The second round started off great for Chicago Monday night, with the Bulls defeating the Cavs 99-92 in Cleveland. Chicago played a solid game, but there was something to be a bit concerned about after the first meeting of the series.
Chicago’s bench players saw limited action and the starters played extended minutes.The only starter to play less than 35 minutes was Joakim Noah, who played 29 minutes. Jimmy Butler, the leader in minutes in the NBA this season played 44 of 48 possible minutes. Derrick Rose also played 39 minutes.
If this becomes a common occurrence, you have to wonder if it will wear down the players, especially a 34 year old Pau Gasol, and of course Derrick Rose, who is still getting his legs back after his third knee surgery in February. The Bulls never trailed in the game so it was not like they had to battle back from a large lead all game. In fact, Chicago built up multiple double digit leads against Cleveland on Monday. At some point shouldn’t the bench be given the chance to show what made them one of the deepest teams in the association this year?
The Bulls have many quality players on their bench. Some of who could start on other teams in the league. As of game one, it appears the only back ups coach Tom Thibodeau is comfortable giving extended minutes to are Taj Gibson, who played 28 minutes, and Kirk Hinrich, who played 15.
On Monday, bench dynamo Aaron Brooks managed nine minutes, while rookie stand out Nikola Mirotic played two minutes total. Both can light up the scoreboard in a hurry and Mirotic in particular can pose as a big matchup problem so it is quite puzzling that they didn’t see more time on the floor.
Second year swingman Tony Snell, who has shown an improved game and more confidence and the Bull’s other talented yet seldom used rookie Doug McDermott never entered the game. The Bulls obviously saw something they liked in McDermott, trading away two first round picks and a second rounder for his rights in this year’s draft. Despite this, he has rarely seen the court, averaging 8.9 minutes in 36 games in the regular season while playing a total of six minutes in this year’s playoffs. Will McDermott ever get his chance this season? Unfortunately probably not.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been known to not play rookies much but with all the injuries to the starting line up his young players have been tested throughout the regular season and should play adequate enough to hold a lead or stay in the game while the starters rest. Combined, Chicago’s bench players had 85 games started in the regular season. With the constant bad luck Chicago has experienced with injuries over the last few years it would seem to be a smart move to not overwork players unless it is absolutely needed. A serious injury to one of their core players could ruin their chances at a title which is more of a possibility than ever before.
Thibodeau should at least give his bench players a chance to hold their own against the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the regular season there were games where the bench played so well that they would play longer than usual because they were on fire and actually carrying the team. As we saw in the last game of the first round Tom Thibodeau went to his bench early and often, always having fresh legs on the court and that turned out to be a 54 point win in an important game six. Granted, it was against a Milwaukee Bucks team that isn’t as difficult as Cleveland, but the bench was still able to show they could get it done in the playoffs. Against the Cavs, Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic can prove to be valuable scorers off the bench while Tony Snell has the length at 6’7 and speed to guard the 6’9 freight train known as LeBron James when Jimmy Butler needs a rest. Everyone can make a healthy contribution, but will Thibs trust his bench when they are needed most?
For the sake of the starters health, let’s hope so.