By Dan Bernstein–
No Bulls team had ever won back-to-back games by a total of 73 points, until yesterday. It had been fifteen years since they had won consecutive games by more than 30 apiece.
Heady stuff for a team that seems to reach more rarified air with each game. Every next breakaway dunk, splashed three-pointer, or backdoor layup seems to have fans daring to ask big questions about a burgeoning team.
But the most significant moment in the last two Bulls games took place in the first quarter in Atlanta last night, before the second rout was even on.
The Hawks’ Al Horford set a ball screen for Kirk Hinrich, who was guarded by Derrick Rose. Rose was effectively walled off, made no commitment to fight over or through the pick, nor did he drop under it with a purpose. Hinrich slashed to the rim and missed the layup, but Horford rolled uncontested to clean it up with a slam.
Time out, Bulls.
A grim-faced Tom Thibodeau stood and waited for Rose to arrive at the bench, and then let him have it like he deserved.
The presumptive NBA MVP got blistered in front of his teammates and a national television audience for not playing defense up to the standards set by the coach. Rock-solid basketball sensibilities were offended, championship-level expectations were not met, and there were immediate, direct consequences. Even for a superstar.
And the best part? Rose appreciates and understands it, because he knows Thibodeau wasn’t pulling a stunt – not for the cameras, and not for the rest of the team. He wasn’t trying to prove anything about his authority or any pecking order. He was coaching.
In every practice from the moment training camp began, in every game at all times — regardless of score – and at every tired walk-through in every NBA arena, Thibs has made his defensive principles the bedrock on which he intends to build a champion.
Rose needs to improve at handling screens, and he knows so. Having the help of a hard “show” by the screener’s man makes his job easier, but some guards make themselves more difficult to pick than others by anticipating angles, knowing the tendencies of the ballhandler, and maintaining the proper balance and body position.
Thibodeau is the kind of coach that has a love/hate approach to games like the last two for the Bulls, unless they come in games six and seven of the NBA Finals. Flurries of made shots are fun for players and fans, but they can mask the truth of a team. He wants to make sure the Bulls have every chance to win on all the other nights, with his Celtics experience keeping him mindful of the bruising playoffs to come.
Celebrate the pinball scores all you want. Feel free. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy such things as 16 consecutive scoring possessions, a 41-point quarter on 81% shooting on the road against a playoff team, 63% three-point shooting in the last two nights, or Omer Asik’s rim-rattling rampage. It’s all good.
I will relish the fact that Thibodeau is celebrating nothing, because he’s more concerned with stopping people when it matters.
I’ll enjoy that Derrick Rose agrees.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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