The Nets defense in action. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
It was another injury-plagued permutation of players for the Bulls tonight, as Taj Gibson and John Lucas were out, and the big news being Luol Deng missing his first game in the last season-plus. Deng's left wrist diagnosis is still up in the air, with the 'surgery' pre-game mention by Thibodeau being enough to freak everyone (including myself) out. It may not come to that, and post-game KC Johnson reported that Luol may try to rest it instead and play through the pain. That's not exactly better news on the same day that Derrick Rose conceded he'll likely never be 100% this season with his own toe injury.
Meanwhile, Rose did return, and the team put in another dominating performance over an overmatched opponent. Rose looked solid in his first game back with 22 points on 16 shots. He had a few boneheaded turnovers but those were his only few of the entire game. Tough to really gauge how much the toe hurt, as while he pulled off a couple elite finishes it wasn't a game where he was tested to do so constantly.
And with Taj and Deng (the only SF who can plausibly play PF) out, Brian Scalabrine actually played 23 minutes at the 4, and the Bulls weren't killed in that time. The Nets started small and stayed that way all game, so it was an actually somewhat-plausible move to see so much Scal and so little Asik (10 minutes), though nothing any Bulls fan should actually wish for. If the same players are available in future contests, you'd hope we'd see more of the tandem named 'JOmer' (Joakim+Omer) instead of 'Butterball Turkey' (Scal+Omer). No matter the combination in this one, the Bulls frontcourt dominated the glass and inside scoring. Asik was outstanding in his 1st half stint, and Noah was a force again around the rim with 7 trips to the line on his way to 16 points (and only 1 personal foul!), supplemented by Boozer's 14.
The big story on offense was the way the Bulls shared the ball, getting a season-high 33 assists. And the man behind the nearly a third of those was Rip Hamilton, who continues to impress. The Bulls and Hamilton are making it look so easy when he's on the court: relentlessly moving Rip off-the-ball, forcing the opponent to react and him either hitting a midrange jumper of dumping it to a Bulls big. The latter option has actually been the stronger suit of Rip all season, and I'm hoping teams never adjust and instead keep aggressively trapping, as he's proven constantly that he's willing and able to find the open man.
It was likely that opportunity to see Rip and Rose together that gave Thibodeau the idea to keep both in yet another very late and clearly-decided game. If that was the reason, or just the general order of taking every minute seriously, it's somewhat accepted at this point: This is Thibsball, and why you both get a full roster of guys playing their hearts out for a single goal, but also some unnecessary over-extending of minutes. And, in a word, that's what it is: 'unnecessary'. Hamilton, Rose, and Noah are all coming back from injury, and even if there's something to be said for game-time together, against the Nets second unit while owning a double-digit lead isn't exactly meaningful time.
Thibs has certainly been consistent on this, but one can be consistently wrong (I would know). And though you can't truly tie any of these present injuries to overexertion, that doesn't mean it's not better to play it safe, or even mildly cautious. However, the upshot is the Bulls just win, and swept through some dreadful opponents battling through myriad injuries. But with the schedule ramping up with the Pacers and Bucks before a Sunday showdown in Miami, the Bulls not only will encounter challenges from injury, but from their opponents as well.