Tag Archives: Tim Duncan

In Thibs We Trust

Did you hear something? What was that noise? Maybe it was just the wind … Nope, there it is again. What on earth is that? Oh, right, those are the rumblings of Tom Thibodeau chopping block rumors. It’s getting pretty loud. I keep trying to ignore it, but it’s impossible now.

I guessssss I’ll address it.

I can’t speak to the legitimacy of the rumors, but there’s no denying that the Front Office and Thibodeau don’t always see eye to eye; however, is that reason enough to think that they’ll actually fire Thibs? That this is likely his last season with the Chicago Bulls?

Maybe. But if they do, I think that’s insane. Absolutely, positively, bat-shit insane.

Here’s why:

Winning Ways

If a head coach is supposed to produce wins, Tom Thibodeau has done just that. He has a career record of 239-127 (.653) as of February 18th, 2015, and was 112-36 (.757) in the two seasons before Derrick Rose’s injuries, including two number one seeds. To put this in perspective, the only other active coach with a better win percentage over his career is … you guessed it, Gregg Popovich (.684). Tom Thibodeau is 7th all-time in coaching record among those with more than two full seasons of experience (this excludes, for example, active coaches Steve Kerr, who walked into a great situation in Golden State, and Dave Joerger, who hasn’t coached two full seasons yet with Memphis).

This season is nothing to scoff at, either, at 34-20 (.630), and DRosesAndThorns has written at length about why the Bulls are likely to only go up from here.

He and his staff have also taken nameless or left for dead point guards like C.J Watson, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin and now Aaron Brooks and transformed them into productive, effective, and valuable back-ups and sometime starters.

Let’s also not forget that Thibs was an Assistant Coach for the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, under Doc Rivers, and is widely credited for creating the defensive scheme to contain Kobe Bryant in the Finals. A scheme that has taken the NBA by storm in the years since.

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Minutes Management

It is generally popular to criticize the coach and the leadership first, whenever a team seems to be underperforming; after all, the coach’s job is to get the most out of his players. It is especially popular to criticize Tom Thibodeau specifically in his minutes management, especially when a team like the Spurs has demonstrated success while resting players. But Thibs is an old school thinker – there may not be a right and wrong (see: Fun Minutes Facts), in this discussion, but maybe a case-by-case.

As it relates to the Spurs, they have the luxury of having been together for years, and developing a winning chemistry. The Bulls are still working on this. Also, the Spurs are consistently a top seed, so they aren’t exactly tanking the regular season to ensure they’re rested come post-season – it’s a byproduct of winning regular season games. As mentioned in the Fun Minutes Facts (really, check that out, if you haven’t), Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sitting is a recent development due to their aging, not because they think every good player should be sitting. Players should play – especially the young ones. That’s how you get better, that’s how you prepare for the playoffs where the intensity is higher, and that’s how you win.

Could Tom be a little more lenient on minutes played at the end of a game in order to reduce the risk for “meaningless” injuries during garbage time? Probably. But a win isn’t a sure thing unless a team is up about 20 points with less than two minutes left. Leaving in a few starters for an extra 90 seconds at the end of a game to ensure victory means more by the end of the season in obtaining a high seed than having 90 extra seconds of rest. Having a high seed matters: In the last 25 years, the teams to win the NBA title have had the following seeds, with number of titles in parenthesis: 1 (14), 2 (6), 3 (4), 4 (0), 5 (0), 6 (1), 7 (0), 8 (0). I gather that it’s important to have a top 3 seed. With the Hawks playing the way they are, and competition with the Cavs, Raptors, and Wizards, there are five teams vying for three good spots, contrary to preseason expectations, which would have you believe this was a two horse race. Maybe these other teams got offended. They’re playing pretty good ball, making it that much tougher for the Bulls to land a top seed, and all the more reason why each regular season victory is meaningful.

Thibodeau’s practices are often not scrimmages, either. From Sam Smith:

 “a mischaracterization about Thibs is the overworking of players. Yes, he plays them a lot in games, though not as much this season, but rarely, if ever, scrimmages in practice. He believes in resting that way…. So I think the Bulls practices… sound mostly boring. There are drills like scrimmages, but a lot of walking through your plays and the opponent plays.”

He’s not running players into the ground for 40+ minutes then forcing them into a grueling 5 on 5 the next day. If he was, we would hear more about it. The players would probably be making more noise.

If the FO really had major, relationship-beyond-repair type issues with Tom Thibodeau on this, one would think they would make player minutes mandates and force him into canceling practices, having more rest days, etc. But that isn’t happening in any significant quantities, other than injury-recovery minutes limitations.

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Addressing Rumors

Do the rumors hold water?

“The perception around the league is that Tom is losing his locker room…. Rose made some of his strongest comments to date, saying ‘We’re just not on the same page,'” – Chris Sheridan.

“Bulls did have Sunday off. But players talked about first 2-day break since Dec. 21 as chance to recover. Instead, Thibodeau calls practice.” – K.C. Johnson

Both of these statements suggest that there’s some tension between the players and Tom Thibodeau. But Rose was referring to the players in the locker room not being on the same page, not Thibs. Not once have the players attacked Tom. In fact, they frequently come to his defense. Here’s an example, post-firestorm. That article also makes mention of Van Gundy’s unfortunate comments, where he attacked the Front Office. I think we all wish he would’ve stayed quieter on that one.

Oh, and there’s also this, from Sheridan… 

“But then I went checking around, speaking with another source who is plugged into all things regarding he Bulls, and was told that nothing [Thibs losing the locker room] could be further from the truth. Didn’t Thibs guide the Bulls to winning records and playoff appearances the past two seasons despite being without Derrick Rose? Didn’t they just win 10 of 11? Does that count for nothing?”

This is the same guy that was cause for much of this stir from the start, and once he investigated a little closer, he was turned away.

Water not held.

So why doesn’t the Front Office come out and make a statement, and quiet the noise? Well, historically, they haven’t exactly been forthcoming with information. They’ve shrouded things in mystery, so why would this be any different? And besides, sometimes management organizations like to keep employees on their toes just a little in order to get the best out of them. It’s not a management style I would agree with, but that could be part of it. Or maybe the rumors are just so ridiculous that they don’t want to even address them because they know they’ll go away soon.

Members of the media are paid for stories and headlines that get reads and hits and attract attention, so undoubtedly, if you find a mole hill, wouldn’t you make it into a mountain? I would. So take all of this with a gigantic grain of salt. Or several grains of salt. Or several gigantic grains of salt.

Bottom Line

Forget the notion of “trading” Tom Thibodeau (pre-Doc, this was basically unheard of), or firing him. In my opinion, Thibs is here to stay for the remainder of his contract, despite all the articles claiming that the relationship between Tom and the Front Office are “Beyond Repair.” Ignore the noise – it’s distracting to the goal. Tom is the right guy for the job, and the players respect him. None of them have made any direct comments that Thibs is the problem, nor that he’s losing his guys – all the rumors are just speculation.

Is it possible all of this is out the window if the Bulls lose in the first round? Definitely – since front offices are under a lot of pressure to make sweeping change to Win Now. But: If the Bulls make a playoff run that lands them in the Eastern Conference Finals or further, and the FO really does let him go, it will be one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history.

In Thibs We Trust.

Too Much Heat for the Spurs

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For the second straight year the Miami Heat have won the NBA Finals, making this seem a little less silly and making this a little more of a real possibility.

But those weren’t things that were cluttering the minds of Lebron James and his teammates last night. This was a team that played with a singular purpose, with a clear plan and an even clearer goal in mind. The big picture, the pressure, the fear of failure, the things that many people, myself included, thought would potentially derail the greatest team in 2012-2013 ended up not being distractions. Last night, the Heat played about as well as a team can play, receiving contributions from its stars and its important role players, with some unexpected play from both categories of players.

Quickly looking over the box score, its incredible to see that the Heat were able to win despite getting zero offensive contribution from 40% of the starting lineup. Chris Bosh went 0-5 from the field, although he did manage to haul down three offensive rebounds. The previously hot Mike Miller was also 0-5 (0-4 3pt) from the field in just 19 minutes of play. For Miller, an off shooting night is to be somewhat expected, especially against such a smart team like the Spurs. But for Bosh, his absence on the offensive end was pretty inexcusable. Had Miami lost last nights game, he would have been forced to shoulder a large chunk of the blame. The last three years for Bosh have been strange ones, going from being regarded as a true star in the league to the world’s most over-paid role player. Despite the championship win, speculation exists that Miami would consider moving the former Raptor this offseason to create some breathing room in the cap and to be able to draft young assets to keep Miami an attractive location for Lebron when he is able to opt out of his contract at the end of next season.

But Bosh’s poor play will not be the enduring memory everyone has of last night’s game. The thought most people will associate with Game 7 was the masterful performance Lebron James put on yet again, silencing those who criticize him for having a fear of The Moment. Lebron tied the record for most points in a Game 7 win, with 37 points, a record that was previously held by Tom Heinsohn alone dating  back to the 1957 NBA finals. My dad was born in 1957, so ya, that was a record that has stood for a pretty long time.

Lebron was absolutely incredible in this game. All throughout the series, the Spurs had made it clear they would live with James taking long jumpers. They were primarily concerned with keeping Lebron out of the paint and away from the rim. Last night, Lebron finally decided to take advantage of the breathing room San Antonio was so gracious to give him. James finished the game with five 3’s on 50% shooting, including two from the right corner, the spot that Lebron seems to love shooting from the most. James also finished the game with a double-double, bringing down 12 rebounds, and was a perfect 8-8 from the line.

Dwyane Wade had a double-double of his own. The ailing shooting guard scored 23 points and grabbed 10 boards. While his 11-21 shooting was impressive, his two monster blocks in this game will be my personal memory of his performance.

The great unexpected surprise for Miami was Shane Battier’s rise from the dead. Battier, who spent much of the season in the starting lineup, seemed to have worn down in the playoffs. Battier spent much of the year guarding power forwards, a taxing job for a man who was giving up quite a bit of weight in the post throughout the entire season. But after shooting an abysmal 29% in the playoffs, Battier somehow found his stroke just when the team needed him, going 6-8 with all of his attempts (and makes) coming from beyond the arc. And while Battier provided the offensive spark that was necessary in light of Miller and Bosh’s cold performance, Battier’s made his presence felt on the defensive end, bothering Tim Duncan juuuuuuuuust enough to force him to miss a shot at the rim that would have tied the game up with less than a minute to play.

Poor Tim Duncan really did all that he could to push his team in this game and series. Duncan, who likely would have been series MVP had the results been different, posted a solid 24-12 in this last game of the 2012-13 NBA season. But the always even-keel veteran let his frustrations show in the closing moments, pounding the floor in agony after missing not one but two attempts at the rim that would have knotted the game up with about a minute to play.

Let us not forget the amazing play of Kawhi Leonard from last night. Leonard, the San Diego State star who somehow managed to slip all the way to 15 in the 2011 draft (just guessing Minnesota, Washington, Charlotte, Sacramento, Phoenix and Houston would want a do-over on that) played magnificently, scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Leonard had the impossible job of guarding Lebron James, a task that would leave most players with no energy left for the offensive end. But Leonard, who hit a monster three the bring the Spurs within two points in the fourth quarter, left nothing on the floor in terms of effort. Leonard, who doesn’t turn 22 until next week, is sure to develop into a star in the coming years.

But allow me to congratulate the Miami Heat. After putting together the best regular season run of the last 40 years, this team showed resolve and confidence after facing what seemed like their first real adversity since ripping out Boston’s heart in last year’s conference finals. They overcame the size of the Pacers and the depth of the Spurs, and at no point did Lebron ever really have to do everything by himself. This was truly a great team, one that will forever be compared to the greatest teams ever to be assembled. While I myself was never able to root for Lebron and the Heat, I am thankful to them for making this one of the greatest NBA Finals of all time. The constant drama, the see-sawing of momentum from game to game, and the unforgettable finish in Game 6 made the last seven games of 2013 fulfilling enough to hold me over until October, when Miami will begin the quest of title defense yet again.

Keys to a Game 7 Victory

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It all comes down to Game 7. For those of us who have no allegiance to these teams, this is exactly what we wanted. Although it killed me inside to actually root for the Miami Heat in game 6, I really just didn’t want the season to be over. I wasn’t prepared to watch web gem after web gem on the Sportscenter Top 10. Yes, the catches are cool, but it gets so old!

So here are my keys to a Game 7 victory for both the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

Miami Heat

1) An Aggressive LeBron James

The one thing about LeBron James that pisses me off the most is that he doesn’t attack the rim nearly enough throughout the course of a game. I understand that he enjoys getting his teammates involved, but if you’re 6’8”/265 and the fastest person on the court, you need to use that to your advantage. Right from the start, I’d like to see LBJ hold down the turbo button and go straight to the basket. In the fourth quarter comeback of Game 6, this is something we saw a lot from James. And guess what? They came back and ended up winning the game! If LBJ attacks the entire game tonight like he did in the fourth quarter of Game 6, I find it hard to believe that the Heat will lose.

2) Spread the Floor with Shooters

The Miami Heat were able to come back from a double digit deficit heading into the fourth quarter in Game 6 by playing a lineup of James, Chalmers, Allen, Miller, and the BIRDMAN. LeBron was able to run the show, either driving to the rim or kicking it out to any of his three shooters. The reason why Miami was able to come back was because they had great spacing. With Wade on the floor, the Spurs were able to clog the paint and make it difficult for James to go to the basket. Now, I’m not saying Spoelstra should consider benching Wade, but he should definitely look into playing this lineup for long stretches in both halves. By doing this, Wade can get enough rest throughout the game and have a strong fourth quarter.

3) Wade/Bosh need to step up

Although many people think LeBron is capable of winning a game by himself, this is unlikely against a tough and experienced Spurs team. James came down to South Beach for one reason: so he would not have to carry the entire team on his back and do all the work. It is imperative that either Bosh and/or Wade perform in tonight’s Game 7. They don’t necessarily have to drop 30 points, but they cannot go out there and lay an egg. Assuming one of these “stars” is able to play like themselves tonight, I find it more likely for Miami to come away with a victory.

San Antonio Spurs

1) A superb performance from Neal or Green

Besides game 6, we have seen at least one of these players be able to perform at an extremely high level. Both did not give any sort of contribution at all in the Game 6 loss. Green has been more consistent throughout the series, but Neal is more than capable of dropping 20 points on any given night. One of these players needs to step up, especially if Manu decides not to show. If Neal/Green is able to give San Antonio a nice spark on offense, their chances of winning sky rocket.

2) Another Throwback Game from Timmy D

What Duncan did in the first half last game was actually incredible. He ended with 25 points, giving the Spurs a six point lead. Bosh and the Heat defense had no real answer for him. Unfortunately, Tim’s age may have played a factor as he did not do much at all in the second half. He still ended up having a great stat line, but the Spurs really could have used him down the stretch. Duncan needs to match his play from Game 6 in tonight’s game in order for the Spurs to have a chance. The Spurs have a great opportunity to win Game 7 if Duncan has another fantastic performance.

3) Manu: X-Factor

Like I’ve said before, Manu is the x-factor of this Spurs team. I know they have been able to win without much contribution from him, but if Manu is playing up to his potential, this team becomes deadly. By having Manu’s playmaking ability along with his high arcing three point shot, the Spurs offense is a beautiful thing to watch. Manu does not need to match his Game 5 performance, scoring 20+ points and 10+ dimes. He simply needs to help Parker control the flow of the game, play tough defense, and hit a few clutch threes. Hopefully, we will see vintage Manu tonight.

Prediction: Miami Heat

Heat 96, Spurs 88

Spurs Title Chances Pop

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At some point in the third quarter last night, the wildly handsome Tyler Geocaris said to me and my friends who had gathered to watch the game, “Wow, Spoelstra has really been outcoached in this series.” I gotta say, for five games and 44 minutes, this was a valid observation. Popovich had made all the right decisions, strategically and in terms of figuring out the best rotation for his players. His strategy of clogging the paint and showing as many bodies as possible to Lebron in order to keep him out of the paint was genius. His seemingly insane decision to throw Big Boris onto Lebron for stretches of the game in order to keep Kahwi Leonard fresh worked out better than even Coach Pop could have imagined. And when Spoelstra went extra small to start Game 4, Popovich countered brilliantly in Game 5 by letting the Heat know they can play any style the Heat can, and do it better.

But man would the greatest coach in the NBA today like to have the last couple minutes of regulation and overtime back. Never a friendly guy when it comes to speaking with the media, its unlikely Popovich will publicly second guess himself, as Pacers coach Frank Vogel did after questionably benching Roy Hibbert in the waning moments of Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. But in a private moment alone, I’m willing to bet Popovich would have handled the last two Miami possessions in regulation differently.

Knowing the Miami needed to take a three on both offensive trips to have any chance at pushing the Finals to a Game 7, Popovich elected to take Tim Duncan, the team’s best rebounder and tallest player, out of the game so that the team would have a quicker, more versatile lineup that would be able to switch on the multiple pick and rolls that Miami was guaranteed to run in order to get a shooter open. The strategy worked well, as both possessions began with a wild three point attempt from Lebron James. Unfortunately for the Spurs, the action did not stop there.

Following both misses, Miami managed to secure an offensive rebound which led to a second three point attempt, both of which were relatively open opportunities that resulted from the scramble caused after the initial missed shot. Mike Miller was somehow able to coral the first miss, kicking it out to the top of the arc to Lebron who connected on his second attempt. Bosh was the offensive rebounder on the second miss. He quickly threw the ball to the corner where the world’s greatest three point shooter was waiting to knock down a shot he’ll be reliable on until he’s 80 years old. Allen’s shot actually was decently contested, but Ray only needs a half second and an inch of space in order to rise up and hit a shot he has spent hundreds (thousands?) of hours practicing throughout his long career.

I’m never one to promote second guessing. It’s impossible to say that a situation would have 100% played out differently if different steps were taken leading up to the unfavorable event. It doesn’t take watching many episodes of That’s So Raven to figure this out. But I do believe in overthinking a scenario. Just like Vogel overthought his substitution at the end of Game 1 against Miami, Popovich seems to have made the same mistake. The rationale of “hey we want everyone switching” is fine, but I’m pretty sure everyone watching this game, including my mom, knew that Lebron was going to be taking that shot. Duncan easily could have hidden on Mike “uh…I don’t move so well guys” Miller and snagged one of the two offensive rebounds that allowed the game to be pushed into OT.

And the mistakes did not end with regulation. While I understand that Duncan was pretty gassed after putting up one of the greatest halves of basketball anyone has ever seen, Parker was essentially being taken out of the game with Lebron draped over him, fighting through screens and making it impossible for the speedy Frenchman to get any open looks. It would have been nice to see the Spurs throw it in to the Big Fundamental at least once in the extra period.

The final, game ending mistake Popovich made was his decision to not call a timeout after the Heat missed a shot with about 9 seconds left in the game. While there is certainly an advantage to not allowing the defense to make substitutions or get into a proper formation, the wild transition attempt by Manu, who seems like he forgot how to dribble again, was not an ideal way for the game to end.

With the series headed to a do-or-die Game 7, I imagine it’s going to be hard for the Spurs, literally seconds away from capturing the NBA Title, to rise to the occasion. Momentum comes and goes, but it undoubtedly now lies with Lebron and the Heat. And should the Heat finish the comeback and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it’s going to be a long summer for Gregg Popovich.

Killing the Narrative

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One thing that really bothers me about sports is “the narrative”. You’re familiar with it. Joe Flacco wasn’t an “elite QB” until he won the Super Bowl. LeBron James wasn’t “clutch” or a true “winner” until he defeated OKC in last year’s Finals.

While James seemingly vanquished this mostly baseless argument last summer (seriously, check out his career playoff averages, especially 2008-2009), we’re seeing a different version of it now that James may be defeated in his third of four career Finals. Now, especially in Chicago, we’re hearing all about how James can never be the greatest and “Michael never would have let this happen”. While these things might be true (I do have trouble with the “GOAT” losing three out of four finals), context is huge. Jordan failed, often at the hands of Detroit, year after year before his monstrous dominance. Magic Johnson lost FOUR Finals–but won five; he’s still widely considered to be one of the best to ever play. Even Larry Bird dropped a couple (it didn’t help that he and Magic had to play each other half the time).

Finally, making this argument based solely off this year’s Finals fails to respect the greatness James is up against. Timmy Duncan and Coach Pop are no slouches themselves–they’re only one win away from (likely) finishing 5-0 in their shared Finals career. So as Games 6 and 7 unfold, remember that “the narrative” only means as much as you say it does. Regardless of what happens this week, Tim Duncan and LeBron James will go down as two of perhaps the ten greatest to ever play the game. But LeBron would save himself a lot of trouble by unleashing two performances remniscient of last years’ Eastern Conference Finals.