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Bulls lose to Bucks 93-92: Thibs fails to trust bench, or they failed to earn it

Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

During the Bucks nearly-miraculous run (seriously, they didn't look to be able to get to 80 points), the Bulls telecast* was outwardly clinging to hope that Milwaukee's lineup would run out of gas. And in a way, they kind of did. The first tie of the game was 82-82 at seven minutes remaining, and the final was 93-92.

But it was ultimately just over 15 minutes on the floor to them, with the highest mark being 28 overall for three players in that lineup. Meanwhile, the single lowest total for a Bulls starter was 36 minutes (Hamilton), with Luol Deng only getting 42 seconds of rest the entire game. So it was just as likely that both teams were tired, and it looked to manifest itself in that stretch run where they were flat on some jumpers, unable to finish inside, and on the short end of securing several loose balls. Granted, given that they're not a very good team they could've done that regardless of their minutes load, but I doubt it helped.

Skiles was in the middle of his usual descents into madness, and it was evident that no matter what happened he wasn't going to make a substitution. To prove a point to his starters or his own genius or whatever. Even in a late offensive possession where the Bulls had to foul, Skiles kept 43% foul shooter in Ilyasova in the game.

But Thibs had a bit of a freakout in his own right. He was following his latest rotation pattern when he brought in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson with 3:26 remaining in that 3rd quarter, the same time the Bucks went to an all-bench lineup. They were witnesses to a rare Hinrich three-pointer (honestly, a tale for the grandkids!) and the team's biggest lead of the night. But then a 12-2 Bucks run had Thibs livid on the bench as the quarter ended. And in the entire 4th neither Taj nor Butler saw the court again.

It was definitely hasty. The lead was still 17, there was the quarter-break to regroup, and despite the lapses to end the quarter Taj and Jimmy are usually trusted defensive players who'll provide effort and minimal mistakes. So I guess it begs the question: is Thibs entirely wrong to not really trust anyone at this time?

On Monday, the 'bench mob 2.0' was down to 3 players: Butler, Gibson, and under 10 minutes for Nate Robinson. Nate had one of the more timid nights I've ever seen from him, shooting only once in that time. Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed received DNPs and are trending towards being entirely out of the rotation.

It was still a bad move from Thibs, and worse as a season-long philosophy to grind certain players into dust: Fatigue-aided or not by playing nearly the entire second half, Deng was 4-11 and Noah 2-8. But I also understand his lack of options. He's seen the all-defense lineup with Jimmy and Taj fail to close out games as well. In the post-game press conference, Thibs was seething at the lack of focus in that second half once the lead was built, and to me it looked like he wasn't thinking of using his bench, but those he actually trusts even more.

I hope that's not the case, and instead Thibs gives guys more chances, even if it costs a win here and there. They wound up losing Monday regardless.

Bright spot: starting backcourt finds a good match

The Bulls backcourt has been fairly terrible this season, but it appears the more-hyped counterparts from up north are somewhat of an antidote. With Brandon Jennings being hobbled by an ankle injury and Monta Ellis by indifference, the Bulls backcourt looked downright fast in their ability to blow past the Bucks first line of defense. Rip Hamilton followed his previous season-high of 22 from Saturday with a 30-point effort tonight. He not only used his size advantage in post-ups over Ellis, but was able to abuse him off a picks as well. Hamilton had 6 points in the 4th, which was half of the Bulls total output (ugh). He also looked like a pretty limited end-of-game option, and I wish the Bulls ran more of a play than what eventually transpired (Rip holding and moving backwards towards a fadeaway), but that also speaks to a lack of options on the roster as well.

Kirk Hinrich still can't shoot for shit (4-11, 1-4 from three, hard-cap), but was more aggressive in figuring out a plan B, and got to the line 9 times. A lot of this was due to the opponent, and indeed things slowed down for each when both Jennings and Ellis were pulled, but it was still good to see an advantage exploited.

Boozer doing just enough to keep his spot

There hasn't been an outright terrible game for the worst player in the NBA (to watch) in quite a while. Boozer was eaten up inside on several occasions and his defense in the 4th was cataclysmic, but he also was able to open both halves with a couple jumpers, had one of the other rare Bulls crunch-time field goals, and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Now, we all recognize that is mostly hollow work, but I have such low expectations for him I consider this good. And it's not like Taj Gibson has really earned the promotion. Help me.

Another Skiles adjustment: going big with the starters

The Bulls weren't quite as dominant on the offensive glass as they were Saturday, especially in the first quarter, because Skiles shuffled in the taller Sam Dalembert and John Henson to his starting lineup. The Bucks were the ones with the 2nd chance points early, and things were looking very good for Henson especially until he was derailed by an early 2nd foul. The Bucks also had 12 blocks on the night. And maybe the benching was just was Ersan Ilyasova needed, since he had his best game of the year. Lucky us.

That Milwaukee lineup was from the bench, but pretty good

The Bucks roster is still a bit of a mess, but they have amassed quite a bit of mid-level type talent, which is better than what the Bulls can call from their backups on most nights. The group that led the Bucks comeback (once more, with feeling: Udrih/Lamb/Dunleavy/Ilyasova/Udoh) included several players that, if you read a lot of Bucks blogging (it's good!) are often unsung heroes. I'll let intrepid commenter TheMoon heap on more praise (from the immediate recap post):

That's an RAPM super lineup. I don't mind saying it: I think the Bucks bench could beat their starters over 82 games pretty easily. I love watching those guys play.

These guys are very smart players. Unselfish guys who are very good shooters. They got some open looks, and they also got some lucky ones to go down. They know how to rotate much better than the starters do, so the Bulls unselfish play wasn't leading to open looks.

*[it's probably because the basketball is worse too (the 2nd quarter was especially hideous), but they are more awful than ever. I swear Neil Funk is the last person in the stadium or at home to know what was called on the floor, or who shot the ball. And they're borderline-negligent in their half-baked opinions of opponents. Though I did enjoy the bit where Stacey talked about Neil screwing their chances at buying a $425m lottery ticket, mostly because Stacey's plan with the money was to take a week's worth of vacation in the Bahamas with Neil. Huh?]