If Game 1 against Cleveland was any indication, Tom Thibodeau appears poised to lead the Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals – and possibly even the NBA Finals.
But even if he does, he may be out of a job at season’s end. The relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office is reportedly that strained – and that irreparable.
“If Tom Thibodeau does in fact part ways with the Bulls, he won’t be out of a job for long,” CBS Sports NBA insider Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “In fact, Orlando is kind of taking their time with their head-coaching vacancy for that very reason – to see what ultimately comes of the what some people view as inevitable divorce between Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls. To me, the most interesting part of it is is that if they continue to stay healthy and play well and advance in the playoffs to the conference finals or beyond, how messy would that be? To part ways with a head coach that takes you to the conference finals or even the NBA Finals would be extraordinary.
“Obviously there’s been some tension there between Tibs and the front office for some time,” Berger continued. “There’s been a feeling, according to someone I spoke with recently who knows Tibs well, he feels like the front office has gotten too involved in stuff that should be in the coaching realm in terms of injury, recovery and how long players will be out, minute restrictions and things of that nature. So he feels like in a lot of ways he hasn’t been able to do his job, but he’s obviously doing it well enough because Chicago – in my mind, I felt they were the better team if they were healthy, even with Kevin Love involved. And without Kevin Love, you saw how hard it was for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to find some space to operate in in Game 1. So lots of intrigue there with that series on the court and off.”
Game 2 is Wednesday in Cleveland at 7 p.m. ET, with Clippers/Rockets to follow at 9:30 p.m. in Houston.
The Clippers won Game 1 – without Chris Paul – 117-101. Whether Paul (hamstring) plays in Game 2 is reportedly a flip of the coin, but if it were up to Berger, Paul would be sitting.
“I think the purest way to look at it is if the guy is physically able and ready to play, he plays,” Berger allowed. “But I think a really smart way to look at this is you already got what you came there to get. You got your one game in Houston. He was hurt on Saturday, played the rest of that game. If he doesn’t play tonight, he wouldn’t have to play again until Friday. That’s almost six days to get that hamstring to calm down. Round the clock treatment and all the stuff that he needs to be right.”
The Clippers ran away with Game 1 in the second half. They trailed 50-46 at halftime but outscored the Rockets 71-51 thereafter thanks to a triple-double from Blake Griffin, who finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes scored 21 and 20 points, respectively, while J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers chipped in with 17 apiece.
“Given everything that that Spurs series took out of the Clippers, I was surprised that they had as much in the tank as they had,” Berger said. “Not that you’re going to just tank and mail in (Game 2) – because they just beat them without Chris Paul so there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t do it again – but I think the smart way to go is make sure he’s there when you need him later in the series, as opposed to rushing him back now.”