Besides Derrick Rose’s absence and Jimmy Butler also being in street clothes, there was another major change upon the Bulls’ return to the Chicago since their last game at the United Center before the 1-5 “Circus Trip”: Tom Thibodeau.
The gentler, more nurturing side of the Bulls head coach started to reveal itself even before Rose’s injury, as Thibodeau’s harangues about players missing practice due to nagging injuries have decreased and in the aftermath of losing six of seven games, not to mention his starting backcourt, the coach has taken a positive approach. Sounds logical, but let’s remember that this is a man who describes certain victories as “fool’s gold” when the Bulls don’t precisely execute the game plan.
While Thibodeau’s competitive nature may cause him to privately stew during the team’s current rough stretch, his understanding of the squad’s current state has given way to his recent keep-the-faith mantras.
“Well, you want everyone to understand where you are and so, the strengths of the team changed a little bit. But how we play, that’s not going to change. How we practice, that can’t change. What goes into winning, that part is the same. I think we can never lose sight of the fact of how hard we have to play, being short-handed and I think when we do that, we’re going to have a chance to win and that’s where you want to be. You want to be in position to win at the end of games,” Thibodeau explained. “You can’t lose sight of exactly where you are and you always analyze, after every game, why you either win or lose. Then, you try to make the necessary corrections to try to move forward and you want to build throughout the course of the season, so it never ends. You may get to where you’re doing something well for a couple weeks and you focus in on a different area, and you shore up that area, then something else. You can’t work on everything every day, but you are constantly striving to improve.”
It’s easy to stereotype Thibodeau as a maniacal monster on the sidelines, compulsive film-watching, one-track-minded, consumed-with-basketball dictator, since much of it is accurate. But while he isn’t a believer in moral victories, particularly given his success in the first two seasons of his Bulls tenure, becoming the coach to win 100 regular-season games fastest in NBA history, during his long career as an assistant prior to arriving in Chicago, Thibodeau has experienced all manner of situations and thus, knows when to ease off the grueling practices and using negativity as a motivator, two things that were being grumbled about behind the scenes, even during the Bulls’ five-game winning streak, just before the disastrous road swing.
That’s why he could stomach, if not easily digest, the non-competitive blowout loss to the Clippers in the immediate wake of losing Rose, falling to lowly Utah in overtime as a result of the continued hangover, a defeat at the hands of a reeling Cleveland squad and upon returning home, Monday’s triple-overtime heart-breaker against the Pelicans, who were also without their best player.
“The team right now, we’re showing a lot of fight, but don’t have much to show for it. So we’ve got to keep grinding and if we do that, the results will be better,” he explained. “I’ve said this many times: I like the makeup of our team. I think it’s a together group. We’re all disappointed right now that we’re not finishing games out and getting the wins to show for it, but I believe they’ll come. There’s a small difference between winning and losing, and I think for us, to also have the understanding of how hard we have to play every night. When you’re short-handed, that’s the way we have to play and you can’t let up. If you let up just a little bit, the end result’s not going to be what you want. So we’ve got to keep fighting the good fight, put everything we have into it and the results are going to be good.
“Everyone has injuries and it’s how effectively you can deal with those injuries, and how quickly you can adapt. You can use it as a crutch or you can use it to motivate, move forward and realize what you have to do to win, and I think oftentimes what happens is somebody steps up, and does a really good job and continues to improve, and shows you things that can help you win. So that’s what we’re working on. The magic is in the work. There’s no magical formula that says, ‘Oh, if you do this, you’ll win.’ No, the magic’s in the work and to be consistent in your effort, your concentration, put everything you have each and every day, and move forward,” Thibodeau went on to say, returning to his familiar talking points. “I don’t like the end result right now and I believe it’ll get better as we figure out exactly what we’re doing, and we’ve got to finish plays off.
“The big thing for us is to continue to concentrate on improvement, to analyze the game, to study it, to see what we did well, what we need to correct, come in and concentrate, put everything you have into it and move forward, get ready for Miami.”
At least some things remain the same.