Fred Hoiberg chose his words carefully.
The Bulls coach brought up a meeting Thursday morning at the team hotel in Miami in which the focus was defense. Or lack thereof.
Hoiberg called it “a good long film session.”
When asked if his voice had to be raised, especially after what he saw in the loss in Atlanta, Hoiberg paused and said, “It was a discussion.”
Not only did the Bulls erase some of the defensive lapses in the win over the Heat, but they were able to look in the mirror and take responsibility, rather than point the finger elsewhere.
“It’s effort with them,” one NBA scout said. “Sometimes the game plan is a bit off, but the Atlanta game was effort and will.”
Of which the Bulls didn’t show much.
Never mind allowing 30-plus points in each of the first two quarters. They just didn’t look interested in playing defense at times.
That started with Jimmy Butler, who is supposed to be an elite two-way player. The film said otherwise.
“We watched film,” Butler said with a smirk after beating the Heat. “And it’s funny because I was on it a lot, of things not to do. When you looked at that and pointed it all out, and we corrected it, which is the first step for this group of guys.”
Butler also confessed that Hoiberg wasn’t a happy camper during the session.
“Oh, yeah, he’s supposed to be [upset],” Butler said. “Because he expects perfection, which is great because if that’s what we’re striving for … even though we’ll come up short because nobody’s perfect, we’ll get as close as possible.
“He told us what he wanted us to do, along with the assistant coaches, and we came out and we executed that [against the Heat]. I’m glad we got this ‘W’ [Thursday], especially for [Dwyane Wade’s return to Miami], but we did what we were supposed to do.”
That meant Rajon Rondo picking up the opposing point guard early and often to pressure the ball. That meant winning the rebounding battle, which the Bulls did 48-46. Most of all, it meant understanding the game plan and sticking to it.
The Bulls did that during their 3-0 start but not as much since then.
The Bulls entered Friday ranked 10th in the league in points allowed. Not bad, but considering they were consistently a top-five defense under former coach Tom Thibodeau, that’s too much slippage in too short of a time.
There was some talk from NBA insiders that the Bulls suddenly lacked a defensive philosophy, that they were focused more on matchups from game-to-game rather than a solid concept that could be tweaked from game-to-game.
But Butler and Wade indicated that the philosophy is sound as long as the players get in the film room and understand what’s asked of them. The one criticism they did have was that the coaching staff needed to adjust quicker if the defensive game plan wasn’t working.
“It’s about trust,” Wade said. “We’re still building that.”
Butler’s take? Build it quicker.
“We can score, that’s not a concern,” Butler said. “But we’ll only go as far as our defense carries us. You can bet on that.”
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