Mar 24, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau draws a play during a timeout against the Toronto Raptors during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE
When Derrick Rose went down, attention immediately turned to Tom Thibodeau. What was he thinking? Mike Prada argues that he was thinking what just about every other coach thinks in the heat of battle.
Derrick Rose is injured and will miss the rest of the NBA playoffs, and it sucks. It sucks for the Bulls, it sucks for NBA fans and it even sucks for those Miami Heat fans that wanted to win the East by taking everyone's best shot. It especially sucks because it happened in such a meaningless moment with the Bulls well on their way to an easy Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Because of that, there's bound to be a lot of second-guessing of coach Tom Thibodeau for leaving Rose in the game when things seemed under control. Rose's injury came out of nowhere, but he also had suffered several nagging injuries throughout the year and may not have been at 100 percent as is. Is it fair to blame Thibodeau for Rose even being in the game in the first place?
Thibodeau bristled when asked the question by reporters after the game.
Tom Thibodeau on Derrick Rose still in the game late in 4Q: "I don’t work backward like you guys. The score was going the other way."— Jeff Zillgitt (@usat_jzillgitt) April 28, 2012
On the one hand, this is a predictable response. One of the first things that must be said to comfort a person grieving after a tragedy is that, despite what they think, there's nothing they could have done to prevent the tragedy from happening. Derrick Rose getting injured isn't an actual tragedy, but it's the same kind of freak occurrence that can cause anyone that knows him to wonder what they could have done differently to prevent the outcome from happening. Publicly, Thibodeau can't get caught up in feeling sorry for himself like that. There are games still left to play.
On the other hand, I think his answer reveals a lot about the psychology of a coach in the heat of the moment. Given what happened to Rose on Saturday, it's important to discuss this a bit.
Thibodeau claims that, because the score was "going the other way," there was legitimate danger that the Bulls were going to lose the game. Really, he's just being neurotic. The Bulls held a 12-point lead with one minute and 10 seconds left in the game. A minute and 50 seconds before Rose got hurt, the Bulls held a 16-point lead. That means the 76ers only shaved four points off the deficit in the span in which Thibodeau said was "going the other way." The Bulls could have stood in the frontcourt for 24 seconds and given the 76ers the ball once the shot clock expired, and they still wouldn't have been in danger of losing.
But that's thinking while being separated from the situation. In reality, Thibodeau is hardly the only coach that never feels secure in the heat of the moment. Later in the day, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put star Dwyane Wade back into the game in the fourth quarter with the Heat leading by 34 points, as if there was legitimate danger that the Knicks could come back. Wade played five minutes before he was finally exiled to the sidelines with the Heat leading by 32. This was after the Rose injury happened, mind you.
That's just one example. Lakers fans have been screaming at coach Mike Brown all season for not resting his stars more when they were being blown out in several games. Clippers fans have every reason to freak out about how much Vinny Del Negro played Chris Paul over the course of the season. This goes on and on. Gregg Popovich seems to understand the importance of getting his horses out of the game when they are no longer needed, but he's the exception, not the rule. Most coaches don't operate that way.
From afar, it's easy to say they should. In a sense, leaving a star in the game when it is decided is akin to not putting on your seatbelt. Sure, it won't matter most of the time, but all it takes is one time for it to cost you. Then, you're negligent.
Problem is, the game isn't played from afar. It's played by passionate players who never want to come out and nervous coaches who never want to do anything to put a game in jeopardy. Blame Thibodeau all you want, but as long as passionate players and nervous coaches exist, these things are always in jeopardy of happening.