I've always thought that a good coach could add a few wins in the regular season. Perhaps keep a team together that was otherwise falling apart. Get guys to try a little harder on defense. Perhaps craft a few creative inbounds plays in key situations. Tom Thibodeau is so much more.
I wrote an article a couple of days ago questioning Tom Thibodeau's coaching ability if he can't get us out of the first round this season. However, that was back before the playoffs started. When the memory of playoff basketball was washed away with the one of regular season basketball. I foolishly have to retract all of that.
Like every year, I'd gotten a bit too wrapped up in the regular season, knowing playing basketball is different but forgetting just how different until the playoffs started and the fact slapped me in the face again.
The Bulls are heading into the playoffs with Nate Robinson as their best offensive creator. Seriously. End of bench Nate Robinson, can't stick with a team Nate Robinson, minimum salary Nate Robinson.
In the playoffs you need guys to step up and make great individual offensive efforts. We're back in the world where there's a greater emphasis on creating in isolation and teams ratchet up the defense about three notches. A world where the Luol Deng's of the world suddenly have a much more difficult time getting their shots off.
We're not just bringing a knife to a gun fight, we're bringing a butter knife.
After watching the Nets demolish Chicago in game one, you got a feel for how big the talent gap was. In game two, the talent gap was the same, but the Bulls didn't care.
They out worked Brooklyn. They wanted it more. They had the will to win. Joakim Noah physically beasted them with a tear in his foot and about 50% mobility. It wasn't an aesthetically pleasing game, but Chicago just went out there punched the Nets in the face and took their lunch money.
This was an extension of their coach. An extension of the belief that the next man CAN step up, WILL step up, HAS to step up. There are no excuses, no concerns about who isn't there, who's playing at 50%, when you're on the court you will do your job. You will do your job better than the guy across from you.
Thibodeau's belief, work ethic, scheme, and will flow through the players on the court. After two games, I've come to the conclusion there's no way the Bulls should win this series, but that's the great thing about sports. What 'should' happen frequently doesn't. If what should happen doesn't, it will be because of Tom Thibodeau and the culture he's installed all year, every day, from the first scrimmage to the last playoff game.
Can the Bulls continue to outwork the Nets? Can they continue to win on willpower, hustle, and grit? It's a tall order, and one I don't think they pull off. The great thing is that no one in that Bulls locker room agrees with me. They all know differently. They all know they can do it, will do it, and that irrational confidence and mental toughness will give them a chance.
Down their transcendent talent and with injuries littering the roster, the Bulls stay in the playoffs won't last past the second round if it gets that far. Regardless of the results, you can be proud of this team. They give you everything on the court. Everything. That's all you can ever ask for of the players, and these players deliver.