Who would you attribute the following typical Tom Thibodeau postgame press conference description to?
“Staying ready to play, going out there, knowing what your job is, doing your job, getting it done,” listed the Bulls head coach after his team’s 83-82 win Saturday night over the Nets at the United Center. “Providing whatever the team needed, playing well within the unit and they played well on both sides of the ball, played well defensively and offensively.”
The most likely suspects are Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. But while that duo played well, it wasn’t them, nor was it the power-forward tandem of Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.
With the injured starting backcourt of veterans Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton sidelined, it wasn’t them either. Instead, it was a 19-year-old who some expected to log more minutes in the D-League than the NBA this season (Marquis Teague) and a free-agent acquisition that seemed so out of sync early in the campaign that it appeared he might be nailed to the bench.
Marco Belinelli’s late-game heroics — he scored 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, with none bigger than his driving, surprisingly uncontested layup with 22.1 seconds remaining, as well as two free throws to seal the deal — might be the headline, but as a six-year veteran, as fans in New Orleans, Toronto and Golden State can attest, he’s capable of putting up big numbers, although the native of Italy hasn’t done it on a consistent basis for his entire career.
But with his performance in the stead of the injured Hamilton, that might be changing, now that he firmly understands that defense is the way to Thibodeau’s heart.
“Everybody knows if you play defense, you stay on the court, so everybody wants to play defense, wants to be aggressive. When I was in New Orleans with Monty Williams, I think we played great defense, too. But right now, it’s like a championship team.,” he said afterwards. “We want to be good, we want to do something big, so if you want to do something big, you need to play defense first.”
Those are lofty aspirations in a season that began with Derrick Rose working his way back from ACL surgery, but after playing for a series of non-playoff contenders, you can’t blame the guy. The smile on his face in the Bulls’ locker room, however, illustrated how much he starved to be on a competitive, winning squad.
“That’s a great feeling. It was amazing. I’m happy for me, but I’m happy for everybody,” he explained. “It was a team win. We played good defense, we played good offense and the fans here are amazing, so we won the game for us and for our fans.
“That was a good shot because I think Jo made a good screen for me, first of all, and the spacing on the court was good. I just tried to be aggressive…I was wide open to the basket, so those were good points, but I think most important was our defense. We played great defense in the last three, four minutes, so that’s why we won the game,” the candid Belinelli continued, before admitting to being wary of Brooklyn’s Gerald Wallace, who previously blocked two dunks from the weak side earlier in the evening. “I was scared about that, to be honest. I was thinking to dunk a little bit, but I saw Gerald Wallace over there was coming, so I thought to float it for a layup with the left. It went in, so it was good.”
Now, in the case of Teague, his play in clutch situations is close to becoming a pattern, as he was productive in crunch-time minutes during a November home loss to Boston, excelled as Thibodeau rode him down the stretch in Wednesday’s road victory over Philadelphia in a hostile environment and continued to display that prodigal calmness in Saturday’s contest.
That same serene demeanor he has — except on the court, where the soft-spoken 19-year-old directs traffic firmly on most occasions — is evident after games, too.
“It’s exciting. It’s fun. It lets you know your coach has confidence in you and you want to go out there, and do whatever you can, whatever it takes to win,” he said after the win, in which he contributed modest numbers of eight points and two assists, but only committed one turnover, again played big minutes in the fourth quarter and did a more than serviceable job defensively against Brooklyn All-Star point guard Deron Williams. “My confidence is where it’s been from Day 1. I’m always confident in my game, confident in my abilities, so I stayed the same, whether I play 20 minutes or zero minutes.
“I was just trying to contain [Williams], just keep him in front of me. It’s hard to keep a player like that from scoring. I just wanted to make it as tough on him as possible, contest his shots,” continued the Indianapolis native and point guard for last season’s University of Kentucky title team. “I was just trying to take whatever the defense gave me, creating for one of my teammates or knock down the shot for myself and I had few silly fouls that I shouldn’t have made. I’ve got to do better and learn from it.
“I see these guys [his teammates] every day in practice, I know what they like to do, I know their strengths and where to give them ball where they’re going to be most effective,” he went on to say. “It felt good. It was a lot of energy in the building. It just helped us, motivated us to play even harder than we were. It just felt good to get the win.”
Besides the aforementioned questionable shooting foul on Williams — “They called it, so I guess it’s a foul,” he said about the play — and not taking a wide-open jumper as the shot clock ran down (he was looking for Luol Deng, who was tying his shoe at the time), it’s hard to find much fault with how he played, especially considering the competition.
The same goes for Belinelli, making the Bulls’ recent success even more remarkable, given that both players didn’t look like they’d be big reasons for the team overcoming Rose’s extended absence.
But that’s how the Bulls have prospered, not just as of late, but — C.J. Watson being back in town was a helpful reminder — over the past two seasons. It just shows how much Belinelli and Teague have not only bought in, but fit into the team’s beating-the-odds, survival-at-all-costs, all-hands-on-deck mentality, a way of life here at the United Center, fostered at the Berto Center and that travels well to wherever the Bulls play, as evidenced by their early-season record, which is surprising to some, but not to anybody wearing that uniform.
Tags: Luol Deng
, Chicago Bulls
, Joakim Noah
, Taj Gibson
, Deron Williams
, Kirk Hinrich
, Marco Belinelli
, carlos boozer
, Rip Hamilton
, Marquis Teague
, Brooklyn Nets