Vintage Tom Thibodeau on Wednesday, as the Bulls head coach sent a harsh message to his team, without coming out and saying it. That message: Stop the excuses and quit whining.
“Well, I believe mental toughness is critical, and when you face adversity you’ve got to be mentally tough to get through that,” Thibodeau said after the afternoon shoot-around. “You got to find ways to win. Everyone has circumstance that they’re down players, injuries, trades, free agents, whatever it is. I just want us to play with a lot of toughness. And I think we can get that done.”
At least one person does.
Coming off a Milwaukee game in which the Bulls had a meltdown of epic proportions, the feeling going into the Dallas game is it’s about finishing games. Up 27 points with 2:50 left in the third to the Bucks, only to lose that game? That doesn’t happen with Thibodeau teams very often, and the players know that.
“It’s like a drill instructor,” forward Taj Gibson said of Thibodeau and what he’s been preaching the last two days since the loss. “Every day we go over the same stuff, but eventually it’s going to click. Even like that tough loss, we’ve just got to learn close games out better and never underestimate anybody. We just got to roll over and take it. Like [Thibodeau] said, we messed up, he messed up, we learn from it and move on.”
Three keys in that moving on process?
1. Time for the second unit to step up on defense – Gibson admitted that newcomers like Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Valdimir Radmanovic are still playing catch-up on the defensive side of the ball. If that improves, they see minutes. If it doesn’t, they don’t. It needs to improve, however, especially almost a month into the regular season now.
“At times it’s been different because they’re still figuring out the defensive sets, the defensive slides,” Gibson said of life with the bench players. “They don’t understand that in the fourth quarter we’re used to just locking down on D. The fourth quarter has mostly been the backbones of our team, knowing that we don’t let anybody score in the fourth, so it’s still a long ways to go and we’ll eventually get it.”
2. Sweep the leg! – You have an opponent down, you finish him. The Bulls have had a step-on-the-throat mentality for the past two seasons, and need to get that back. It can’t wait for Derrick Rose to comeback, either.
“Really, we’re not even thinking about [Rose],” Gibson said. “We’re thinking about getting everybody good reps, everyone getting better, guys watching film, guys understanding we have to do more, including myself, just do more. In times like this you can’t really focus on when [Rose] gets back because you really never know when that time is. We have a long season, we’re fighting for games and playoff position early in this season.”
3. Keep Boozer going – Carlos Boozer has been a force the past few games, and whether Bulls fans believe it or not, they need Boozer more than he needs them. He’s as go-to as they have right now.