The hangover was expected. A team doesn’t blow a 27-point lead one night and not feel some pain the next day.
“It was one of those days. No one was going to come in smiling,” Luol Deng said Tuesday at the Berto Center. “We lost a big lead. You think back to the game and there are so many things you could do better.”
Two simple facts pushed things along: As bad as it was on Monday night, it still counts as just 1 loss. And another game is approaching quickly, on Wednesday against Dallas at the United Center.
“When you’re facing some adversity, you have to be mentally tough,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “As poorly as we played at the end of the third, start of the fourth, we were still in position to win. So when things aren’t going our way, I don’t want us hanging our heads.”
Here’s a brief recap of Monday’s ugly ending: Kirk Hinrich drained a 3-pointer to put the Bulls ahead 78-51 with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
The most amazing part of the comeback is how quickly it happened. The Bucks tied the score at 82-82 on a Mike Dunleavy 3-pointer with seven minutes left in the fourth. That’s a 31-4 run in less than eight minutes.
The Bulls settled down and took the lead five more times, but fell short in a 93-92 loss. A victory would have sent them past Milwaukee into first place in the Central Division.
“No lead is safe in this league,” Thibodeau said. “A team can make up 10 points in a minute very easily. If you don’t have floor balance and you’re giving up easy scoring opportunities, that’s how you can make up ground. That’s what we did.”
Monday’s collapse accentuated an ongoing issue. The Bulls’ lack of depth is weakening the team and wearing down the starters. Luol Deng (41.0) and Joakim Noah (39.2) currently rank 1-2 in the league in minutes per game.
All five starters logged at least 36 minutes Monday, with Deng playing all but 42 seconds. Thibodeau stuck with an eight-man rotation, keeping Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed on the bench.
In the final 15 minutes, Milwaukee used an all-reserve lineup of Dunleavy, Ersan Ilyasova, Beno Udrih, Ekpe Udoh and rookie Doron Lamb.
Did the Bucks subs have more energy down the stretch than the Bulls’ starters? Sure, but if the Bulls’ bench isn’t getting the job done, what is Thibodeau supposed to do?
On Tuesday, Thibodeau highlighted the team’s three reliable reserves — forward Taj Gibson, forward Jimmy Butler and guard Nate Robinson.
It’s too early to make any lasting conclusions, but it’s starting to appear that the so-called Bench Mob of the past two years will be impossible to duplicate. Omer Asik has been one of the league’s best centers in Houston this season and he used to play spot minutes for the Bulls.
“That Bench Mob was great,” Deng said. “We won a lot of games because of them. But they’re gone. Some of them are struggling and some of them are doing well. This is a new team.
“Not every team is going to be about a Bench Mob. I’ve been here nine years and every team has a different story. I think for this team, there are going to be ups and downs until we get our chemistry right and start playing the way we want to play.”
During Thibodeau’s first season, when the team was filled with new players, the Bulls started 10-9 and ended up winning 62 games. Playing the starters heavy minutes has been a necessity lately, but the long-term plan is obviously for the bench guys to get better.
“You can use that as an excuse, but you’ve got to be ready,” Thibodeau added. “We can’t keep using the excuse that we’ve got all these new guys and they’re still learning and all that. We’ve got to get the job done. You’ve got to know what your job is and you’ve got to get it done.”
Here’s the job description for the Dallas game: Build another 27-point lead and this time, don’t blow it.
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