The final seconds ticked away at the United Center on Saturday, and the Chicago Bulls walked away with a victory over the Sacramento Kings, 94-87. Coach Tom Thibodeau has his Bulls flying with a 37-29 record, the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The reason they are flying is because early on in the season they were left for dead. Derrick Rose went down for the season with another knee injury. Right after they found out, they went to Los Angeles and got blitzed by 39. The team trades away its second best player, Luol Deng, for cap space.
Then the losing started. In December, they were seven games under .500, and the whispers started to get louder-the Bulls are trying to tank.
One thing people did not take into account was who the coach is. Thibodeau knows only one thing-play as hard as you can for every minute that you can.
Thibodeau’s bunch followed their coach, and suddenly they started winning. Since the low point in December when they were 9-16, the Bulls have gone 28-13.
Tom Thibodeau should be coach of the year. Yes, I know there are other coaches out there doing well and are deserving of the title, but barring a collapse in the final 16 games, this award belongs to him.
Thibodeau took that same team, added DJ Augustin, and has made them into solid playoff contenders, if not the title contenders they were projected before the season started.
This same team leads the league in defense…again. The Bulls, under Tom Thibodeau for four seasons, have not finished lower than third in defense.
One of the most underrated aspects of Thibodeau’s coaching is how he keeps them even-keeled. They will not get too high after wins or too low after losses.
In January, there was a 17-point loss to the Clippers. The next night they played the Charlotte Bobcats and won. There was a 29-point loss to the Kings in February, then won the next day. Thibodeau just keeps the team moving forward.
Another great Thibodeau trait is how he coaches up players who are either reclamation acts, or players who are not usually known for their defense. Last year, he had Nate Robinson, who was never known to play defense or be a leader, do some of both. He then finally got a multi-year deal with a team, the Denver Nuggets.
This season, Thibodeau has the aforementioned Augustin. He was released by Toronto, unable to get any playing time. Now he is one of the major cogs in the Bulls’ uprising.
The latest project is Jimmer Fredette. He was recently released by Sacramento and signed with the Bulls. He notices the difference between a Thibodeau-led team and one that is not. “Coach does a great job of getting our heads in the game, getting us prepared, and making it so there are guys that want to play as hard as they can every minute they’re out there. That’s a big difference.’’
We will see what the last 16 games bring. What is for sure, however, is the whatever happens, the Bulls will play hard and work to honor coach Tom Thibodeau.