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Tom Thibodeau has worked miracles with depleted Bulls

Chicago Bulls v ClevelCavaliers

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers

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Updated: June 9, 2013 6:34AM



MIAMI — ‘‘Is Tom Thibodeau fun to play for?’’ Joakim Noah said, repeating my question.

Yeah, fun. You know, F-U-N.

‘‘I wouldn’t . . . eh . . . no,’’ he said. ‘‘Let’s not get carried away.’’

But Noah correctly pointed out winning is fun, which is why the Bulls were so cheery Tuesday. Even Thibodeau, his nose worn away by the grindstone, was more upbeat than normal. Though, again, let’s not get carried away. There are funeral processions that have more of a skip in their step than he does.

Cheeriness aside, the intense buzz from the Bulls’ Game 1 shocker over the Miami Heat the night before was behind them as they met the media Tuesday. To still be celebrating that thriller would have been utterly anti-Thibs. Once you’ve been indoctrinated to his way, you’re usually either beating yourself up over what you did wrong in the last game or preparing for the next game.

Or you can do as Thibodeau did and combine the two.

‘‘It was one win,’’ he said. ‘‘There are a lot of things we have to correct and we have to do better. We’re going to have play a lot better than we did in that game to be ready for Game 2.’’

He’s right, of course. The Heat is going to bring all its talent to bear upon the Bulls on Wednesday. I’m guessing Thibodeau will have a good answer because he usually does. There might be a handful of NBA coaches who could have done with the Bulls what he has this season. To win 45 regular-season games, take a first-round series and steal a game from the defending NBA champions on the road in the second round, all without Derrick Rose . . . well, does anyone have any fish and loaves in need of multiplying?

How does he do this?

‘‘There’s no magic to it,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘You have to put the work into winning. If you do that, you can put yourself in position to win. There are five things we always talk about and try to get established in every game: the defense, the rebounding, lower turnovers, inside-out and share the ball. [If] we do that and everyone does their job, we feel we’re going to have a chance, no matter where we are, no matter who we’re playing against.’’

The interesting part is that there are people on the roster who aren’t Thibodeau’s kind of players. Carlos Boozer and good defense never have met. I’m guessing Thibodeau could do without Nate Robinson’s up-and-down performances.

But he takes what he has and makes everybody better. That’s what the best coaches do. He probably could have taken the Brooklyn Nets and beaten the Bulls in the first round. Guaranteed, he would have banished the Nets’ selfish offensive tendencies and made them take better shots.

We’ve all heard his stock phrases:

Do your job.

We have more than enough to win.

Next man up.

The secret to the Bulls’ success isn’t that he believes these things down to his DNA, though he does; it’s that his players believe them. It’s the only good explanation for what has happened for the Bulls this season. They should have lost to the more talented Nets. They had no business beating the Heat on Monday without sick Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich.

But they did their jobs and had more than enough to win, thanks to the next man stepping up.

If these guys don’t hear Thibodeau’s croak of a voice in their sleep, it’s a miracle.

‘‘He’s always ready,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s always prepared. He’s always going at 150 percent. There’s no denying the guy wants to win really bad.’’

The players play the game. They deserve the majority of the credit for what’s happening. It can’t be overstated that the plantar fasciitis that was making it difficult for Noah to play is less of an issue now. Jimmy Butler looks and sounds like a grizzled veteran rather than a second-year player. Marco Belinelli looks like a more complete player than he ever has.

Some of that has to do with the coach.

‘‘He’s real big on the work you put in, that’s the work you’re going to get out of it,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Your confidence comes from your work. That’s the main thing with that guy. It shows. It definitely does.’’

Here is Thibodeau to a T: Given the opportunity to wax poetic about the toughness of Robinson, who led the Bulls to victory Monday after getting stitches on his lip, he let the beach ball go right by him without taking a swing.

‘‘He’s still capable of playing a lot better,’’ he said. ‘‘We need him to play both sides of the ball. He’s got to be aggressive. He’s got to play for 48 minutes, and he has to stay disciplined.’’

Does Thibodeau need to lighten up? Probably. Does he heap too many minutes on certain players? Yes. But here the Bulls are, where they never were supposed to be. Go ahead and tell him he’s wrong.



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