It was the first time this season you could envision the Bulls winning an NBA championship, and it wasn’t because all their shots were falling and they were playing their best basketball.
There was a grim determination about their game during Wednesday night’s pulsating victory against the Spurs that extended from Derrick Rose to the last man on the bench. There were not going to be denied.
More than anything else, that’s what defines a champion.
This game meant something to Tom Thibodeau, who greatly admires what Gregg Popovich has accomplished in San Antonio. The Spurs have been assembled with precision and plays the right way.
They were without Manu Ginobili, whose last healthy postseason in 2007 coincides with the Spurs last title, but these Bulls were as smartly built and were the better-executing and more-resolute team.
During the last seven minutes of regulation, every Spurs’ shot was contested and there were four red jerseys around every rebound. The Bulls played on back-to-back nights but they had more energy.
With Rose at the dizzying height of his powers, and everyone else executing their roles, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a seventh championship trophy on display at the United Center and a parade down Michigan Ave.
“You have to have resiliency, you have to have toughness, physical toughness, mental toughness, courage, you need all those things and you have to persevere when things aren’t going your way to keep marching forward and that’s what our guys did,” Thibodeau said.
Another reason why the Bulls can only hope this game offered a glimpse into the future is everybody is healthy. Much has been written about what Rip Hamilton will bring now that he has recovered from thigh-and-groin injuries but what was apparent against the Spurs wasn’t how Hamilton could improve the team but how others players such as Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver were able to do after returning to their regular roles.
The pieces John Paxson and Gar Forman assembled fit together perfectly because they were available.
“They’re a disciplined team as they get into their sets and are not uncomfortable about anything,” the Spurs’ Gary Neal said. “They get the shots they want. It’s just the matter of trying to contest them and keep them off the offensive boards. They were a little bit better than us [Wednesday night]”
The Bench Mob played one of it’s better games. With the starters healthy, they were able to substitute in waves like he could before the Bulls were depleted by injuries.
“A big part of the game was the second quarter and we were running low on energy at the end of the third so we went to the bench earlier and they were great,” Thibodeau said. “They did their job.”
Brewer struggled with his jump shot when Rose was injured but is thriving now that the Bulls’ leader has returned. When the Spurs put in three-point threat Matt Bonner, Thibodeau left Carlos Boozer on the bench and stuck with Taj Gibson because he is better able to cover Bonner behind the arc.
“Ronnie scores off his cuts,” Thibodeau said of Brewer. “He’s a very good mid-range shooter, slasher, cutter, but it’s his defense and energy that we count on. He makes a lot of things happen.”