Cubs

Positive momentum for developing Bulls bench

952099.png

Positive momentum for developing Bulls bench

We cant have it both ways, people. Sure, revisionist history will say that observers were simply being critical of Tom Thibodeaus substitution pattern during Mondays home lossin which the Bulls starters, who played all of the fourth quarter, surrendered a 27-point lead to the Bucks reservesbut lets not pretend that folks werent getting impatient with the seemingly slow development of second unit, mostly consisting of newcomers, prior to that, as last weeks complaint was that veterans Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton, in particular, werent seeing the floor enough down the stretch.

Regardless of the details, following Wednesdays 101-76 victory over the short-handed Mavericks at the United Center, in which the Bulls got 50 points off the bench, everything has been forgotten.

Suddenly, Taj Gibson has found his stride again and has evolved into a leader, Nate Robinson has the discipline and temperament to pull off the scoring point-guard role to perfection, Jimmy Butlers offense is coming along to the point where it matches his defense, Marco Belinelli has regained both his stroke and confidence, and Chicago native Nazr Mohammed has more in the tank than many believed.

In truth, it was just a very good night for the Bulls, one of several theyll have this season, to go along with many ugly wins, tough losses and perhaps even a few more outright stinkers, similar to Monday. Still, after drawing so much concern for their performance in the previous outing, it was an important win.

Big time. For us, we gave up a 27-point lead last game and tonight we came in knowing we had to win, A, and B, knowing we had to play hard and we did that. Just keep playing, get the same feeling. Come in every day working hard and coming in contributing, said Nate Robinson, one of the benchs catalyst. A game like Monday happens. Some nights youre going to play and some nights, youre not, but as long as youre ready. Tonight we showed that we were ready and were going to be ready every night.

Be gritty, play hard, have some fun and hopefully win some games, he continued. Just a much-needed win, thats it. We know we needed to win together, collectively as a team and we did it.

Chimed in Jimmy Butler: I feel like were coming together, were getting more comfortable out there. As long as we play hard, make shots and defend, I feel like our bench will be all right.

I think weve got to keep doing what we do every day and stay confident in our game. Everybodys not going to have a great night every day, but dont get down on ourselves and I feel like thats what were doing, and everybodys picking each other up, so that makes it easier on our bench, he added. It was very important because it just shows that youve got to bounce back. Games, they come and they go quickly, so as long as you play hard and you go out there to play to win, I feel like you can do it.

The man that controls their minutes, Thibodeau, was also pleased with the benchs play. He explained, for the thousandth time, that his distribution of playing time is contingent on how the group functions together, not on an player-by-player basis, but still proceeded to break down how they impacted the game individually.

The bench was great. the starters got us off to a good start. We needed everybody. The defense was very good, the rebounding was good, still got to get our turnovers down. But overall, I thought we played a lot tougher with the lead, the coach said. Theres still things we have to do a lot better. I thought we got a little loose at the end of the second quarter, not covering the three-point line and getting reckless with the ball at times, so those are things we have to improve.

Jimmys been playing very well all along. Taj, the last few games, has been playing well. Nate has had some very good games and some not-so-good games. You know Nazr, hes a pro. He stays ready. Because they were big, I thought the matchups were good for him. Marco came in, he knocked a couple shots down early, so that gave us a good lift, Thibodeau went on to say.

Its not about any individual, its about the team, what gives us the best chance to win and the groups that are out there, and are they performing well. So, they go in and theyre building the lead, then obviously theyre going to play longer. We need everybody and we know its going to take time, but my decisions going to be based on whats best for the team and Ive always been that way, and Im not going to change.

The scoreboard tells you and its when a group is out there, and theyre maintaining the lead or building the lead, then theyre going to play longer. But if the lead isnt going in the right direction, then youve got to make adjustments. Everything is based on performance and thats the only way you can do it, and whether its a starter or a bench player, thats the way it has to be.

Gibson, the lone Bench Mob holdover that received significant minutes last seasonButler was a little-used rookie back thenhas developed into the leader of the unit. While he denied that the weight of his recent long-term contract extension has bothered him, he clearly hasnt been the same as of late, but in Wednesdays outing, although he wasnt statistically prolific, he looked like the player of old with some added leadership responsibilities.

Ive just been more vocal. Thibs and the coaches, they just want me to pick up my defense. They said, Right now, dont think too much. We need you to go out there and control the defense, and let guys know what we need to do, and I told guys, right at the end of the third quarter, I said, Weve got to pick it up on D in the fourth. Even if we dont score, weve got to learn how to shut guys down, make it tough. Its tough because were just used to, the last couple years, being solid on defense, having that tough, rugged mindset and thats one thing that I was going hard in practice, just preaching and slowly, were getting it. Tonight is a start and weve got to do it again the next game, Gibson explained afterwards.

Yeah, we were angry because I felt that we should have won that game. We should have been on a two-game winning streak heading into Wednesday. We understand that every game is hard to win, especially just being on the opposite side of this, having a tough go-around early on this season. Weve got to take care of these games that were supposed to win. Weve got guys that take a lot of pride of winning with the Bulls logo across their jersey, so to get this win tonight was real special.

Butler concurred : Taj is always really vocal, just being a leader on the bench because hes been there for so long. Hes always like, Yo, dont pay attention to what anybody says. Just go out there and play your game, stick together.

They tell us all the time that leads can slip easily, youve got to keep building on your lead. But it definitely shows that every night, every team, 10 down or 20 down, they can come back and win the game.

Perhaps the player most uniquely qualified to evaluate the performance of the reserves Wednesday is Luol Deng, who plays with both units, as he rarely exits games. While the All-Star didnt go so far as to shower them with praise and proclaim that all was well moving forward, he did express optimism for the future.

Its one game. I thought they responded great. I dont think any of them were happy sitting down last game. I thought they were great tonight and theyve got to keep on getting better, he explained.Thibodeau just goes by how the game is going. Someone goes in, youre playing hard, youre playing well, most of the time, hes going to stick with that and tonight, we got the lead. The bench came in, built the lead and he stuck with them for the majority of the second quarter.

Its always a plus to have a bench that comes in and holds the lead or builds the lead. Teams with a great bench have a great advantage and as the season goes on, theres always a game where it really helps a lot. But those guys have been working hard in practice all year. Its only a matter of time where its going to click. When youre working that hard, eventually its going to go your way.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 49th homer of the season came with a runner on 1st and one out, when Oriel Hershiser served up a high fastball that Sammy belted 415 feet into the last few rows in left-center field. 

Sosa would later start the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring the game-tying run on a Henry Rodriguez single through the right side of the infield. Jose Hernandez would step in the next at-bat and walk it off with a base hit that scored Mark Grace, as Sammy and the Cubs bested the Giants 6-5. 

Fun Fact: A 33-year-old Barry Bonds would hit home run No. 25, finishing the season with 37 homers. He would finish the next season with 34 dingers but would string five consecutive seasons with at least 45 home runs, of course hitting a record 73 home runs in 2001. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Michael Kopech prepares for The Show

kopech-bro.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Michael Kopech prepares for The Show

Pete McMurray, David Haugh and Ben Finfer join David Kaplan on the panel and discuss the long-awaited arrival of Michael Kopech for the White Sox, Yu Darvish's short rehab start and Mitch Trubisky's second preseason game.

Plus, they discuss new NFL rules and when Eloy Jimenez could get his call up.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: