The Bulls are far too familiar with going up 1-0 in a series against LeBron James’s teams only to lose the next four straight. If this were to happen again, it would be demoralizing and likely lead to a whole lot of change in Chicago.
After losing Game 1 on Monday night, the Cavaliers responded with a thunderous statement and tied the series before heading to the Windy City for the next two games.
For much of the early part of the season, particularly when Cleveland marched out of the gate with a 19-20 record, many impugned the coaching acumen of head coach David Blatt and questioned whether he was able to provide his team with the tutelage needed to capture an elusive championship. But as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports pointed out after Game 1, Blatt’s not the one currently sitting on the hot seat.
That man is Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
This might amount to being an impasse between Bulls management and Thibs, because it’s certainly beginning to feel like he’ll be attending job interviews at the conclusion of this season regardless of what his team accomplishes. That’s especially the case if the Bulls fail to get past LeBron James yet again. The pressure only intensified when we learned Kevin Love would miss the rest of the postseason, giving a Chicago team with high expectations already a possible edge in this series.
During the offseason, the Bulls added Pau Gasol for a reason. They believed his versatility as one of the best big men in the game and his high IQ would help catapult the Bulls to greener pastures. Derrick Rose has participated in a playoff game for the first time since the ACL tear back in 2012 was the first in a maelstrom of injuries that has derailed his career. That duo is a nightmare for opposing defense when running on all cylinders, and since both guys are relatively healthy, one would surmise that Thibs is out of lifelines if they fail to get it done this season.
Thibodeau has done an excellent job with this group given the circumstances. The injury bug has always hit Chicago just as the team was readying itself for a potential run at the Larry O’ Brien Trophy. We’ve customarily dismissed their title chances because Rose’s inability to stay healthy simply made the try-hard Bulls no threat to win a title.
But so far, Rose has cast those demons aside to spearhead the Bulls’ attack this postseason to the tune of 19.1 points per game and a team-high 6.8 assists per game. His 39 percent shooting from downtown pales in comparison to what he managed to do from beyond the arc during the season, which is a good thing. There has still been some inconsistency and Rose is failing to get to the free throw line, but he has stayed healthy and delivered in some big moments.
The Bulls are no stranger to controversy involving their head coach and front office. This situation is actually eerily similar to the one that transpired at the tail end of the Bulls’ dynasty back in 1998 when Phil Jackson and the team decided to mutually part ways, sparking contentious debates in Chicago as to what motivated this. Of course, Jackson’s resume of winning six titles in eight years transcend any of Thibs’s accolades or accomplishments, but it just feels like we’ve been here before.
On Friday night, the Bulls return to the United Center for the first time since their Game 5 loss to the Bucks last round. Their inconsistency all season long has been their Achilles heal, and it’ll ultimately fall on the shoulders of their head coach. Tom Thibodeau is seemingly coaching to keep his job, and a series win might cause the temperature on his seat to fall to some degree, especially given the significance of what it would mean to finally get past King James.
Game 3 will be critical for both teams, as the winner of this usually goes on to win the series about 80 percent of the time. With his job security up in the air, Thibodeau is looking to be blown away. Not by the wind permeating the streets of Chicago, but by the valiant effort his team displays every night in pursuit of their first title since the Jordan era.