Bulls vs. Nets: Chicago running low on depth, by injuries and choice

USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls have to run their guards ragged with Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich out -- not out of necessity, but because the other options are just as scary.

With Kirk Hinrich out, the Chicago Bulls turned to Nate Robinson. And more Nate Robinson. And more Nate Robinson.

The 5'9 guard who started Chicago's season third on the point guard depth chart played 43:34 in a 110-91 loss, and that's even with a minute-long spell of garbage time where Tom Thibodeau rested his starters. Sure, Robinson had been the instant offense, a heroic spark that led the way Chicago's triple-overtime Game 4 win Saturday. But in that game, he'd only played 29 minutes -- and that's with the extra three sessions.

Yes, injuries have run this team ragged. We all know about Derrick Rose's ACL tear, and his famous decision not to play early in this year's postseason, and probably for the entirety of the Bulls' run. Toss in Kirk Hinrich's deep thigh bruise, and the guy best suited for defending Deron Williams is out.

But it's not as bad as it could be for Chicago. There are players on the roster -- they just aren't good enough in Tom Thibodeau's eyes to play.

Marquis Teague, the Bulls' first-round pick and presumably the team's backup point guard with Hinrich and Derrick Rose out, played only three minutes, most of it in a stint at the end of the first quarter. Daequan Cook, the former three-point contest winner, played the game's final 55 seconds. Rip Hamilton, who started 45 of the team's 82 games this year, was a healthy scratch, and has only played seven minutes in the series.

It didn't work out well. Robinson had 20 points on 19 shots with eight assists, including some charming finishes, which isn't bad, all things considered. But he's a defensive mismatch against Deron Williams, and although the Bulls were occasionally able to hide him against C.J. Watson, even that plan sometimes failed. And fatigue seemed to catch up to the Bulls, as a one-point deficit turned into 19 in the span of a few minutes toward the end of the game.

Thibodeau gave his team no excuses, and felt that with the format of the playoffs allowing the team to play every few games, his players had no excuse for suffering from fatigue late. Via nba.com's live press conference stream:

This is the playoffs. It's gonna be hard fought. You're not dealing with back-to-backs. So you can find an excuse if you want one, but you have to have mental toughness.

And yet he noted that his players weren't up to snuff, as they were outscored 35-18 in the final period of play:

The fourth quarter's different than the first three. Everything's done at a different intensity level. You have to do things quicker, you have to do things better, you have to screen better, you have to execute.

It's harder to do those things after 44 minutes of playing time, and Thibodeau's players often didn't Monday night.

We've long known that Thibodeau has a problem with running his players ragged. Luol Deng played 38.7 minutes per game this year, most in the league for the second straight season. Joakim Noah would've been up there, too, for if not for plantar fasciitis that limited his minutes toward the end of the season and pushed Thibodeau into a minutes limit, one he's been surprisingly faithful in adhering to.

But here, it might not be his fault: until Hinrich returns, Thibodeau's in a pickle. He could do what he did Monday night and go All Nate Robinson Everything, but it won't have the same results as it did in the miracle triple-OT game. Most of the time, it will work out like it did in Game 5, with Robinson providing flashes of brilliance, but defensive issues that cost the team more than his good stretches.

But the coach might not have another option. Teague hasn't proven he's worthy of important minutes. Although he looked like a good distributor in college and had a replay-worthy crossover that led to a bucket, the 20-year-old is very raw, turning the ball over more per 36 minutes than anybody on the team. He could play Marco Belinelli at point guard and play one of his bench twos, but that's scary for multiple reasons: Belinelli isn't much of a point, and the bench twos may or may not belong in the NBA right now. Cook is a shooting specialist who has forgotten to shoot, shooting 28.6 percent from three on the year. And Hamilton started most of the season on reputation, but had arguably the worst season of his career: he scored 490 points on 475 shots, a very bad ratio, shot just 30.8 percent from three.

Somehow, playing Robinson for almost the entirety of the game is the lesser of some serious evils for the Bulls until Hinrich's return. P.J. Carlesimo noted how important Hinrich is in his post-game presser:

It limits the moves Thibs can make. Kirk has defended so well, and it's not like he's just a stopper, he's also had 15-20 points and is shooting a good percentage. They're missing one of their better factors.

Hinrich is no superstar, but his defense and presence as a better-than-replacement-level body would be invaluable for Chicago going forward. It could really use him healthy to close the series out Thursday night in Chicago.

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