Hey, it may turn out to be meaningless but it sure was fun. The start was fueled by Kirk Hinrich, who was not only hitting shots but seemingly getting everything he wanted on the floor. It was impressive how nearly every shot he took was open and in rhythm. The Bulls needed it too, since Ben Gordon maybe tried to pay homage to his mother by sharing, since he certainly didn't feel like shooting. In fact, he and Luol alternated bad halves, but overall played well. I don't know if they solved the zone but it sure looked like they figured something out this game offensively.
The Bulls dominated the boards today 51-33, and Ben Wallace was 17 on his own. He even staved off the Whack-A-Wallace strategy by making 3 of 4 from the line. But that strategy shouldn't have been in play because there was no excuse for letting the game get close. I'll now spend the rest of this post bitching about Skiles....
Look. The only two negatives today were Nocioni and Duhon. And I'm not extrapolating that one-game +/- into a whole team rotation philosophy, you can simply look at how these two are performing and realize they do not deserve the time right now. Starting with Nocioni, who is clearly hurt and while he can still take a few flat-footed three-pointers he's otherwise a complete liability. He compounds being slow on defense by still trying to roam and help knowing he can't get back to his own man on time. So he either doesn't get back at all or fouls when he arrives late. Duhon is completely useless, and whoever's guarding him knows that he has no willingness to take a shot.
(That was actually a problem with a lot of the Bulls today, I couldn't believe how many times they would be up in the air and then freeze and try to pass it off. Once you're up, just commit, and know that at least you have a good offensive rebounding team who may collect the miss. Even Hinrich was doing it in the 4th quarter after he had such a great start to the game.)
Back to the incredible shrinking lead: seven and a half minutes into the 3rd quarter and Skiles takes out PJ (which as a credit to Skiles, didn't leave PJ out there for the whole game as in game 3) and puts in Nocioni. It was complete insanity. Looking back at Noc's first half, he managed to pick up 3 fouls and 1 rebound in his six minutes, and as I detailed a couple grafs up was unable to stay with anyone on defense. Tyrus Thomas comes in near the end of the first half and the Bulls gain 10 points on their lead when he's out there. So now it's the 3rd quarter, the lead is up to 20, the crowd is into it and begging for the Bulls to put the game away, and it seems the perfect time to get the rookie into the game. Instead Skiles gets the tight butthole (as Sheed would say) and goes with his hobbled veteran, signaling to his team and us in the stands that he is content just letting the game get close as long as there aren't any mistakes. That's a tough mind-reading job on my part, especially since Noc is just as mistake-prone and the Bulls all season are better with Tyrus on the court, but that's what seems to be the rationale.
This mistake is compounded severely to start the 4th quarter, when Skiles trots out this gem: Duhon/Hinrich/Deng/Nocioni/Brown. To switch to Hubie prose: Against a team that you're outworking and should be out-athlete-ing (huh?), you bring out your slowest frontcourt and a guard who has no willingness to shoot. That's how you can choke away a lead, and Skiles almost choked this game, not the players. The bigs are slow to rotate on defense, the offense stalls with immobility and tentativeness, and the rebounding suffers on both ends. The lead drops 7 points in about 2 minutes, the Pistons now have reason not to pack it up for Auburn Hills.
Thankfully, in comes Tyrus to save my sanity. Yes, his offensive game is, er, developing (although it's not near hopeless, you can see decent form on the jumper and skill in his post moves) but at least he attacks the rim. Tyrus comes into the game and gets to the line twice in the next several possessions. That's how you keep a lead, by maintaining pressure, not simply by holding the ball and hope for the best. Tyrus played the last 9 minutes of the game (except for a bizarre one-possession sub of Duhon to try and go small, what the hell that was about we'll likely never know) and the Bulls win comfortably.
It's not just that when he's out there the team performs better, in fact in some games this postseason that isn't the case. But you can see that Nocioni is hobbling and near-useless, and Tyrus isn't bringing just 'energy' (barf), but a willingness and ability to attack the rim on offense and challenge the same such attempts on defense. In a playoffs where he's been called scared he was the least scared guy on the team.
And the evidence keeps mounting for him and Thabo (it's time to accept that Duhon cannot be effective against Detroit, for myriad reasons) to get more time this series and while Skiles sometimes has rewarded them for a given game, it never translates to the next one and we always see them as the first two off the bench. Maybe it'll take Paxson ripping these favorite toys from Skiles hands in the offseason, but I sure would like to see it sooner. They're down 3-1 and any game could be their last this season.
Time to quit playing the same bench with a not-to-lose mindset and give the rookies a chance to help you win. I don't mean that they could've won this series by playing Tyrus more, as I've said many times if the core guys don't play well the bench decisions don't matter. But they did play well enough today and the Noc/Duh tandem was the only thing keeping them from a blowout. The Bulls have to get a lot better to compete with the Pistons for the rest of this series, but that's one easy way to start.