CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau was asked before whether or not John Lucas III was starting in place of Derrick Rose, Thibodeau responded affirmatively.
"Yes, he is," Thibodeau said.
"And who's going to back him up?" the same reporter responded.
"Lucas," Thibodeau said.
Everyone around the veteran coach laughed. Turns out Thibodeau wasn't kidding.
The Bulls really didn't have another option on this night considering Rose was out with a turf toe injury, C.J. Watson was out with an elbow injury and veteran point guard Mike James -- fresh from the NBDL -- didn't arrive at the United Center until a couple minutes before the National Anthem.
The Bulls were going to ride or die with Lucas on this night and he delivered for his team in a clutch spot, almost going off for a triple double with 25 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. It was exactly the kind of performance Thibodeau had been telling people for weeks that the longtime backup was capable of. It was also just the type of game that Lucas knew he could provide.
"I just wanted to go out there and play," Lucas said after the game. "I was just playing the game. Coach Thibs was telling me to stay aggressive, don't back off, don't stop shooting. He kept saying if I was open, shoot it. I felt like I was shooting too much, but then he got on me for not shooting the times I was open."
Lucas ended shooting the ball 28 times in the game, a number he took a lot of good-natured ribbing for in the aftermath.
"Before the game we all thought he was going to get 20," Bulls sharpshooter Kyle Korver said. "We didn't know he would shoot 28 shots. We all thought he'd get 20 points, though."
How many attempts did Korver think Lucas would get?
"I don't know," Korver said, still laughing. "But 28 is a lot. Good for him."
Lucas has always been a popular figure in the Bulls' locker room, so it's no surprise his teammates seemed genuinely happy for him. They know how much work he's put in over the course of the past two seasons and they were happy to see him get rewarded against an absolutely awful Wizards' team. To those who have known him for years like Thibodeau and James, the scoring barrage really didn't shock them, they knew the little man had it in him all along.
"He's a scorer. He's a player," James said. "And all he needed was the opportunity. And tonight he got the opportunity and he ran with it. He prepares himself every summer. His dad is one of the best trainers in probably the country, probably the world. He makes great players all the time ... he has his father's DNA. His father was a great player when he played. All he needed was an opportunity and tonight he got that opportunity, he took full advantage of it."
It's an opportunity Lucas probably won't get many more times over the course of this season, but it's one he will definitely cherish for a long time. He always knew he had the talent to have a big game like this in the NBA. On Wednesday night, he proved it.
"He is not going to leave any bullets in the gun," Thibodeau said. "I give him a lot of credit. He stayed ready. That was a tough game."