Welp, the Bulls lost to the Cavs in the home opener. I can’t say I’m all that surprised at the actual result, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed. I had this game as a loss for the Bulls in my preseason predictions for various reasons, but the Bulls should have won the game. Up five points with under a minute to go is usually a victory for Thibs’ Bulls.
But, now the Bulls stand at 1-1, and although every win is important, it’s early in the season, and as I’ve discussed in my First Quarter Preview, I expect some more losses to come, and some might be frustrating.
Now here we are, just two games into the season, and the questions are already beginning, as anticipated:
Q: Derrick Rose is inactive against the Timberwolves due to the ankle injury. Is this what we’re going to expect all season? Another battered and injury-prone Rose?
A: Although every Rose injury has Chicago holding its breath, this isn’t one that Bulls fans need to worry about. Ankle sprains are commonplace in the NBA – the only reason he’s scrutinized is because of his propensity for leg injuries, so an ankle causes some concern. The reality of the situation is that sitting Derrick for the Wolves game is the right decision. In a back-to-back, it’s possible Derrick may have sat some anyway, since he is on minutes restrictions. So all things considered, no, Bulls fans shouldn’t worry about an ankle. 80 games to go, Bulls fans.
On the upside: Derrick looked great, posting 20 points in 25 minutes on 8-16 shooting and showed he can still pull the ball out of his pocket.
Q: Butler’s preseason injury seemed to be handled poorly – even if he has as little a thing as a jammed thumb in that preseason game, shouldn’t he have been taken out and examined?
A: It is my general view that player injuries today and how they are handled are much softer than in the 1980s and 90s. I don’t think that is disputed much. Guys seem to miss games for the smallest of reasons. This isn’t surprising, considering salaries have grown tremendously since then, and guys are playing for more than just pride and achievement (i.e., $). Owners, managers, and coaches have to protect their investments, so they hire medical staff that create additional precautions than would have been in place 20 or 30 years ago – they don’t want to be responsible for making a “clear-to-play” decision if the player wasn’t truly ready, so they tend to tell the players that they should be cautious. My point here is that I think we as fans worry a little too much. These guys are competitors and will play if they can play, unless somebody explicitly tells them not to.
I didn’t exactly answer the question yet. Historically, the Bulls’ medical staff has not been as conservative as other organizations. But considering that Jimmy is back for the T-Wolves game, it couldn’t have been that serious, so no, I don’t think it was handled poorly. It’s possible he’s coming back too soon, of course, and people will challenge the Bulls’ organization if this injury persists, but I have to trust the Bulls’ medical staff. I usually think these discussions are just talking points for sports radio and newscasters when they don’t have more important things to talk about. Much ado about nothing. Let’s talk about the game, instead. It’s more interesting.
Q: Why weren’t McDermott and Mirotic in the game more? Shouldn’t Thibs be switching up the lineups and getting guys minutes early in the year?
A: They’ll get their minutes. The reality of the situation was game flow and match-ups. Of course, the emphasis is on winning, so Thibs is going to make decisions that he thinks will give him the best chance to do that. Last night, Dunleavy had a tremendous game and played great defense on LeBron. Looking at the box score, you would think he got destroyed, scoring 36 points, but if you watched the game, Dunleavy passed the eye test – his defense was pretty solid. LeBron is just damn good. Snell came into the game and knocked down a couple of huge threes, and he also did a good job on LeBron with his length. Yes, he had the silly rookie-like mistake of fouling LeBron when the ball was out of bounds, giving him two free throws late in the game without taking any time off the clock, but that shouldn’t be the thing we remember about Snell from this game – he played a good one. Since McDermott and Mirotic aren’t ball handlers and they can’t play Center, that leaves the 4 spot open. Between Noah and Gibson, are you going to play McDermott and Mirotic as under-sized 4’s over them for very long? I don’t think that’s realistic. McBuckets and Mirotic will get plenty of minutes. It just wasn’t in the cards last night for those two, and I’m not losing any sleep over it.
Another side note: It was great to see Hinrich diving to the floor and Rose taking a charge. It’s extremely important that the veterans set the tone. Although wins at this point in the season are not make-or-break, I do like to stress the value of instilling a winning culture. If the veterans are getting down to the floor, it sets an incredible precedent that teaches the new guys that this team really is something special, and it’s worth putting in the effort.
Q: Tristan Thompson had twelve offensive rebounds. Why couldn’t we have an answer for him?
A: Before anybody gets too excited, the Bulls will be better next time. Thibs’ teams always find ways to rebound, and they will get there by January when the Bulls play the Cavs in Cleveland (although I did catch him admitting that the Bulls didn’t have an answer for Tristan, something he rarely admits about anybody). Tristan’s offensive rebounding was the main reason the Bulls couldn’t win, and despite LeBron’s 36, Kyrie’s 23, and Love’s 16, Thompson is the unsung hero of the night. He kept possessions alive and out-muscled the Bulls’ bigs. He was also in the right place at the right time, as Bulls defenders had to rush to double team LeBron when he would get into the paint, leaving an opening for weak-side positioning on rebounds.
But after Gibson turned his ankle, it clearly affected his play down the stretch, and I point to this as one of the main reasons Thompson continued to out-board the Bulls, even though he was consistently effective earlier in the game as well. But Taj failed to get position countless times, and he even fell down on a key rebound with 24 seconds to go in the game off of a James’ miss, presumably due to instability on that ankle. Tristan secured the rebound and put it in to send the Cavs up 4 in OT, all but sealing victory.
The Bulls will not get out-rebounded in January, you can count on that. The Bulls play the Cavs four times this year, and they are the Vegas favorites to finish one and two. If this game was any indication of how the rivalry is going to go (hopefully including a postseason Eastern Conference Finals matchup), we’re in for a treat.