(MCT) — Not that long ago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stood at a podium after a rare lousy performance and implored players in his own inimitable way.
“Do ... your ... job!” Thibodeau barked in his baritone voice April 16 after the Bulls lost at home to the Wizards.
After a loss much more troubling than that one — Tuesday’s 109-92 stunner in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the 76ers — the time has come for Thibodeau to repeat those simple but strong words.
This time, he can say them in front of a mirror.
Suddenly, this series is on coach Thibs.
Do. Your. Job.
Nothing gives Thibodeau a better chance to confirm he truly is one of the NBA’s best coaches than the Bulls’ current dilemma. Nothing would justify all the praise and respect Thibodeau has received more than winning a playoff series without his best player.
To do so, even more than responding to subtle adjustments by 76ers coach Doug Collins — who outfoxed him Tuesday — Thibodeau needs to find a way to get the Bulls to stop grieving and start playing. To stop looking like a team biding time until Derrick Rose walks through that door — he isn’t any time soon — and start being the confident, aggressive team they still can be without him.
The Bulls blew the only game of the playoffs it made sense to draw inspiration from Rose, but now they must move on mentally. Like it or not, the basketball year 2012 A.D. — After Derrick — has begun, so Thibodeau must get the Bulls to embrace it by forgetting what they lack and focusing on what they have.
If the Bulls become only the third No. 1 seed to get eliminated by a No. 8 seed since the first round expanded to best-of-seven in 2003, no acceptable excuse will explain it — not even Rose’s injury.
The 76ers aren’t the Heat or even the Celtics or Hawks. This isn’t the NHL playoffs, where flukes abound and parity reigns every year. The Bulls won 18 of 27 regular-season games Rose missed. Sure, the postseason is different — but not so different that the Bulls’ 13 other players forgot how to win because one guy was on crutches.
Keep in mind that even without Rose, the Bulls have an edge in talent and experience over the 76ers. They had home-court advantage. I found it illogical to blame Thibodeau, like half of Chicago did, for any role in Rose’s knee injury during the final minutes of a 12-point victory. It would be easier to hold Thibodeau responsible for losing to the 76ers if the Bulls inexplicably let a lesser team oust them.
The day after Rose tore his ACL, Thibodeau reassured a shaky city with a statement hardly considered radical.
“We have more than enough to win with,” Thibodeau said.
This series, I agree. Now it falls on Thibodeau more than anybody to fulfill that promise.
When the Bears lost Jay Cutler to a broken thumb and missed the playoffs, it exposed former general manager Jerry Angelo’s failure to supply coach Lovie Smith with a dependable backup quarterback. When the Blackhawks lost Jonathan Toews for 22 games with a concussion, it reminded us how GM Stan Bowman failed to address the need for a second-line center. But when Rose went down, it put the onus on Thibodeau to get the most out of the deepest roster in the NBA, assembled by Bulls executives John Paxson and Gar Forman.
Their good work is done. Thibodeau’s really is just beginning.
Collins foiled the Bulls with two decisions Thibodeau never countered successfully: Starting Evan Turner to guard C.J. Watson and trapping less defensively without Rose in the lineup to chase Richard Hamilton and Kyle Korver off screens. Your move, Thibs.
Evidence of coaching also can be seen in defense and rebounding — the Bulls’ two most glaring weaknesses in Game 2 when the 76ers shot 59 percent and outrebounded them 38-32. The absence of Rose didn’t affect the Bulls’ interior depth, yet the 76ers scored 52 points in the paint compared to 34 in Game 1.
Was Rose’s absence the reason Omer Asik played only eight minutes when the 76ers owned the lane? Why did Hamilton play only 10 minutes over the final three quarters after such a strong opening? Why were there no defensive answers for Philly’s Big 3 that combined for 65 points — Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and Turner — who aren’t exactly James, Wade and Bosh? Does a team lacking “fight,” as Thibodeau said, indict its players or the coach more?
Yes, from Carlos Boozer to Luol Deng to every disappointing Bulls player, they need to do their jobs better. But they aren’t the only ones.