Many observers feared sloppy play early in a lockout-shortened NBA season, and they got it in Bulls-Lakers.
Thing is, the Bulls weren’t supposed to be one of those teams. They had almost everybody returning, from the MVP to the “Coach of the Year’’ to the best bench in the game. What’s more, they added a quality starter in Richard Hamilton.
But yeesh, was it ever messy early. Two fouls on Richard Hamilton, two more on Joakim Noah, turnovers, fouls, bad misses. It looked like a rec league game.
The Bulls had little flow to their offense, and they were getting beaten on the boards by the Andrew Bynum-less Lakers. Maybe it’s me, but I’m not sure that was the plan. Sure wasn’t what I expected.
Wasn’t what Tom Thibodeau expected, either. Good thing is, he could do something other than yell at his television.
Thibodeau promptly yanked his starters. Take a seat, guys, and it didn’t matter that it was the just the middle of the first quarter of the first game.
The “Bench Mob’’ took the floor and then took the lead, combining for 10 points and one turnover while holding the Lakers to two points. If you can’t play, Thibodeau will find guys who can.
The Bulls subs started the second quarter, and when they began to falter, Thibodeau began to reinsert his starters. They had gotten the message. No pouting, no squawking, no nothing.
Message received. Response given.
Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Hamilton proceeded to score the Bulls’ next 22 points. That’s some response. That also some indication of what the Bulls’ version of the “Big 3’’ can be all about -- what it must be about.
Rose is expected to run an offense that is dangerous all over the floor, from Boozer down low abusing Troy Murphy to Hamilton on the wing sinking jumpers.
For good measure, Luol Deng gave the Bulls a 56-49 halftime lead by scoring the last five points of second quarter. Can you have a “Big 4?’’
But back to the first quarter. That’s what makes Thibodeau such a quality coach.
Thibodeau was coaching the game that was there, and it wasn’t there for the starters. Lockout or no, he would not give his starters an excuse. You aren’t allowed to be bad early. You are required to be ready and be good, or you’ll be seated.
If only Thibodeau could’ve done something in the third quarter. No, check that, if only his players could’ve.
Thibodeau stuck with the starters, who let Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol take over while the Bulls shot 22 percent in the period. See ya, seven-point lead. Hello, fourth-quarter deficit.
The Bulls were getting killed on the boards all game and continued shooting horribly all second half. They couldn’t recover and couldn’t sniff an offensive rhythm. They went more than two quarters without going to the foul line. What’s worse, the Bulls were falling behind a Lakers team that had Bryant on the bench.
But wait. It got worse still. Noah was in foul trouble all game. Same goes for Hamilton. The Bulls had two points in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
Somehow, this had a happy ending.
And yes, I’m going with “Big 4’’ because Deng was the story at the end. He had nine points in the final 3:09, outscoring the Lakers himself. But more telling in how the Bulls won this game, Deng stole a Bryant pass that led to Rose’s brilliant and decisive floater, then appeared to get most of Bryant’s last shot to secure the win.
A win, by the way, that remains largely inexplicable. The Bulls trailed by 10 with 4:13 to go. They trailed by six with 46 seconds remaining. It looked hopeless and fitting, what with the way they played most of the second half. The only explanation, I guess, is when in doubt, play defense.
Still, a Bulls team this good wasn’t supposed to play this badly. But then, a Bulls team this good apparently is good enough to win these things whatever way they have to.