Bulls notes: Birthday boy Thibodeau happy to be back in Boston

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Bulls notes: Birthday boy Thibodeau happy to be back in Boston

BOSTON -- Tom Thibodeau spent his 55th birthday Thursday in a city that means a lot to him: Boston.
He indicated that his usual custom of going out for dinner with his former boss, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers continued, and the Maywood, Ill., native had to pick up the tab, a running joke between the pair that Thibodeau is aware Rivers will give him a hard time about through the media.
Of course Rivers informed the media that he paid for the coaches meal! Thibodeau quipped. He had to, too.
Birthday aside, the former Harvard University assistant coach his last stop before embarking on a 20-year NBA odyssey prior to landing the Chicago job talked about the special meaning Boston has for him, specifically winning the 2009 NBA title as a Celtics assistant.
I was very fortunate to be here. Its a great organization. To be part of a championship team, I think its a special place, so I always respect that, he said before the Bulls morning shootaround Friday at TD BankNorth Garden. I look forward to seeing these guys after we play, but I also know their spirit. Its a very competitive group. When the ball goes up, I want to beat them just as badly as they want to beat me, so I know whats at stake here.
Celtics Bradley impresses Thibodeau
Thibodeau discussed the impact of Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley, a defensive specialist who returned from a shoulder injury suffered in last year's playoffs. Since Bradley came back to the lineup Jan. 2, Boston has been a different team, as hes taken some pressure of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo on the defensive end of the court, as well as given the Celtics, who added several newcomers in the offseason, a dose of athleticism and added some familiar chemistry.
Hes huge. Sometimes guys like that and he proved it last year, too statistically, you cant measure their impact. But his energy, his toughness, his ability to slow people down, I think that brings a lot to the team, Thibodeau said of Bradley. With the Celtics, the core of that team is still Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, and so, those guys have been through a lot of wars together, and you throw Doc Rivers into it, theyre going to always figure things out and theres a lot of toughness there. Theyve got a lot of new faces, so theyre sort of figuring that out, but the core of the team is intact.
Bulls collective effort working in Roses absence
While theres been some uneven play at times during the campaign, like last season, the Bulls have seemingly found a formula for success without the star power of the sidelined Derrick Rose in the lineup. Thibodeau is far from satisfied, but acknowledged that the Bulls team approach has been effective at times.
The big thing for us was you can never replace Derrick individually and we knew that from the start, so for us, it was to do it collectively. Everyone would have to step up, do their job and put a lot into it. Thats our only chance and for the most part, weve done that, he explained. You cant replace a guy like Derrick individually, so we understand it has to be done with our defense and our rebounding, and sharing the ball and everybody being ready to step up.
You always feel like you can do better and there have been stretches where weve played well, the coach continued. For the most part, I think the attitude and the approach have been very good.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”