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One of Ozzie Guillen’s great strengths in managing the White Sox to the 2005 world championship was that he didn’t mind losing a game if there was a greater advantage to be gained down the road. Scott Skiles has coached the Bulls the same way in their NBA playoff series with the Detroit Pistons, only more so–as if he didn’t mind losing the series if there was a greater advantage to be gained way down the road, in the years to come. The irony is that the Bulls suddenly find themselves back in the series after beating the Pistons 108-92 in Detroit Tuesday night. Now it’s back to Chicago Thursday, with the Bulls down 3-2 in the best-of-seven set but in a position to tie it and send it back to Detroit for the finale.
Skiles offered no answers when the Bulls lost the first two games to Detroit by 26 and 21 points. The Bulls played better in their return to Chicago last Thursday, but still quite plainly choked, blowing a 19-point lead in the second half. Skiles just let the Bulls keep playing. They saved face with a 102-87 win Sunday at Chicago, but Tuesday’s victory in Detroit was a revelation. The Bulls shot lights-out and looked confident and in control from the opening tip. Their first-half shooting percentage of 72.2 was the highest in any playoff game since 1998.
Skiles’s main coaching tweak in their two wins was to make more playing time for rookie Tyrus Thomas. Otherwise, he never challenged the Bulls’ manhood or desire–not publicly, anyway. Me, I still think he’s saving another gear for seasons to come, when the Bulls can authentically challenge for the championship and he’ll call on them to draw deeper within themselves. But it takes immense composure–and a willingness to be embarrassed in the short term–not to pull out all the stops in a series like this one, especially after being so dominated in the opening games. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, and the Pistons are still the heavy favorites, but Skiles’s laissez-faire approach may pay dividends sooner than even he seems to have expected it to.