Here’s a question for all you knuckleheads who think you know better than the NBA coaches who are paid to do it.
Do you take your star player out at the end of a blowout?
This is a catch-22 for NBA head coaches for a number of reasons, three of which were on display this weekend. If Tom Thibodeau pulls Derrick Rose before the 1:12 mark of Game 1, does Rose blow his ACL? If Vinny Del Negro keeps Chris Paul on the bench despite Paul pleading to re-enter the game with the Clippers down double digits in the fourth, do the Clippers complete the 27-point comeback?
If Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are still on the floor with the Heat up 30 in the fourth, how far away are theirACLs from suffering the same fate as Iman Shumpert’s?
The short answer is that there is no answer. The coach has to make the decision and go with it. That’s why they get paid the big money (except for Del Negro who makes as little money as Donald Sterling can be forced to pay out according to California state law).
The longer, more intricate answer that prompted the article is looking at each situation on a case by case basis, you’ll walk away with at least an understanding of why each coach made the decision they did, even if you don’t ultimately agree with said decision.
Many people got on Thibodeau’s case for having Rose still in a game with a twenty point lead and under two minutes to go. On the surface, thir argument is valid, especially given Rose’s injury history (the reigning MVP missed 27 of 66 regular season games this year because of back issues and other ailments). However, Thibodeau’s counter is fairly strong:
“He’s got to play, and the thing is, we sat him ’till (the 7:52) mark of the fourth and he’s got to work on closing, he’s got to work on finishing. Our team, we didn’t handle that part great. That was what I was thinking.”
Add into the equation the fact that Rose was an assist and a rebound away from a triple-double (he finished with 23/9/9) had Game 1 one on ahead without incident, not only would it have been a statement game along the lines of what the Heat did to the Knicks, but a statement from Thibs to his team that sets the tone for a long and focused playoff run.
The Bulls struggled to step on the proverbial throat of the Pacers in last season’s first round playoff matchup, and its very likely that experience played a role in Thibs approach to this game. So he rolled the dice with his star player, and it came up craps.
However, barely 24 hours later and roughly 400 miles south of Chicago Vinny Del Negro made the decision to insert his star into a game that I personally had turned off midway through the third quarter, and that resulted in th emost improbable playoff comeback in NBA playoff history.
If Thibs is to be criticized for having Rose in the game, shouldn’t Del Negro be called out for conceding to Chris Paul’s sideline campaign with 9:57 to go and the Clippers down 21? It isn’t as if Paul doesn’t have his own injury history to be concerned about.
Del Negro has never been able to shake his reputation for being in over his head as a head coach, both in LA and previously in Chicago, but whether he made the decision himself, or bowed to the pressure placed on him by his star point guard, it proved to be the right one. The Clippers 99-98 Game 1 road victory doesn’t happen if Del Negro goes with conventional wisdom.
Paul finished with 14 points and 11 assists, and even though he only made one field goal in the fourth quarter, he hit the two free-throws that gave the Clips the lead for good in the game’s final seconds. He and the Clippers bench players (another part of Del Negro’s resume that has been heretofor a major problem) carried the Clippers through the 26-1 finish in Game 1. Del Negro took a chance playing Paul alongside players who don’t know how to quit (Reggie Evans, 7 points, 13 rebounds and countless hustle plays) and players who never know what the score is ever (Nick Young, 19 points on 6-9 shooting, 3-4 from three in the all-important 4th quarter), and it paid off.
Erik Spoelstra playing Lebron and Wade over 30 minutes a piece in a game that was largely decided two minutes after halftime is dicey, yet again understandable, given what is collectively accepted as fact about Miami being a team that struggles to close out opponents. Had either Lebron or Wade been lost for the season by doing so, I’m sure one of the small number of Miami Heat critics that exist out there (and I’ve heard there are some) would have had a field day.