Tom Thibodeau, who Taj Gibson says has “turned us into a whole new team,” works the sidelines in the first half as the Bulls go for the series clincher against the Indiana Pacers at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: May 28, 2011 12:37AM
Tom Thibodeau, who has guided the Bulls from NBA afterthought to championship contender in his first season, should be receiving his NBA Coach of the Year Award in less than a week. His players couldn’t be happier.
‘‘He deserves it,’’ forward Taj Gibson said. ‘‘He’s a great coach. He watches every detail, critiques your game. He’s been phenomenal with me in my growth as a player. He’s turned us into a whole new mode of team. Our passion, our aggression toward every game is pheonomenal.’’
With his pre-game comment Tuesday that the Pacers ‘‘feel like if we win tonight, we’ll win this series,’’ interim coach Frank Vogel created another stir.
Asked to explain before the Pacers’ series-ending loss, Vogel said, ‘‘To complete this comeback, this game is going to be the toughest of the four games to get. I want our guys understanding that we have a chance to win this series. That was my message to my players. But it starts tonight.’’
Win or lose, one of the biggest winners of this series is the Pacers’ young coach. Going into the playoffs, the assumption was that while Vogel, 37, had done a fine job down the stretch, the Pacers would want to bring in an experienced, proven winner next season.
With the way he has guided the Pacers against the Bulls, though, Vogel is a serious contender to have the interim label removed. They’ve played hard, and they’ve played smart. Not only did the first three games go down to the wire. but the Pacers’ plan to fluster Derrick Rose worked for long stretches.
Like Thibodeau, Vogel is a career coach who didn’t have the springboard of a playing career but has paid his dues. Mentored by Rick Pitino and Jim O’Brien, he did a long apprenticeship as a video coordinator and an assistant. He became the Pacers’ interim coach when O’Brien was let go on Jan. 30 and guided the Pacers to a 20-18 regular-season finish.
‘‘Frank’s been a part of some great coaching staffs,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He’s prepared himself extremely well. He did an excellent job down the stretch for them. He’s benefitted from knowing their players well. He’s done a good job. He’s been a good coach in this league for a long time.’’
Let’s go, Hawks
The Bulls were rooting for their United Center roommates, the Blackhawks, to finish off their miracle comeback in Vancouver on Thursday night. Several Bulls have attended Hawks playoff games.
‘‘They’re playing great, fighting, just a lot of heart,’’ guard Kyle Korver said. ‘‘That’s what you’d expect in a team from this town. We’re behind them all the way. It’s fun to watch a team battle back like they have.’’
The Bulls, who lost Game 4 after winning three straight, didn’t need any reminders from the Hawks, who forced a Game 7 against the Canucks after losing the first three games, about the risk of making assumptions.
‘‘That’s the way playoffs are,’’ Korver said. ‘‘It’s all about momentum.’’