Bulls get hope from bench bunch in 97-92 loss to Pacers
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com March 3, 2013 9:46PM
Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah (13) shoots against Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 3, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Updated: March 4, 2013 8:26PM
INDIANAPOLIS — There was nothing wrong with your television screen.
Yes, that was Derrick Rose on the Bulls’ bench, encouraging teammates Vladimir Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed and Marquis Teague as they came off the court during a second-quarter rally against the Indiana Pacers.
Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
Of course it is. But believe it or not, the sight of Radmanovic, Mohammed and Teague on the floor for the first time this season in a competitive game on the road was nearly as encouraging as Rose on the bench for the first time this season.
The three reserves, who have combined for 87 ‘‘DNP-coach’s decisions’’ this season, made a difference on the road against a division rival that for now has replaced the Bulls as the biggest threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
Not the difference. George Hill, David West and the Pacers fended off several fourth-quarter rallies by the Bulls to win 97-92 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But with Rose literally as close as he’s been to returning from knee surgery and coach Tom Thibodeau still squeezing every last drop out of his depleted roster, you can’t help but think the outcome could be different when Radmanovic, Mohammed and Teague are encouraging Rose as he comes off the court instead of the other way around.
That in itself was reason for optimism on a night that could have gone either way. In a big game, the Bulls came out flat, allowed 32 first-quarter points and faced an 11-point deficit. But they rallied behind an oddball lineup of Radmanovic, Mohammed, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli and Teague in the second quarter. After they tied it twice in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t over until Belinelli missed a tough three-pointer and the Bulls turned the ball over in the final 12 seconds while trailing 95-92.
‘‘It’s always tough against Indiana. But I’m really proud of the way we competed,’’ said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who overcame a tough first half to finish with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. ‘‘We fought really hard and gave ourselves a chance. We’ll be back.’’
Thibodeau also lauded his team’s gritty, gutty effort but seemed more perturbed by the slow start.
‘‘Not good enough,’’ he said. ‘‘We were flat. Those [second-unit] guys got us back into it. So we rode them. We didn’t play any defense to start.’’
Guard Kirk Hinrich was a late scratch with a foot injury, leaving Thibodeau without Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and, of course, Rose. But to Thibodeau, that was not an extenuating circumstance. It never is.
‘‘It’s the NBA,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve got plenty in that locker room. We’ve got to get it done.’’
With Noah struggling to get his first rebound early in the second quarter, Thibodeau replaced him with Mohammed (seven points, five rebounds, two dunks in 15 minutes) and gave Teague and Radmanovic a chance. He was rewarded for his faith.
‘‘There were a lot of good things out there,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘A lot of fight. Marco was terrific. Nazr did a very good job. Jimmy [Butler]. Luol [Deng] got going late. Jo got going. Marquis gave us some good minutes. But we’ve got to do better.’’