Bulls getting a lot from fearsome fivesome late in games
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter March 23, 2014 8:22PM
Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, second from left, drives to the basket past Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler (21), Taj Gibson (22) and Joakim Noah during the second half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, March 7, 2014, in Chicago. The Grizzlies won 85-77. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) ORG XMIT: CXA119
PACERS AT BULLS
The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.
Updated: March 23, 2014 8:28PM
It’s still too soon for a nickname.
Backup big man Taj Gibson will entertain suggestions, but he said, ‘‘Let’s see how this ends first.’’
Coach Tom Thibodeau is never shy about using any of his players at any time, but he seems to have settled on a closing group. Gibson, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin have been his players of choice in the fourth quarter and when games are on the line.
And they have provided pretty good results. The quintet limited the scrappy but hapless Philadelphia 76ers down the stretch in the Bulls’ 91-81 victory Saturday.
‘‘I think it’s the way that group plays together,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Taj has scored very well in the fourth. Jo is playmaking and screening. Then you add in Kirk and what he does. Of course, Jimmy was tremendous [against the 76ers]. You put him on [point guard] Michael Carter-Williams, who is a terrific young player, and [Butler] battles. Then it allows us to do some switching.’’
It’s that switching that seems to confuse the opposition. And it’s not only the switching all five can do defensively, but the uncomfortable switching they cause offensively.
‘‘Playing with two [point] guards, it’s kind of hard for teams to defend us,’’ Augustin said. ‘‘We can run a lot of pick-and-rolls, just moving their defense around. They can’t stand and get set on defense.
‘‘We can move the ball, move quickly. Kirk can guard bigger guards, and Jo and Taj can switch on anyone. Just having that group out there has been fun. We can push the ball, and it’s been working for us.’’
That’s especially true of Augustin. His ability to run the pick-and-roll, especially with Noah, is one reason the Bulls likely will have the home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series in the Eastern Conference.
‘‘It feels good, but I’ve got to keep working hard,’’ Augustin said when asked what it has been like to have the Bulls lean on him, a player who was unemployed early this season. ‘‘Keep trying to be out there at those times and do everything I can on defense. Because if you’re not playing defense, [Thibodeau] isn’t going to leave you out there.’’
That’s something the Bulls know all too well.
‘‘We all ball-out on defense,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘We’re going to switch on defense, and we’re all capable to switch to almost anyone. We have that good communication. We’re just all in tune. Plus, it seems like we already know each other’s strengths.’’
Beyond the X’s and O’s, however, there is something else about the closing five that makes them the chosen five.
‘‘Yeah, that closing group, we don’t really panic,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘Like Tom, he screams on us a lot, but that group doesn’t really panic. Other than the one game against Oklahoma City [last week] where we had a bunch of great looks and missed shots we normally make. That’s the one game we’ve really learned from.
‘‘Other than that, we don’t panic. We don’t shy away from the scoreboard late, whether it’s a one-point game or something like that. It’s a solid unit.’’
Whatever it’s called.