If at the beginning of the season I would have told you that at the end of January the Bulls would own a 23-22 record, and be one game out of the third seed in the Eastern Conference, you probably would have wondered why they were not the no. 3 team already. Hearing the same statement today, it sounds miraculous.
Hopes were high in Chicago with the return of Derrick Rose. Then Rose went down, and again he was gone for the season. Later, the Bulls decided to get under the luxury tax and decided to trade Luol Deng. Without arguably the team’s two best players, the Bulls’ fortune would certainly go downhill, right? Wrong.
Even though players and fans alike feel that more moves are on the way, head coach Tom Thibodeau just keeps coaching the way he always does, an all out grind every day. He has converted the players to the Religion of Thibs, and they are playing harder than ever, and still winning.
There was no bigger evidence than this past Wednesday, when the Bulls went on the road to San Antonio, and defeated the Spurs 96-86. Yes, the Spurs have had a rash of injuries, but they still appear to have better talent than the Bulls.
The Bulls just grind you. They keep coming at you until you either quit or submit to their scheme.
This is why the Heat hate playing the Bulls. They are used to teams cowering to them early on and letting them have their way. The Bulls never do that. Even when they are losing by 40 points, the Bulls are still playing hard. The Heat know they are in for a battle each time they play the Bulls and do not look forward to it.
The Bulls’ grinding ways wears not on them, but on their opponents. Lebron James sums up how the Heat feel about the Bulls, “We don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s not unheard of. We all know how it is.”
All of this comes from Thibodeau. He runs the players ragged in practice. He runs them ragged in games. He hears all of the critics who say he’s too hard on the players. He marches on.
MacGyver, for those of you who do not know, is a television show character from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. He got himself into some predicaments and used whatever what was around to get himself out. Give him some bubble gum, a pen, and some string and he can blast himself out of anywhere.
Thibodeau is the MacGyver of the NBA. It does not matter who is in uniform for the Bulls. Whether it is Rose and Deng in the lineup, or Mike James and Nazr Mohammed, Thibodeau coaches them the same and makes them play hard and play smart.
That is Thibodeau. He will find a way to win a game. The players just have to buy into his madness, and they see the results.
In last year’s playoffs, the Bulls faced the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. At one point in the series, they were without Deng, Rose, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Richard Hamilton. They also had Nate Robinson sick on the bench during timeouts.
This did not faze the Bulls, who scored an improbable game seven win in Brooklyn to take the series. The team went into Miami next, and shocked the champions by winning the first game, before bowing out with that lone victory.
People say players mirror a good coach’s personality. This is the case with Thibodeau. Noah is one of the hardest working players in the league, and has just been named to his second All Star game.
Jimmy Butler is taking over the do-it-all player role that Deng had before he got traded. In the triple overtime game against Orlando recently, Butler logged in 60 minutes. At one point in last season’s playoffs, Butler played all 48 minutes in three consecutive games. Butler takes his role with the Bulls in stride. He does not look for attention. He just grinds it out, just like his coach tells him.
The trade deadline is less than three weeks away. There could be more changes in store for the Bulls. Whatever happens, Thibodeau will have whoever is there playing hard and grinding. Just give Thibs some bubble gum, a pen, and string, and he will have his team in the playoffs.