Tough to be that disappointed in the Bulls losing Saturday night, as honestly: if they managed to pull out a victory it may have been the most impressive and unlikely a win in a season of them. Going an extra period for three straight games, and second night in a row, against a quality Western Conference team with no Luol Deng? Insane. Memphis let the Bulls hang around late with some awful FT shooting (17-28, and some key misses down the stretch) but ultimately they had a few extra bursts of energy, especially in overtime where they owned the offensive glass.
But the idea that the Bulls were even that close to force overtime was a testament to Thibs-ball. It means having role players ready to fill in and 'do their job' and wrestle back a lead in the type of slow, sloppy game where a 13-point 4th quarter deficit seemed insurmountable. It also means sometimes you get some ruffled feathers when the stars of the team are benched in the wake of trying to do such lineup mixing, as shown by a frustrated Joakim Noah being on the bench for the final 23 minutes in that game, including a short stretch in overtime where Nazr Mohammed got the call instead of the starting center.
I saw [Noah] several times in the second and third quarter reaching down around his knees after a good first quarter with 10 points, a sign of fatigue. Noah was running, but it seemed more like Wile E. Coyote spinning his wheels and going nowhere.
In the second quarter when Noah played 8:33 and the Bulls were outscored 26-12 to fall behind 44-34 at halftime, Noah was scoreless and without a rebound. Then in the third quarter when the Bulls managed a paltry 13 points and shot 21.1 percent, Noah played six minutes and was scoreless, going zero for four. Not that his man was doing much as Randolph had two points. But Noah was being pushed around and beaten to the ball.
Smith went with more of an 'it happens' approach to the whole incident, as did Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago. Nick Friedell's reaction was the much more ominous 'sending a message' and Vaughn McClure of the Tribune cited it as 'an issue'. Clearly Noah was frustrated on that night, evidenced in the numerous reports of him skipping out on the media post-game.
KC Johnson followed up today in both some background of how Thibs sometimes rides hot lineups at the expense of his best players (though the Derrick Rose example isn't that accurate since Rose was battling an injury at the time), but also some interesting impressions of Thibs's coaching of Noah lately:
the seeds of Noah's benching might have been discerned at Friday's morning shootaround in Boston.
Asked about his team's All-Star reserve chances, Thibodeau said Luol Deng "should almost be a lock," that Carlos Boozer "has been steadily getting better to where he's playing great now" and that Noah "started off great but sort of tailed off a little with the flu before picking it up again."
Granted, that's a mild rebuke and an honest answer. So that may be too much retroactive tea-leaf reading, particularly since Noah dropped 14 points, 13 rebounds and four assists on the Celtics in Friday's overtime victory.
But Thibodeau has alluded to a recent lack of focus from Noah. For a player who has a history of periods where he has missed assignments, this isn't surprising. And given how often Noah has covered for others with - when he's locked in - his agile help defense, this, too, should pass.
Indeed, while Noah has ultimately been tremendous this season, his numbers have tailed off a bit in recent weeks.
But Johnson reminds us that another important element of ThibsBall is that the coach doesn't hold grudges and doesn't publicly call his players out. If this were Scott Skiles, maybe there's a post-game quip about Noah's partying (or something), and Aaron Gray is starting at center against the Lakers on Monday night. With this coach, it's only an issue if it immediately comes up again...which ultimately seems unlikely. The simplest explanation is that Thibs sees Noah as not dogging it, but simply tired, and while that can be just as frustrating for the player it's easier to understand.
And that coaching approach of effort > everything isn't perfect, but you can see how it pays dividends up and down the roster. It's how someone with the relative lack of pedigree like Jimmy Butler can provide a standout 4th-quarter performance when given his chance on Saturday, and how the weird lineup of him with Nate/Belli/Taj/Boozer can dominate that quarter.
If the Bulls could've stolen another win with Noah re-entering the game and grabbing a key rebound that would've been great. But the overall message of Thibodeau is what got them in that game in the first place.