CHICAGO – Pau Gasol, the Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man who suffered a strained left hamstring in Game 3 Friday night, won’t play Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Gasol still was sore and didn’t even try to warm up for the matinee game. He said, more than two hours before tipoff, he was “undecided” whether Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic or some other Bulls reserve would start in Gasol’s spot.
“We’ll see how it unfolds. We’ll see what the game tells us that we need,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the flexibility, whether we start Taj or Niko, the other guys, they’re all going to play a significant role.”
Cleveland coach David Blatt said that, since his team often uses smaller lineups (with LeBron James as the power forward and Tristan Thompson or pre-surgery Kevin Love as the center), the Cavaliers should be able to do well against a Bulls group missing the 7-foot Gasol. The Bulls had great production after Gasol got hurt Friday using Gibson and Mirotic together on their front line.
“They’ve played Mirotic at [power forward this season], more with Gasol or with [Joakim] Noah than perhaps with Taj,” Blatt said. “It should not be a difference-maker. In that case, I don’t think it’s a matter of who’s playing but how you’re playing.
“We’ve got to do a great job of continuing being active on defense and being focused on rebounding the ball. Mirotic is going to stretch the floor more, which means you’re flying around a good bit on the perimeter. Then you’ve got to really lock in on the rebounding aspect, because you’re not in normal positions. But that’s a lineup we should and can play well against.”
Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving has been dealing with a sprained right foot, an injury suffered early in the first round against Boston. After he rolled his right ankle in Game 3, the foot seemed to bother Irving more than in this series’ first two outings.
Thibodeau, who helped coach Irving for Team USA last summer, didn’t want to count on a key opposing player being less than 100 percent.
“At this time of the year, you know guys are getting nicked up,” Thibodeau said. “But as I said, I was around Kyrie in the summer. I saw him get bumped. The guy’s tough, he plays through thing. So I never underestimate that. If you let your guard down against a player like that, it doesn’t take much for him to get going.”