- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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Of the Bulls bench, only Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson had seen any time during Monday’s game -- but the trio only combined to play a combined 12:23 in the final 24 minutes. Coach Tom Thibodeau was asked if there was a reason he didn't use his bench more in the second half.
"No," the frustrated coach said.
Thibodeau's answer was succinct and poignant, offering the biggest glimpse as to how a Bulls team that had been so consistent over the past two seasons could look so mediocre in the first month of play this time around.
In this case, Thibodeau’s actions spoke much louder than his word. Of course there's a reason why Thibodeau didn't play the likes of Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed, while limiting the minutes of guys like Butler and Robinson.
He doesn't trust them.
If people are still wondering why the Bulls aren't the same team they used to be, they need to understand that the answer goes much deeper than the absence of Derrick Rose. The truth is that the Bulls aren't the same team because they don't have the same depth. They didn't lose Monday night's game because Rose wasn't on the floor, although obviously that would have helped. They lost the game for the same reason they've lost most games this season. Thibodeau doesn't have faith in his reserves to get the job done, especially on the defensive end. Because of this lack of confidence, the domineering coach relies too much on a group of veteran starters that don't have enough juice to play at the same high level for 40-plus minutes a night.
"You never have a game won until the final horn goes off," Thibodeau said. "In this league, if you're not a 48-minute team, you're asking for trouble. As soon as you start feeling good about yourself you're going to get knocked on your (butt) and that's what happened."
This game only reinforced the problem the Bulls have had all season. They can't be a 48-minute team because their roster doesn't have enough depth to play that way this year. The Bulls did not execute well down the stretch, in part, because the starters were exhausted. Every one of them played close to 40 minutes with Luol Deng leading everybody by playing 47:18.
"We played terrible," Deng admitted. "I got to look at it again, but we're not playing like how we need to play. We're not playing like how we used to play. … We got a lot of stuff to work on defensively and offensively. We got to do a lot better. We got to play together more. We've got to move the ball better, we've got to play better defense, we got to get stops. There's a lot of things we've got to do better. I can't pinpoint one thing."
For all the flaws guys like Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson had, they still knew exactly what to do when they were on the floor. While Thibodeau got frustrated with each one at various points throughout the past two years, he still had confidence in them as a group. He knew that if he plugged Asik and Gibson into the lineup they would be stalwarts defensively. He knew that even if Brewer, Korver and Watson were missing their shots they would still find a way to affect the game.
That's the real difference right now and Thibodeau and his veteran players know it. The Bulls front office badly misjudged that they would be able to recreate the same roles of the old Bench Mob with replaceable parts. The secret to that group's success wasn't individual numbers, it was their cohesion as a unit to perform at a high level each and every night. Thibodeau's team has tried hard all season not to use Rose's absence as an excuse, and they've done a good job with that. But what they are having a harder time trying to sugarcoat is the real reason they are struggling -- The Bench Mob is gone and it's not coming back.
"There's a lot of guys who aren't here who were pretty good defensively," Noah said.
He didn't come right out and say what was really on his mind, but he didn't have to, the numbers said it for him. The Bucks bench outscored the Bulls bench 56-10 Monday night, and if that wasn't enough of an indication that the Bulls' bench isn't what it used to be, then this is: After going 112-37 over the past two regular seasons, the Bulls are now 6-7 after 13 games this season.
The Bulls lack of depth is preventing them from finishing games.