“Losing sucks,” Joakim Noah said, pointing out the obvious. “There’s no question about it.”
Then, the All-Star center made a much more salient point about the reeling Bulls, winners of only three of their last dozen games following Saturday night’s 99-77 loss to the Raptors at the United Center.
“But it also shows people’s true colors,” Noah explained. “Who’s willing to keep fighting through the adversity or who’s going to say, ‘You know what? I don’t want any part of this and I’m just going to take bad shots and just not care at all about making winning plays and playing defense,’ and things like that. So everybody has to stick together, everybody has to jell and keep fighting together.”
Now, before everybody goes wondering about which of his teammates Noah was describing, it should be noted that his point was more of a forewarning, as the uniquely skilled big man, on the heels of one of his better consecutive-game individual performances of an inconsistent campaign, also said he believes that the Bulls won’t go down the path he discussed.
“I think everybody will [keep fighting]. That’s the makeup of this team. Everybody has high character,” he said. “It’s tough to lose, but it’s all about how you deal with adversity.
“No excuses. But I know that we’re capable of a lot better than that. We can’t get frustrated. Our effort has to be a lot better to play winning basketball. But it’s going to come,” Noah continued. “I felt like our effort was good in spurts, but not throughout the game, not as good as it has to be to win a basketball game, so that’s disappointing. We don’t say that too much. But we’ve just got to keep grinding and get better.”
In contrast to Noah’s defiant, if dejected demeanor, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau took the tone of a man out of answers after the defeat, at the hands of not exactly one of the NBA’s juggernauts.
“You hate to use fatigue [as an excuse], but we missed a lot of shots,” the somber-toned coach said. “I don’t want use four [games] in five nights as an excuse. So we’ve got to do better. Twenty-six [to] 11 in the fourth quarter; that’s got to be your best quarter.”
Dealt a bad card before the game even started—veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich, himself a replacement for the injured Derrick Rose, missed the game with a back ailment—Thibodeau used a platoon system between second-year point guard Marquis Teague and newcomer D.J. Augustin. Even with All-Star small forward Luol Deng back in the lineup, that didn’t help an already-anemic Bulls’ offense run at its most efficient and combined with an apathetic defensive effort, the ugly contest evolved into a non-competitive laugher for the visitors from Toronto.
But as much as adversity as the Bulls have persevered through over the past few seasons, there’s still a feeling that they can get back to their winning ways.
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“I’m definitely confident. I think we’re going through it right now, up and down, guys getting hurt. We’ve had seasons here where everybody was healthy and at the end of the year, everybody got hurt. So hopefully this year, it’s the other way around. We’ve just got to stay positive. I think we’re going to get better as the year goes on. Hopefully guys can stay healthy. It’s a long season and we’ve learned in the past that it’s really who’s the healthiest team and the team who has the best rhythm at the end of the year, most of the time, that’s who’s going to win it,” Deng explained. “You’ve got to be an example. Guys are looking at you. You’ve got to be positive. You’ve just got to talk to guys and just staying positive and sticking with it, it’s not always going to go your way, but being on both sides, the winning side and the losing side, you’ve just got to stick with it. When things aren’t going your way, you work harder and try to get things right. You can’t just let it beat you up. Whether you get in the gym, watch film, try harder and harder until you get it right.”
Perhaps Taj Gibson, albeit in somewhat of a non-sequitur, summed things up best, if one were to take the look-on-the-bright-side, hard-work-pays-off approach to the team’s current situation.
“It’s just frustrating because you’ve got to get through the bad to get to the positive. That’s how it is in the NBA,” said the Bulls’ top reserve, after one of his own personal worst efforts of the season, a rarity for him. “As long as you keep working, the positives are going to come through.”