This could have easily gone sideways less than three weeks ago.
The Bulls were in the midst of a three-game losing streak, Jimmy Butler was pulling no punches with the criticism of his rookie coach, and there were definite question marks surrounding the urgency of this team.
Heck, even VP of basketball operations John Paxson felt the need to step in and have a talk with the players.
Following Thursday’s 101-92 victory over the Boston Celtics, the major question facing the Bulls (22-12) these days is what kind of legs this current winning streak has?
Right now it’s at six.
And as for that sinking ship? No water to be found.
“I guess the big thing is every team is going to hit adversity throughout the course of the season,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said of the turnaround. “That’s the time when you have to come together and talk things out. Sometimes it’s a tough conversation. We had some of those in those three days we had off before the Christmas Day game in Oklahoma City. I could sense that everybody was together. It wasn’t anything that splintered our group or our locker room. And that’s what it’s all about.
“That’s what you have to do as a coaching staff. That’s what players have to do. They have to look each other in the eye and hold each other accountable without taking something personal when you have to say something tough to a guy. I’ve been pleased with how our group has come together in that respect.’’
It’s been made easier with the play of Butler.
Even on as night that Butler didn’t shoot the ball well – he was just 5-for-14 from the field for a team-high 19 points – he was still a major contributor, playing the role as facilitator. Following up his 10-assist game on Tuesday, Butler handed out 10 more assists in the win over Boston (19-17).
Having 18 points from Derrick Rose, while Pau Gasol chipped in with 17 points and 18 rebounds didn’t hurt, as the offense continued to play with more cohesion.
But maybe the biggest factor in keeping a player mutiny from happening was the way Hoiberg handled it.
“We never talk about things that go on the outside,’’ Derrick Rose said. “That’s the crazy thing about it. [Hoiberg] touched on it a little bit right when it was going on, and we haven’t heard anything since then. Since then Jimmy has been playing some great, great basketball, we’ve been finding our identity as far as, like I said on the offensive side, who is getting the ball, who is shooting the ball at certain times of the game. And defensively, we always got room to improve on the defensive side.
“But I don’t know, we got a good group here. It seems like guys are focused. They’re not worried about themselves. We’re just trying to give the team everything that we have and try and win a championship.’’
First things first, and that was handling the Celtics.
After a slow first quarter in which the Bulls trailed 27-21, the defense kicked in and the offense woke up.
“The first 12 minutes we weren’t doing anything as far as getting out and running,’’ Hoiberg said. “Our pace was beyond brutal.
“Once we started running a little bit, it got us going, got our legs moving, and finally got a little spurt of energy there to end the second quarter, and I thought that carried over into the second half. We really picked it up.’’