Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau irate about identity problems
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org December 27, 2011 8:26PM
The Warriors’ Monta Ellis gives Luol Deng trouble as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau (right) follows the action. | Tony Avelar~AP
Updated: January 29, 2012 8:14AM
SAN FRANCISCO — Be glad you weren’t in the Bulls’ locker room at halftime or after their 99-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. Coach Tom Thibodeau was fuming about how his team performed in its second game of the season and wasn’t afraid to let his feelings be known.
The Bulls played with no personality, no identity, which is what bothered Thibodeau the most. They were searching the entire game for the right mix on offense, for a way to slow down the Warriors defensively. Thibodeau was livid during the game and smoldering afterward because they didn’t play up to the standards he has set since taking over before last season — or to the standards players have established for themselves.
“He said it was bull-s---,’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘He’s right. We’re not going to get where we want to get playing defense like that. It’s frustrating. We have to improve. There are a lot of areas we have to improve. Even though we won against the [Los Angeles] Lakers, there’s definitely areas we have to get better at.’’
On the one hand, it’s not the kind of performance you would expect from a team that learned so much about itself last season. On the other, it’s to be expected given the circumstances. The league can’t cram 66 games into a 124-day schedule without diluting the product. Teams are going to have lapses. The ones that forge or maintain an identity will have the most success.
‘‘You have to know who you are,’’ Thibodeau growled. ‘‘Defend, rebound, inside-out, share the ball, no turnovers.’’
The one thing he cannot abide is his players searching for a formula when they discovered one last year. That’s the Bulls’ biggest advantage. They are a great defensive team first and foremost. They are a high-effort team. They don’t turn the ball over. Those qualities alone are enough to win a lot of games this season.
Yet none of those cornerstones were evident against the Warriors.
‘‘We’ve got to play hard,” forward Luol Deng said. ‘‘For some reason, I thought they played harder than us at the beginning of the game. We can’t keep doing that. I know it’s only been two games, but falling behind and coming back is never fun. That’s not the kind of basketball we want to play. We don’t want to get into scrambling and trying to catch up the whole game. It just takes us out of our game.’’
Superstar guard Derrick Rose has been part of the problem. Before he can successfully assimilate Rip Hamilton into the offense, he has to find his own game. Last season’s MVP has been searching for how best to help the offense. He doesn’t care how much he scores as long as the Bulls win. As a result, he still hasn’t found the right balance between facilitator and scorer. That teams are throwing new defensive wrinkles at him complicates the issue.
‘‘Trapped, high pick-and-roll, they’re showing high and trapping sometimes and switching it up on me,’’ Rose said. ‘‘I’m passing the ball, trying to get it out of my hands. We just have to get the offense going so we can get easy baskets. That’s what I’m really concerned about, us getting easy baskets. Last year, we rarely got them. This year, we have to find a way.’’
There was always that time early in a game when Michael Jordan was trying to decide whether to set up his teammates or take the game over himself. It’s something Rose is struggling with, too. He has attempted four shots in the first quarter of the last two games. One of the most dangerous players in the league off the dribble has only shot four free throws.
‘‘In the first quarter, I have to establish myself a little bit more,’’ he said. ‘‘Being laid-back, I’m just not doing it. . . . I see that approach is not working. Next game, I have to change it up.’’
While Rose tries to find himself, the Bulls have to get back to the basics. Every team will have bad nights this season, of all seasons. But this team shouldn’t be searching. Thibodeau has every right to expect more.
‘‘You can’t be any more mad than him — I’ll say that,’’ Rose said. ‘‘He’s a coach. He knows what we’re capable of. He sees how hard we practice, and we disappointed him. All we can do is practice hard for him and go into the game and show him we’re capable of doing the things we can do.’’