If we were just going to go off the regular season results, Tom Thibodeau again deserves some credit in the coach of the year polls. Just remember that Vinny Del Negro won 41 games with the Bulls twice... with Derrick Rose.
45 wins on a team where the best shot creator in the group is Nate Robinson is a scary good accomplishment. The fact that the Bulls collectively missed another full season from starting players on top of Rose makes the accomplishment even more meaningful, and they missed the games largely from the guys they could afford to miss the least.
Through it all, Tom Thibodeau has stuck with his mantras of "having more than enough to win" and "next man steps up". It's cliche, but Tom Thibodeau doesn't allow anyone to believe its a bunch of crap. This team plays like they know it's true. They snapped a Miami Heat win streak without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
There was no doubts about how badly the Heat wanted that game, but they weren't coming into Chicago and taking it even with a banged up Bulls team that was likely a 10 point underdog. They snapped the Knicks win streak while missing half the roster [though in fairness, NY was missing half its roster too], and overall they're 10-6 against the top four seeds in the East.
Tom Thibodeau has shown that he can get his guys up for a game against the best competition in the conference and win in the regular season.
Now can he do it in the playoffs?
The Bulls are 2-2 in playoff series under Thibodeau, and when you look at the results of those series, you're probably not too impressed.
The Bulls beat Indiana and Atlanta while losing to Miami and Philadelphia. The Pacers lost 4-1, but the Bulls were fortunate to not end up in a six or seven game fight with an Indiana team that seemed woefully undermanned against the Bulls. I doubt anyone left that series thinking the Bulls were really stepping up.
Chicago got lucky in round two and faced an Atlanta team that upset the Magic. A Hawks team with a ton of inconsistent players and pedestrian defenders that's prone to bad shots and poor play. The Hawks still hung tough through four games and had the series knotted up at two a piece before dropping games five and six when Derrick Rose finally MVP'd their ass.
However, the Bulls ball movement and team play didn't necessarily translate in either series. The games seemed to come down to whether Derrick Rose could bail them out or not. Chicago played much the same way in the Heat series, but once they relied on Derrick to bail them out against Miami they fell woefully short.
The Heat trounced the Bulls 4-1, and Bulls fans watched the Bulls struggle to figure out what to do once Derrick Rose was triple teamed. How is a team not prepared to take advantage of that?
Against the 76ers, the Bulls went 1-4 without Rose in the lineup. It's hard to judge much of the series given the emotional devastation involved of having your superstar player taken out like that quickly followed up by Joakim Noah having to leave the playoffs with a severe ankle sprain. That said, the Bulls definitely didn't respond against a pedestrian 76ers team.
Chicago's playoff experience under Thibodeau hasn't been scary bad. There weren't any experts who picked the Bulls against the Heat, and no one will blame the Bulls for falling to the 76ers after the injuries. That said, it hasn't particularly been all that encouraging either. The very strengths that made the Bulls a great regular season team frequently seemed to disappear into a bunch of hero ball in the playoffs.
Chicago enters these playoffs with a different mindset though. If they're playing hero ball, it will be Nate Robinson playing the hero, and no disrespect to Mr. Robinson [perhaps my favorite Bull this season], but that's not a winning playoff formula.
Am I crazy for thinking the Bulls have enough to win? That this is a true 50/50 scenario? I'd like to say a great coach should push his team over the top in a 50/50, but maybe it's only a 50/50 because the Bulls have a great coach.
Tom Thibodeau has an amazing reputation as a head coach. He'll be a fixture here for quite some time, and I doubt the Bulls could do better if they let him go. That said, fair or not, if the Bulls fail to get out of the first round, I think we'll have questions about his ability to coach in the playoffs heading into next season.