It’s been more than a year since Tom Thibodeau brought out “the circle.’’
It’s a mythical place in the mind of the Bulls coach that measures his players, measures the man.
After Monday’s embarrassing 121-114 loss to the Orlando Magic at the United Center, the talk of “the circle’’ was front and center from Thibodeau.
Specifically, which of the Bulls players were going to be in, and which wanted out.
“You can make an excuse every night in this league if that’s what you choose to do, whether it’s new players, the schedule, the start, who’s out, who’s in,’’ an angry Thibodeau said after the game. “There’s an excuse every night. You can’t do that. We have to make good. Either you’re in the circle or you’re out of the circle. You want to be in? Let’s go. You don’t want to be in? That’s fine too. Let’s go.’’
The circle seemed pretty empty against the Magic.
Not only did Orlando come into the game losing six-straight, but was only averaging 93.6 points per game (28th in the league). By halftime, they had a season-high 63, and there was really no slowing them.
For a Bulls team that’s made its reputation under Thibodeau as one of the stingiest defenses the Association has? Blasphemy as far as the coach was concerned.
“Every aspect,’’ Thibodeau said, when asked what part of his defense needed to improve. “We gotta decide what we’re going to be. If we’re going to come in and just try to outscore people, we’re not going anywhere. I know that doesn’t work. We’re going to have to bring a lot more intensity and the only you bring a lot more intensity is gotta work a lot harder. It’s really that simple.’’
There wasn’t a lot of argument from his players, either.
Taj Gibson admitted that his team’s defense has been “unbearable’’ to watch at times this season, while Derrick Rose kept bringing up the lack of energy.
Pau Gasol, fresh off a career-high 46 points in the win over Milwaukee on Saturday, however, took it a step further, not hiding his anger.
“I am upset. I am upset,’’ Gasol said. “We’ve given away too many home games against teams that we shouldn’t. That has to stop.
“Defensively, we struggled. There was no energy, no aggressiveness, no engagement from our team. So we’ve got to improve … dramatically. Just no energy, not really working together, and that’s something that has to change, has to improve. Can’t give up 120 points … 121 … so that’s something we have to reflect on. If we really want to do something here that’s something that can’t happen.’’
What continued to be bothersome for the Bulls (26-13) was not only the defense, but the defense against below average teams. Of their 13 losses, seven have come against teams currently sporting below .500 records.
Yes, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo are up-and-coming players, but each scoring 33 points?
That’s why Thibodeau was asking for a commitment from his players to get back to what this team has built a reputation on.
“Sometimes when you win, you can overlook things,’’ Thibodeau said. “That’s what you can’t do. If you win and aren’t doing something correctly, hopefully you can correct it without it costing you a game. When you lose, you attention changes and then you lock into what you have to do to do better.
“We’re capable of playing a lot better than we’re playing right now.’’