Coming out of the mouth of a basketball purist, it was surprising.
I love it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, when asked about the zone defense the Toronto Raptors played against his team a tactic other teams have employed, presumably to force players other than Derrick Rose to be scorers for a portion of Saturday nights win.
Thibodeau then elaborated about why he adores a strategy long believed to be the bane of most NBA coaches, though the Dallas Mavericks last years champions and the team for which new Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was an assistant success in utilizing it may well put it in vogue in a copycat league.
I love it because I think we have all the things to attack a zone. We can change. We can put more shooting on the floor, we have guys who can penetrate and we have great offensive rebounding, so whenever we see it, we like it and then we have some great cutters. We have Lu Luol Deng, who can cut from behind the zone. We have some guys that are very good attacking the zone from behind, so thats all part of it, he explained.
Thats all well and good, but defensively, would the guru of that end of the court ever consider it?
Well, we have zone principles. We really do. Were not a passing-lane steal team, were a hard ball-pressure type team, but then we protect the paint behind the ball and basically, thats a zone principle and we may play zone. I like it. I like the concept of it, said Thibodeau.
Going back to Saturdays victory, Thibodeaus postgame analysis showed that one of the aspect of his teams performance that he was dissatisfied with was the Bulls failure to play up-tempo basketball on a consistent basis.
I dont think we played with the type of pace we would have liked to tonight, from start to finish. The pace was OK in the first quarter and then we slowed down. Weve got to do a better job of continuing with the fast pace, particularly if were defending well and rebounding well, weve got to get out and weve got to throw ahead and weve got to run through, and weve got to run to the rim. Everyone says they want to be a running team, but to have the discipline on every possession, it takes a lot of work, he observed, even in the face of a shortened schedule with little time to rest. Well, its the challenge you face and if you want to be a quality team, a championship-caliber team, thats what you have to do.
So, to recap: Thibodeau continues to surprise people. Not only is he not adverse to zone defense though it remains to be seen if hed actually institute it but the perceived control freak wants his players to run more, something hes said since last season, but apparently isnt just paying lip service to.
The second-year head coach is considered to be so disciplined that the Bulls often ugly style of play is seen as a result of his lack of creativity on offense. However, hes actually an astute play-caller on the fly (not to mention possessing a textbook-thick offensive playbook) and encourages the Bulls to run as long as they tend to their defensive responsibilities.
Youre going to hear it every single day, every single practice, revealed Derrick Rose. He might text it to you, but youre going to hear it, no matter what.
Rose was joking, but the point guard has been drinking so much of the Thibodeau Kool-Aid that his postgame comments admittedly sometimes sound like his coachs.
Were still slacking. We can always get better. We can always get better. I know I sound like Thibs, but we can always get better, he said after Saturdays win, when asked how the Bulls can improve defensively. The Bulls can contest shots harder. Contesting harder and staying consistent towards the end of the games. I think we tend to let teams get open shots towards the end of the games, knowing that weve got the lead by so much and thats something that we cant do.
Rose has no illusions, however, that regardless of how stifling their defense can be, the Bulls dont play the most aesthetically-pleasing style of basketball.
We feel the same way you all feel. It was ugly, but were winning, Rose acknowledged. We dont have anything to complain about. Were just trying to get as many wins as possible.
Given Thibodeaus influence and his roots as a New York Knicks assistant coach, it shouldnt be a shocker to students of the game that the Bulls have an old-school sensibility to them, even with the departure of Kurt Thomas, who played for those late-90s Knicks squads.
Were definitely old school. Thats our whole mentality. Weve still got that old-school mentality, where we play hard. We dont care about our stats or anything. As long as we win, were good, said Rose. "Were physical, we play with a lot of emotion, a lot of confidence and thats what we need on this team. Thibodeau is always talking about his teams, how certain players, when they came to the locker room, how they concentrated on certain things to get their team involved and get their team ready, prepared for the game. He talks about Knicks center Patrick Ewing and all the other great players that he had, and it kind of rubs off on you.
But Rose, ever conscious of skipping steps, as Thibodeau would say, qualified his statement.
Were not near those teams. Those teams made great runs. Were just up-and-coming.
Meanwhile, Rose is ready for his return to Memphis - where he played his lone season of college basketball and remains a fan favorite - Monday for the Bulls afternoon-matinee game against the Grizzlies on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
It means a lot. Returning back to my old town, Memphis. Its a great city. I know that its going to be something special, said Rose, who visited the civil-rights museum in Memphis commemorating Dr. Kings assassination in the city, at the former Lorraine Motel. Its very nice. We went when we were college students. I think Coach Cal took us. Its super historic. It kind of makes you think about certain things when you go there. It was great, just seeing what went down, of course that tragedy, but just being there was something special.