DENVER -- Why did Tom Thibodeau check John Lucas III back into Friday night's contest with 24 seconds remaining and the Bulls clinging to a one-point lead?
It's a question Tom Thibodeau's going to hear frequently the next few days.
To take it a little further, Bulls fans everywhere might be screaming: How can a guy who was just signed earlier in the day and took a cab straight to the Pepsi Center from the airport be reinserted into a game which hung in the balance?
Here's Thibodeau's answer:
"Free-throw shooting," the frustrated coach said.
That's ironic considering Lucas III clanked two free throws with 12.9 seconds left, and the Bulls ended up losing the game on a Carmelo Anthony jumper at the buzzer.
Thibodeau put Lucas III back into the game because he wanted a better free-throw shooter at the line. That's fine, and understandable to a certain extent, given Lucas III was replacing Ronnie Brewer, who is just a 58-percent shooter from the line this year. The issue isn't necessarily just about the numbers, though.
Thibodeau took out a player, in Brewer, who has played every game for him this year, and replaced him with a player, in Lucas, who was eating at a Wing Stop in Houston around 12:30 Friday afternoon.
"I knew they weren't going to foul initially," Thibodeau said. "I thought they were going to trap and pass the ball around so I wanted guys who could make plays and it didn't work out."
No, it didn't.
"Coach put him in, and coach has faith in him, so I know coach [trusts] him in that situation," Bulls point guard C.J. Watson explained. "I think [Lucas] just didn't make them, and that's how the ball falls sometimes."
The ball fell plenty for Watson on Friday night. He played a great game, scoring 33 points in place of Derrick Rose, who had to sit out because of a strained neck. The problem is that between Lucas' missed free throws and Thibodeau second decision down the stretch, nobody will remember Watson's performance.
The second Thibodeau decision that will be second guessed came just a few moments later. With four second remaining and the Nuggets still trailing by just one, Anthony got the ball out near the 3-point line and headed towards the basket. Instead of sending a double team at Anthony, Thibodeau elected to leave Luol Deng out on an island with Anthony. It ended up being the wrong decision ... again. But it was one that Thibodeau doesn't sound regretful about.
"It depends on where the ball is and who has it and [what the] situation [is]," Thibodeau said, explaining his philosophy on sending the double team. "They had a lot of shooting on the floor so we're not going to let someone drive it to the basket. We're going to get the ball out of their hands. It was a quick play, [in] a crowd and he made a tough shot."
Deng thought he defended Anthony well in the closing seconds.
"When he shot the ball I thought I contested it well," Deng said. "Not for one second did I think it was going in."
He agreed with Thibodeau's decision not to double Anthony.
"We were fine," he said. "[Anthony] was catching it at the 3-point line. He's all the way away from the basket and we stopped him the play before, we just couldn't come up with the ball. He just hit a tough shot."
It was a tough shot, but it was certainly one that Thibodeau will be second guessed about for the next few days, no matter how the Bulls finish on this trip, especially given the first-year head coach's decision to send Lucas III back into the game.
Taj is OK ... just frustrated: Taj Gibson returned to the lineup Friday night but wasn't much of a factor, playing about 12 minutes and scoring no points. While the thinking among some was that Gibson was still hurt, Thibodeau said his young forward was just fine after the game.
"Just a little rusty after sitting out the last game," Gibson said. "That's all. He just told me he wanted me to play a little harder. Don't worry about my foot, just play a little harder."
Rose still questionable: Derrick Rose received a massage in the locker room throughout Friday's game, but he still isn't sure if he will be able to play Saturday night in Sacramento.
The last word: Deng, on his team's resiliency: "We'll bounce back. It's a long season. [I'm] disappointed we lost the game that we feel like we should have won. It's a lot of little things that we could have done better. It hurts, but we got to play [Saturday]. We got to bounce right back and get that win."
The last word part II: Noah, on Lucas III's situation: "It's part of the game. Everybody's been in that situation before. And I'm confident that the next time I'll make them."