three previous playoff series against the Bulls and he’s been the best player in the Eastern Conference for the last 10 seasons. Moreover, he relishes in the villain role against Chicago. James hears boisterous boos at the United Center almost every time he touches the ball. He slurps up vitriol like some sort of twisted, personal fuel that makes him play better.
This postseason, despite shooting just 37 percent in the series and turning the ball over almost six times a game, LeBron’s been good enough to almost single-handedly even the Eastern Conference semis at 2-2. Jimmy Butler remains stingy on defense, but the King keeps coming. James is tossing efficiency to the wayside and beginning to try and will his hobbled team to victory at all costs. The games have been filled with poor offense and mounting injuries, but three of four were close in the final minutes and the last two concluded with game-winning buzzer beaters.
I stand by my comment from the start of the series that the Eastern Conference is Chicago’s for the taking.
So go and take it already.
With Kevin Love completely out of the picture and Kyrie Irving practically playing on one leg, the Bulls blew an enormous chance to move up 3-1 in the series by scoring a mere 16 fourth quarter points in Game 4 at home. (They lost by two).
Where is the urgency?
“We’ve been like that all year, we can’t step on people’s throats,” said frustrated forward Mike Dunleavy. “It’s not surprising. It’s disappointing, but it’s almost like nothing comes easy for us.”
Not exactly the kind of quote you read about a championship team.
Blowing those two notable leads in Game 4 gave Cleveland extra life and shifted momentum back to the home team for tonight’s tilt at Quicken Loans Arena. Pau Gasol looks doubtful again with a hamstring injury, so the Bulls need Rose relentlessly challenging off the bounce and attacking the rim at will.
Rose has been impressive, collecting averages of around 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds in just shy of 40 minutes a game in the series. He also understands that Irving is a shell of himself at this point in the season and he’ll be vulnerable against high ball screens. Make their weakness your strength.
Change is coming for these Bulls if they cannot solve the hobbled Cavaliers and take the next step toward a berth in the Finals. There comes a time when all the sand in a team’s hour glass eventually runs out. A time when a front office decides to shake things up.
Until that day arrives, it’s all about slowing down No. 23.
“These guys should be confident, they’re playing at a high level right now,” James explained earlier in the series. “They have so many guys that compliment each other. They’re playoff tested and they’re battle tested so they should be confident.”
Confidence isn’t the Bulls’ problem, it’s urgency. It will set them free if they ever find it.