On Thursday I questioned whether or not the Bulls and their coach had any idea what they were doing. After seeing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers systematically dismantle the Bulls on national television on Wednesday night, it was impossible not to be suspicious. Well, here we are two days later, and though I'm still not sure Vinny Del Negro has a plan in place, the quick fixes he made going into Friday night's game against the Phoenix Suns paid immediate dividends.
Vinny removed both Thabo Sefolosha and Tyrus Thomas from the starting lineup, and replaced them with Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Gray, and the Bulls ended up playing their most complete game of the season against a Phoenix team that came in as winners of their last three. After the offense spent Wednesday night looking disinterested, it was sharp and crisp last night, and the shots were falling more often than not as the Bulls shot 51.7% from the field.
On the defensive end they held the Suns to only 40% shooting and caused the Suns to turn the ball over 18 times, and they also beat the Suns on the glass, finishing with a 47-33 advantage.
The secret, of course, was that the Bulls actually seemed to care on Friday. While the two changes in the starting lineup didn't do much for the new starters -- Aaron Gray finished with only 2 points though Hinrich had a nice night with 5 points, 5 assists, and 5 steals before leaving with a sprained thumb -- it seemed to light a fire in Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. Thomas was no doubt inspired by losing his starting job, and Noah was probably upset that Gray got the call over him, and if that was Del Negro's goal, it worked.
Joakim's energy on both ends of the floor was infectious, as he finished the game with nine points and 14 rebounds, while Tyrus had 14 points, 7 boards, and 2 blocks.
As you'd expect, coach Del Negro was rather pleased with his team's effort.
"Amazing how that works," Del Negro said. "Unbelievable. We had one of those nights. Moving the basketball, guys knowing their roles. I'm just happy for the guys. Tonight, everyone contributed."
Of course as we've all seen before, and Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan know all too well, the Bulls are fully capable of having these kind of games. When they come out an play hard, there isn't a team in the NBA they aren't capable of beating. Del Negro's challenge will be finding a way to keep his squad playing like this in every game. The lineup changes had a nice effect for one game, but what does he do next?