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Bulls buy into Thibodeau’s defensive philosophy


This news story was published on January 16, 2012.
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By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The Bulls are the NBA’s stingiest defense in points allowed, surrendering just 83.8 per game.

They rank third in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 41.3 percent. In their last five fourth quarters, they have allowed an average of just 15.6 points. And they have set an NBA record by allowing just 66.8 points per game through their first five home games.

“We’re still slacking,” Derrick Rose said. “I know I sound like Thibs, but we can always get better.”

Um, how?

“Contest shots harder,” Rose said. “Stay consistent at the end of games. We tend to let teams get open shots at the end of games knowing we’ve got the lead by so much. That’s something we can’t do.”

But what about that fourth-quarter average of just 15.6 points during the current five-game win streak? Doesn’t that suggest closing games with closeouts?

“I’m telling you,” Joakim Noah chimed in. “We can get even better. We’re a pretty good defensive team. But we’re not satisfied. Neither is Thibs.”

Thibs would be Tom Thibodeau, who arrived with a sterling resume of defensive accomplishments. However, one of his greatest feats may be what light-heartedly is referred to as the “Thibodeau brainwash,” the ability to get his players to buy into his relentless attention to detail at that end.

“You’re going to hear it every single day, every practice,” Rose said, laughing while shaking his head. “He might text it to you. But you’re going to hear it no matter what.”

In 20 seasons as an assistant coach, Thibodeau’s teams ranked in the top 10 defensively 17 times. That included finishing in the top 2 in opponents’ field-goal percentage 11 times and in the top 2 in opponents’ scoring seven.

As associate head coach for the Celtics, he game-planned defenses that made two trips to the NBA Finals with one championship. Boston’s points-allowed average dropped from 99.2 the season before Thibodeau arrived to 90.3 en route to the 2008 title. That championship team limited opponents to a league-best 41.9 shooting percentage, down from 46.8 the season before Thibodeau arrived.

In his first season with the Bulls, Thibodeau’s team finished first in opponents’ field-goal percentage (43.0) and opponents’ three-point percentage (32.6) and second in opponents’ points per game (91.3) and point differential (plus-7.3).

Unofficially, the Bulls also led the league in consistently spouting coach-speak when asked about the defensive prowess. That’s what brainwashing can do.

“We got introduced to it last year, Thibs’ defensive scheme,” Carlos Boozer said. “We had a chance over the summer to watch the tape and see how we can improve on it. We’ve got the same group of guys playing the same system, so we just feel more comfortable. You know where you’re supposed to be. We trust in the system. We trust in each other.”

Noah, in particular, has started showing signs of the activity that helps anchor the defense after his slow start.

“I’m just trying to be more aware of what’s going on on the help side,” Noah said.

And as Thibodeau always says, the Bulls remain tied together defensively.

“We’re not a passing lane, steals team,” Thibodeau said. “We’re a hard ball-pressure-type team. We protect the paint behind the ball (with so many bigs).”

Or, as Rose put it: “We play hard. We don’t care about our stats. We’re physical. We play with a lot of emotion, a lot of confidence. We try to get after it defensively.”

Layups: USA Basketball will announce its preliminary 18-player roster for the London Olympics on Monday. Rose will be on it. The team eventually will get whittled to its final 12 in June. … Not counting shootarounds and walk-throughs, the Bulls will hold just their third practice of the season Thursday.

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