CHICAGO (AP) — Watching the Bulls play offense some nights, it's a wonder The House That Jordan Built is still standing.
Sunday turned out to be another one of those nights, and in a 102-93 playoff-opening loss to the Washington Wizards no less. Worse, the tough-minded defense that has let the Bulls stand up to high-powered opponents lacked its usual effort and intensity.
So coach Tom Thibodeau zeroed in where he always does.
"One-hundred-and-two points, 48 percent, outrebounded — it's hard to win like that," he said, just getting started. "Giving up 35 free throws ... "
The way those numbers rolled off Thibodeau's tongue was no accident. The guy spent most of his 25 years between head-coaching jobs — Thibodeau's first stint was at Division III Salem State University in 1984-85 — at a half-dozen NBA stops, where every defense he touched got better and someone else usually got the credit.
Thibodeau accomplished it by relentlessly breaking down game films, possession by possession, then drawing up a plan to win every one. That was long before he lost his two best scoring options early this season — Derrick Rose to a knee injury (again) after just 10 games; and Luol Deng in a deal with Cleveland after just 23. It's like he's competing — at least some nights — with one hand tied behind his back.
The Bulls finished an NBA-worst in scoring average and shooting percentage, and only Miami and Indiana attempted fewer shots. Thibodeau has made do with once-promising castoffs D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy, and made it a priority to share the ball, no matter how meager the talent at any given moment. But mostly, he doubled down on what he knows best — treating every defensive stand like it was the last.