Bench provides big lift for Bulls

CHICAGO -- One of the main reasons the Chicago Bulls were able to overcome Derrick Rose's consistent absence last season was their bench play.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was able to turn to his bench, which called itself the “Bench Mob,” and those players would often hold the lead or extend it until the starters were ready to return. Thibodeau sometimes even opted to go with the bench over the starters at the end of games.

With nearly a complete makeover except for forward Taj Gibson to the bench this season, the Bulls have discovered early in the 2012-13 season that it’s not exactly easy to duplicate having a group of substitutes who can step in and play with anyone. Leading up to Saturday’s game with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls’ bench looked like most benches around the NBA; it had been average.

But finally on Saturday, Thibodeau began to see signs his new bench may just have the capability to be a game-changer, too. From Marco Belinelli's three 3-pointers to Nate Robinson's team-high 18 points to Gibson’s eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks to rookie Marquis Teague's first career points to quality minutes from Nazr Mohammed and Jimmy Butler, the bench played a key role in the Bulls’ 87-80 win over the Timberwolves.

“I thought our bench was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “I thought Marco gave us a big lift. I thought Nate was very good. Taj was really good. Nazr was good. I thought when Marquis came in he was ready, did a terrific job. That was very, very encouraging.

“We need everybody. A bunch of guys came in and gave us a big lift. We expect that every night it will be somebody different.”

Robinson and Belinelli especially excelled in the victory.

Robinson has shown he can run the team in past games, but Saturday’s performance was key because starting point guard Kirk Hinrich left the game with a right hip strain in the second quarter and never returned. If Hinrich’s injury is severe, Robinson would be bumped into the starting role.

“I just try to get my teammates involved and just bring energy,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, I did that. ... Whatever coach needs me to do, I’m going to do it. I know Marquis will be ready, myself included. We’re just going to be playing our hearts out. Hope we hold it down until (Hinrich) gets back as well as D Rose (Derrick Rose).”

While Robinson was brought to the team in the offseason to be another floor general, Belinelli was recruited to be a shooter off the bench, a lot like Kyle Korver was last season. Prior to Saturday, Belinelli hadn’t shown much of his shooting stroke. He was 3-of-8 from 3-point range through the first five games. But on Saturday, he went off and drained a season-high three 3-pointers, all in the fourth quarter, and finished with 11 points.

“I feel good,” Belinelli said of his shooting. “Like I said before, it’s part of my game. I think it was really important tonight. That was important for me, important for the team. I just want to win.”

Robinson was pleased to see the sight, too.

“Makings those 3's is the Marco I know,” Robinson said. “He can shoot the ball and spread out the floor.”

Robinson had a feeling it was just a matter of time for the bench to click.

“For the bench guys, it takes time to contribute,” Robinson said. “The bench can get into a slump, but they did a great job tonight.”

Thibodeau just hopes it can continue do that.