The Bulls are quickly letting their series against the Cavaliers slip away. Back-to-back narrow, heart-wrenching defeats have put Chicago in dire straits. The Bulls now must win consecutive games for the first time since they went up 3-0 against the Bucks in the first round. Chicago has gone 3-4 since that point, with dry spells and sloppy play leading to the team’s now expected inconsistency. Tom Thibodeau needs to pull out all the tricks in these next couple games or his time with the Bulls is likely over. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Here’s what Thibodeau needs to do to save his job and his team’s season.
STOP PLAYING HINRICH AND NOAH TOGETHER
Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah share similar qualities. They both hustle at all times, are beloved by Thibodeau, and can’t score if their lives depended on it. Hinrich and Noah are noticeable weak links in any lineup they’re featured in. Neither of them have any ability of creating their own shot or finishing in the paint. This means anytime they’re in the lineup, their defender can worry about helping with the players who actually have a chance of making a shot. The lane ends up being clogged, closing up space for Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose to utilize. Knowing this happens whenever Hinrich or Noah plays, why did Thibodeau play the pair TOGETHER during crunch time in Game 5?
I understand Taj Gibson was ejected (wrongfully so) and Nikola Mirotic was awful (minus-23 in 18 minutes), but Noah and Hinrich should never be on the court at the same time moving forward. When the two played with each other during the regular season (790 minutes), no Bulls’ two-man pairing had a worse offensive rating (100.0), per NBA.com. (min. 500 minutes played together) Thibs needs to be smarter and avoid putting two offensive liabilities on the floor at the same time. Hopefully the return of Pau Gasol will give the Bulls more flexibility, as he has indicated he’ll be available for Game 6. Nonetheless, Hinrich and Noah shouldn’t share the floor again in this series, although that could be tough because of the next problem.
TOO MANY BROOKS
Aaron Brooks has lost the privilege of seeing the court ever again against Cleveland. Brooks has had a negative plus-minus in every game in this series despite the fact that Game 2 was the only blowout so far. Brooks has yet to play 10 minutes in a game with the exception of Game 2, but he has played so poorly that he has affected the outcome of the game in limited minutes. Brooks was a -12 in Game 5 in just seven minutes in a game the Bulls lost by five. He’s shooting 33.3 percent from the floor this postseason and has continued to be a liability defensively. He has provided almost nothing during his time on the floor other than giving Rose a breather.
Thibs should use Butler as the backup point guard for the duration of the series. One of Butler and Rose needs to be on the floor at all times. Butler is just as capable of running the offense as Brooks and has even played point guard in a pinch at times this postseason. Ironman Butler needs to return.
I’m sorry Jimmy, but Butler can’t sit on the bench for the rest of this series. Butler played 48 minutes for three straight games and five out of seven during the 2013 postseason. Thibs needs to ride his workhorse again, if only for the next two games. The Bulls can’t afford to lose points by sitting Butler, who was a +9 in 41 minutes on Tuesday. That means Chicago was outscored by 14 points in the seven minutes he was on the bench. The Bulls crumble without Butler on the floor.
Butler was used as an Ironman during the 2013 postseason due to his outstanding defense and ability to knock down an open look. In the 2015 postseason, Butler is quite simply the Bulls’ best player on offense AND defense. He’s putting up a crisp line of 23.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.5 steals per game this postseason while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 39.4 percent from behind the arc. That three-point percentage is on 2.4 makes a game, showing how far Butler has come since his putrid 38.6 percent shooting mark from the field in last season’s playoffs. Leave Butler on the floor Thibs, and we won’t blame you for overworking him this time.
The Bulls are on the brink of elimination. Thibs needs to stop worrying about minutes management and his respect for past-their-prime players. Now is the time for Thibs to fight for his job and fight for his team. Something’s gotta give, or the Bulls and Thibs will be heading home.