Bulls

Westerlund: Facing Celtics Reminds Thibodeau Of Good Times, Lessons Learned

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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. (Getty Images)

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. (Getty Images)

Cody Westerlund headshot very small Cody Westerlund
A sports editor for CBSChicago.com and 670TheScore.com, ...
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By Cody Westerlund-

CHICAGO (CBS) – Less than 24 hours after his team suffered its 50th loss of the season – one more than he had in six years while at the helm of Butler University – Celtics coach Brad Stevens stepped outside the visiting locker room Monday night at the United Center for his pregame media session, his boyish looks still intact.

If the questions weren’t of the broken record variety, of what a smart young coach who’s a believer in advanced analytics can do to cure his team of its 29 losses by three possessions or less (Stevens’ calculation), then they weren’t really about basketball at all.

What do you make of star point guard Rajon Rondo doing color commentary tonight on the local TV broadcast? You worried about what he might say as he sits out one game of back-to-backs since his return from his ACL tear?

“I’ve got so many things on my plate, the last thing I’m worried about is Rondo on TV,” Stevens said.

Later, the conversation turned to Stevens’ son, Brady, who flipped on the Red Sox’s season opener upon arriving home Monday, excitedly believing World Series wins are the norm in Boston.

“He’s only been there seven months or whatever, he thinks this is the way it goes,” Stevens said before his team played tough for 36 minutes, then succumbed mildly with a 10-point fourth quarter in a 94-80 loss to the Bulls.

This wasn’t a scene reminiscent of the Celtics of old, and no one knows that better than Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau. The architect of the Boston defense from 2007-10, including the 2008 championship team, Thibodeau admitted the past two days – the teams played a rare back-to-back against one another – were odd for him.

On Sunday came the narrow win in Boston, one that felt nothing like those of the past with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce now in Brooklyn. Then came the return in Chicago on Monday, when Thibodeau spoke of his lessons learned in this league.

“It reminds you of the nature of the league,” Thibodeau said. “It does. It’s really how quickly time does go by. You blink an eye, it seems like that championship was yesterday. Then you’re looking down the bench, and you see there’s not many people left.

“The players, coaches, organization – change is inevitable, and it’s how quickly you can adapt to those changes. That’s sort of the nature of the league.”

Boston will always hold a special place in Thibodeau’s heart, which is part of the reason he spoke enthusiastically when asked about Stevens. The two have connected through Ron Adams, the current Celtics assistant who was Thibodeau’s top lieutenant on the bench in Chicago before his contract wasn’t renewed last summer.

Thibodeau called Stevens a “great” coach and “well-prepared,” adding he “understood going in what he was taking on” with a young, rebuilding team.

For two nights, Thibodeau saw that young team in rebuilding mode. Or perhaps it should be called subtle tanking mode, what with Jared Sullinger and his 25.5-percent 3-point shooting stroke hoisting three too many treys (yes, he was 0-for-3) and Jerryd Bayless and Christapher Johnson combining to play 68 minutes.

Tough times in Boston, Thibodeau realizes that – he just doesn’t believe they will last long.

“This was all part of their plan,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a proud franchise that’s accomplished a great deal. There’s no other franchise like it – 17 championships throughout all different decades. It was a great six-year run they had. They knew that rebuilding would come after that. And the one thing is, they won’t sit around. They’ll build through the draft, they’ll make trades and then they’ll spend money on free agents.

“I feel for them on most nights, except when we play them.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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