CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is already sick of hearing how his secondary unit is new and needs time to gel.
Thibodeau’s message after the Bulls’ 86-83 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was his bench better shape up quickly because his patience was wearing thin.
The Bulls’ main bench players -- Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler -- accounted for 38 points on 10-of-37 shooting from the field, which included 0-for-10 from 3-point range, and nine turnovers. In the Bulls’ first preseason game the group shot 12-of-43 from the field, had 12 turnovers and scored 38 points in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
“What we have to be careful of is everyone says, 'You’re new, it’s the preseason,'” Thibodeau said. “Then, they say, 'Okay, we’ll get it when we get to the regular season.' Then you get to the regular season and you say we need a month. And then after that they say we need ‘till Christmas, and before you know it the season is over and you never get it.
“We can use that as an excuse or we can get the job done. The challenge in this league is how quick you can adapt to change. Some of these guys have been in the league a long time, are more than capable and are going to have to find a way to get it done.”
Robinson, the backup point guard, especially struggled in the loss. He shot 1-of-11 from the field, 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, scored five points and finished with two assists to his four turnovers. In his first game, he was 3-of-8 from the field, scored 13 points, handed out zero assists and committed three turnovers.
Despite his struggles, Robinson remained optimistic about his and the bench’s future play.
“We just got to continue to play,” Robinson said. “Guys are not perfect. We go out there and try to do everything that we can, like today, the first unit did a great job in the third quarter because we weren't shooting the ball well at all. And then we just turned it on, played great defense (had) great energy and we tried to do the same thing in the fourth. We just came (three) points short."
When asked specifically about Robinson, Thibodeau wouldn’t throw him under the bus. Instead, he did it to the whole group.
“I don’t think you can pin it on any one player,” Thibodeau said. “You have to look at the entire group. What happens sometimes, you end up getting stuck with the ball. We need everybody doing their job and keep the ball moving. If we do that we’ll get good shots.
“When a second defender comes and he’s on the ball, that player has the responsibility to move the ball and hit the open man. I thought we held onto the ball and didn’t hit the open man. I thought we held onto the ball, dancing with it. We were going 1-on-1, dribbling into traffic. That’s not winning basketball.”
Gibson, the lone returnee from last season’s “Bench Mob,” sensed the second group just wasn’t comfortable together yet.
“We have to get a steady ease about ourselves,” said Gibson, who was 4-of-8 shooting with 12 points and seven rebounds on Friday. “One thing is we got to listen to coach. Coach knows. He really got into us in the second half, especially in halftime he got into us. It showed how hard we played after that. We have to play a bit hard.
“I still kind of feel like we’re rushing. We’re taking tough shots at the wrong times. It’s early. We got a chance to adjust and make better decisions. We still got a long way to go. This is a whole new group, but in time we will get it right.”
Thibodeau measured just how far he felt the bench had to go.
“We got a long way to go, got a long way to go, got a long way to go,” he said. “They’re capable of much better. They’re going to have to do it. They got to get the job done.”
And by his clock, time is running out to do so.