DEERFIELD, ILL. Besides fan favorite and deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, the only player on the Bulls roster with a championship ring is starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton. With injuries to Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah, one would think Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would be leaning more on the veteran, but as in the regular season, Hamilton hasnt seen much action in the fourth quarter of the first-round series against the 76ers, only playing down the stretch in Fridays Game 3 loss in Philadelphia.
Hamilton, like most of his teammates, has struggled offensively against the athletic, defensive-minded Sixers. But along with reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver hes considered one of the Bulls best pure shooters, as well as a proven longtime scorer in the NBA and a clutch playoff performer. Still, Thibodeau was loathe to commit to playing Hamilton more in Tuesdays potential elimination contest, Game 5 of the series at the United Center.
Well see how its going. Depending on how the groups are playing, but if hes playing well, hell be out there. Kyles closed a lot of games, Lus closed a lot of games. I thought C.J. played very well in the second half. Carlos. Weve got a number of guys who can make shots, the coach said after Monday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. To me, theyve committed a lot of their defense to him. I think hes made the right plays. Hes not forcing things. To me, whenever theres two on the ball and youre a primary scorer, you have the responsibility to make the right play, hit the open man.
Theyre blitzing and weve gotten good, quality shots off of it, and we have to continue to do so, but thats what the playoffs are. Both teams are shooting a low percentage, but thats what you expect. Youve got to fight, youve got to get easy baskets, youve got to get second shots, youve got to execute, youve got to screen well, Thibodeau added. You have to do all those things and I think when you get to the playoffs, the guys who command the double teams, those are the guys you have to count on to create offense for you, so we have Rip and we have Kyle that do that, and theyre both unselfish and theyll make the right play. Carlos, he demands a lot of attention, too, and he also has the responsibility of finding the open man and creating offense for us.
That's not exactly a strong endorsement of Hamilton as the Bulls closer, something theyve sorely needed in the absence of Rose and even without Noahs underrated playmaking, but at least he acknowledged the veterans value. Earlier in the series, Thibodeaus counterpart, Sixers head coach Doug Collins who coached a younger Hamilton in Washington talked about making defensive adjustments after Hamiltons 19-point outing in Game 1 on just seven shots, albeit with Rose helping to set him up.
Rip is a jump-starter. He did that in Detroit, said Collins. He used to always get them going early in games and so, weve got to be aware of that.
Whether he did it intentionally or not, could Collins be tacitly implying that stopping Hamilton at the outset of games is key because Thibodeau wont play him late in contests? But reading tea leaves aside, Hamilton has continued to be diplomatic about his lack of minutes in the clutch.
After Game 1, playoffs are about adjustments, so what they try to do is every time I come off a pick-and-roll, they double. Every time I come off a pin down, they double. When I try to post up, they try to bring another guy and double. But its one of those things that, now, for me, youve got to make plays for your teammates and when guys get the ball, theyve got to step up and thats what the game is about, trusting your teammates, he said. You just look at it as our whole season, everything has been team, team, team. We never looked at the game as individuals, so we all know that in order to win, we all have to do it together.
You do want to be in the game late, but it is what it is. When I came here, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do, so my job is if Im not on the court in the fourth quarter, its to cheer for the next guy because I know the next guy would do the same thing for me. So, its one of those things where youve got to just stay in tune with the game, the 13-year pro continued. Whatever they need me to do, Im going to go ahead and do. Since I came back from injury, Ive been playing limited minutes.
As valuable Korver is as a pure shooter, Hamiltons playmaking ability, with Rose and Noah out, would seemingly be crucial for the Bulls. Better yet, why not play the pair together at times, shifting All-Star Luol Deng to power forward against the smallish Sixers from a size perspective, Deng matches up well with Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young or simply not tethering together the first and second units?
At this point, after losing three consecutive games for the first time all campaign and on the brink of elimination, it wouldnt be a bad decision to pull out all the stops such as trying out journeyman Mike James at point guard for a stretch, as his size, strength and experience could help slow Philadelphias Jrue Holiday to prevent an early summer vacation. But perhaps Hamilton summed it up best as he was leaving the assembled media at the Berto Center.
I didnt think a whole lot of stuff this year would happen, he said. But it did.