The key number after the Bulls Saturday-night loss to the Suns at the United Center wasnt the 97-81 final score.
Its the teams home record, which fell to 10-10 on the season after losing to the second-worst team in the Western Conference, previously losers of 12 consecutive road games and playing in their fourth game in five nights.
Making the defeat even more jarring is the fact that just the previous evening, the Bulls played mostly brilliantly in taking down one of the Eastern Conference elite teams, the Knicks, in the hostile environment of Madison Square Garden.
It can happen once in a great while thats part of the game but its too much, so I have to figure it out. My job is to have us ready and we have to play with more intensity, more of an edge and were not doing that, so we have to correct that, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterwards. We have to be ready for everybody and we have to know everybody, inside and out. We have to do better with that. I have to do better with that. I have to make sure were ready. Ive got to get intensity out of our team. Ive got to take a hard look at everything right now.
Its a team-wide thing and when youre having success, you do that together and when youre struggling, you do that together. We have to circle the wagons. Weve got to take a hard look at everything that were doing and everyone has to do it, starting with me, so Ive got to get more out of our team and thats my job, he continued. Theres no such thing in the NBA as a non-marquee team, in my eyes. If youre a player in this league, you are a great player and everybody that youre playing against, every team that youre playing against, is capable of beating you and so, I think the teams that ultimately have great success, it comes down to the degree of how hard youre willing to play each and every night, the degree of how smart youre willing to play each and every night and the degree of how together youre willing to play each and every night, and thats what separates teams. Every team in this league is extremely talented, from top to bottom, so its your willingness to make that commitment for each other, understanding readiness to play, how important the first quarter is and its easy in this league, to get sidetracked and distracted.
When you have the right type of commitment thats necessary to win, you dont allow that stuff to get in the way. Youre ready whenever they tell you to throw the ball up, youre ready. If they say, were playing at midnight on the roof, you should be saying, lets get the ladders. Thats the way it is. Youve got to have the right guys.
Thats certainly a mouthful especially the classic, get the ladders remark but all of it is pertinent. Thibodeaus players, while phrasing things a bit differently, share similar sentiments, particularly the holdovers, who are used to the Bulls giving a consistently hard effort on a nightly basis, regardless of the competition, and dominating at the United Center.
Weve got to fix it. I think if we all knew what the problem was, wed try to do something. But shootarounds are the same time. Weve got to compete, compete harder, play together and play for one another. But I think that it just was not a great effort tonight. They played very well. The way we competed was not great, Joakim Noah said. Its not any given night. Thats the problem. Were 10-10 at home. Thats not very good; thats very average, so theres obviously a problem if were going on the road, beating some of the best teams and coming home against lower-echelon teams, and not competing,
I think its okay to be wrapped up in big wins and I think youre supposed to be happy after you win. When its the big game, we come ready to play. We have to make a conscious effort as players, as coaches everybody I feel like we complain way too much. When things arent going our way, we have to find a way to stick together more because its just too negative. We have to support one another when things arent going well because right now, things arent going our way. Its like its the end of the world and you have to move on to the next play, and unite together because I dont feel like were doing that right now.
Luol Deng, who uncharacteristically picked up a technical foul in the contest, chimed in: I just think we could play a lot harder than we did tonight. Whatever you want to call it relax or thinking that were that good and were just going to walk over them its a lot of things. The bottom line is its an NBA team, theyve got good players, youve got to respect that, come out and get the job done.
Its a long season. Every team has their problems or their issues, whatever you want to call it, and what makes you a good team is recognizing those things and getting better at it. I think right now were showing up in the big games and games like tonight, especially at home, where weve got to dig deep and find a way to be a better team because so far, we havent been, he continued. Every team, if you go up and down the league, even the team with the best record, they have something theyre not good at or something that they need to improve, and I think right now, we need to tackle that. At the beginning of the year, it was playing the whole 48 minutes. I think were getting better at that and now, its games like this weve got to get up for.
Whether its the Suns or Knicks, the Heat in Miami or the Bobcats at home on a holiday, the Bulls game-to-game mentality must change in a hurry. In the past, they didnt play down to competition and defended home court, regardless of circumstances, and to a man, one got the feeling from observing the competitive bunch, if Thibodeau informed them that they had a game at midnight, theyd be willing to get the ladders.