After beating one of the teams in the 2013 NBA Finals on Sunday, the Bulls take on the other Tuesday night at the United Center.
The Spurs come to Chicago as one of the hottest teams in the league right now, having found a rhythm with their roster getting healthy. The Bulls certainly aren’t taking San Antonio lightly.
“It’s always a good test. They’re playing as well as anyone. Maybe they’re playing the best right now. Six in a row, 9-1 in their last 10 and everyone playing at a high level. We’re going to have to be ready, and we’re going to have to play for 48 minutes,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Whoever it is, you’re challenged every game. So we know how good they are. We have to have great concentration in every area of the game. They push the ball up the floor, they cut well, they shoot well, they play inside-out, they’re very good defensively. To me, they’re the gold standard of the league, in terms of their consistency of winning year after year. So give them a lot of credit.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah added: “It’s not easy. I think human nature would be to exhale a little bit. The Spurs are playing great basketball. They’re coming, whether we like it or not. Whether we exhaled or not. You’ve got to fight human nature and be ready for a big game against a team that’s coming in hungry because we beat them pretty good at their place.”
Thibodeau, who was briefly a Spurs assistant coach early in his NBA career, lauded San Antonio as an organization, specifically Gregg Popovich, the league’s current dean of head coaches.
“All-time great. Just the way he does everything. His leadership is off the charts. To me, the mark of greatness is to have the ability to do it year after year, and he changed a lot of things there. He changed their thinking, and he’s built a great organization from top to bottom, from every aspect. From how they select players, how they pick coaches, how they put their management team together, how they put scouts together. He’s incredible. Everything that he said that he was going to do, he did, and he’s very accomplished and very humble. I have great respect for him,” Thibodeau explained. “It’s funny, Pop is always tweaking things and adding something. But the core of what they do has been the same for a long, long time. When you have the same players over and over, the different options that they get to and how they play off plays is there. A lot of it is a split-second decision where you know what the other guy is doing. You know what he’s good at. They play to their strengths, cover their weaknesses, share the ball, play for each other. No one holds on to it. Everything is quick. You respect that. They can win games so many different ways. They can win games with their shooting, with their post-ups, with their cuts, with their drives, with their defense. And they have a lot of guys who contribute. When you look at their bench, their bench is terrific. You have a guy like (Marco) Belinelli and (Manu) Ginobili coming off and now Patty Mills, it says a lot about them.”
Noah bestowed similar praise upon Tim Duncan, his big-man counterpart.
“So much respect. Somebody who has done it for a long time at a very high level. From what I hear, his work ethic is unbelievable,” he said. “That’s the reason he is who he is. He’s one of the best to ever do it in the post. He does it a lot of different ways, so big respect to him.”
However, Thibodeau doubted Popovich’s recent claim that he often lets his veteran players, such as future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, All-Star point guard Tony Parker and Ginobili, figure things out for themselves during timeouts.
“I don’t know. The huddles I watch, I think he says a lot,” he quipped. “But that’s Pop. When you have good, veteran leadership — and I think they’ve been in a few timeouts now over 15 years with the guys — it’s good. Pop is a pretty strong guy, though, too. I don’t know if I buy all of that.”