As many times as coach Tom Thibodeau has told reporters it takes everyone in the locker room to get through a season, many probably looked at seldom-used veteran Vladimir Radmanovic and thought, “Well, maybe not him.”
It turns out, Thibodeau didn’t lie.
With five players out with injuries, the Bulls playing their fifth game in seven nights and trailing lowly Orlando by 8 points in the third quarter Friday, Radmanovic got his chance to play meaningful late-game minutes and came through.
Luol Deng, Radmanovic and Nate Robinson knocked down 3-pointers on three straight possession to give the Bulls an 87-78 lead with 3:50 left. The home team didn’t score again, but hung on to win 87-86 at the United Center.
Radmanovic, who’s played in just 23 out of 85 games this season, finished with 7 points and 4 rebounds in 23 minutes — all season-highs.
“It’s not easy, but I’ve been in the league for awhile, so all the frustration, I tried to channel that in the right direction,” Radmanovic said. “When you’re called out, you’ve got to be ready. I can’t say that’s who I am or what I am. I’m just glad I was able to help.”
Radmanovic said his teammates wanted him to do even more, but he decided to stick with baby steps.
“Everybody was like, ‘Keep shooting. Shoot the ball. Shoot the ball.’ But when you don’t play a whole season, you start running up and down, that ball starts feeling a little different from when you’re just shooting it regularly,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to shoot like that.”
Radmanovic, 32, was the first free agent to sign with the Bulls last summer. He figured to help replace the 3-point shooting lost when Kyle Korver was traded to Atlanta. But Radmanovic admitted during training camp he wasn’t quite ready for Thibodeau’s heavy emphasis on defense.
When the roster got thin the past two years, Thibodeau never hesitated to use Brian Scalabrine. But Radmanovic sat and watched for a long time this season.
“I’m professional. I signed a contract,” he said. “I’ve got to be here no matter what. It’s not easy. You come here and you’ve got expectations. You feel like you can help the team. People start looking at you like, ‘What is this guy doing here?’ There’s a whole bunch of things going on. The bottom line is try to stay ready and whenever you get out there, do it. Either you fail or succeed. I’m lucky to succeed.”
The primary offensive hero on Friday was a usual suspect. Robinson finished the third quarter by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer, started the fourth with another 3-pointer to bring the Bulls within 70-69 and scored 12 of his 19 points in the final quarter.
“Nate, he’s key to this team,” Jimmy Butler said. “The offense he brings and the way he can completely shift the momentum of the game, I think that’s big on any team and Nate’s that for us.”
While the Bulls sputtered down the stretch, Orlando (19-58) had the ball twice while trailing by 1. First, Carlos Boozer knocked the ball away from Nikola Vucevic in the post, then guard Beno Udrih (27 points) dribbled into traffic and fell between three defenders in the lane. Butler tracked down the loose ball and the Bulls ran out the clock.
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