Before the game, the noise had increased around coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls to the point that general manager Gar Forman had to come out and say Thibodeau’s job security is “not a story.”
In one sense, Thibodeau wasn’t a story at all Thursday based on the Bulls’ performance in their 104-81 rout of the San Antonio Spurs.
Derrick Rose showed the aggressiveness the Bulls need from him, consistently driving the lane for 22 points and five assists. Pau Gasol had 12 points and 17 rebounds, and all five starters scored in double figures. The team’s much-maligned defense held the Spurs to 37 percent shooting.
Beyond the Bulls’ play, Rose’s words showed he has Thibodeau’s back. So, too, does Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who scoffed at the notion that Thibodeau was losing his grip on the Bulls.
“What you’ve heard, what you guys have reported in that sense is not going to happen because he’s not going to lose any team. I think you guys just have to have stories,” Popovich said. “So somebody loses a few games, there’s got to be a reason. I guess that’s the one that was picked.
“Sometimes players listen to me. [Tim Duncan] stopped listening to me a long time ago. I don’t even coach him. You guys think I’m kidding. He just plays. I talk to him once in a while, but sometimes some guys don’t want to hear it. But as far as the team and being lost and that kind of thing, that’s not what’s happening here.”
It was a different Bulls team than the one that was blown out Monday in Cleveland, and the effort against the Spurs validated Popovich’s argument. Two days removed from a team meeting that Thibodeau downplayed, the Bulls showed some of their old fire.
They seemed to heed Rose’s suggestion to get back to “the joy of just winning games and competing.”
And that’s something that’s up to the players, not Thibodeau, Rose said.
“It’s through us, the players,’’ Rose said. ‘‘This doesn’t have anything to do with Thibs at all. The way that we’ve been playing doesn’t have anything to do with Thibs. He’s preparing us right. He’s doing everything and did everything possible to prepare us as a coach. It’s up to the players to give that effort.”
They did against San Antonio, which had won four in a row and six of seven and was recovering from late-December struggles of its own. The Bulls led by 25 and shot 47.4 percent from the field despite playing without Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy.
If any of the noise was affecting the Bulls, it wasn’t apparent. And, of course, Thibodeau paid no mind.
“As I told you yesterday, I couldn’t care less, and I don’t think our team could care less about that stuff,’’ Thibodeau said.
‘‘We’ve just got to lock into what we have to do. Work. It’s really that simple. Come in every day, do your job, put everything you have into it.
“If you’re injured, put your work into your rehab. If you’re not, put your work into the team. That’s all we have to do.”
NOTE: Rose played only 45 seconds in the fourth quarter because he was stiff but said he expects to play Friday in Dallas. “We were up 20, so what is the point? I wanted to give the other guys a chance to go out and score,” he said. “Overall, I feel fine.”