"I liked our defense in the second half. I didn't like the last 1:16."
It was with 1:16 left in the game and a commanding 22-point lead that Thibodeau emptied his bench and put Brian Scalabrine, Rasual Butler, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik and C.J. Watson into the game. Anyone who doesn't know Thibodeau might read that quote as sarcasm, but Chicago's relentless coach was quite serious. Others might focus on the Bulls' 22:34 of absolutely wilting defense in the second half, or the stunning performance of Derrick Rose (34 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds), who despite a poor shooting night, began attacking the basket and took over as few in the game can. Not "Thibs", who is about as tenacious and relentless a coach as you'll find. Game in hand and confetti starting to fall, this man was still coaching game 7.
If there is an extension of Thibodeau on this Bulls team, it would have to be Luol Deng. Deng nearly had a triple-double in the Bulls 94-76 win, with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. He played 40 minutes after being a game-time decision with a charlie horse from hell. Thibs seldom gushes, but with Deng it seems he can't help himself.
"I thought Luol was tremendous, you couldn't ask for anything more. He's the glue of the team. In my opinion he's an all-league defender. He guards everybody."
"I like the way he leads. He's a great leader."
Doesn't get much more definitive than that. The Bulls would be nowhere without Rose, and Thibs would be the first to say so, but the Bulls are a team with a shot to go deep in the playoffs because of Lu, who does all the cliched little things a basketball team needs to win. It says a lot to both teammates and fans that he played through injury tonight, and in city well-versed in the toughness of it's players, he is on the verge of coveted "loved" status in Chicago.
As has been the case for several weeks, the Bulls bench played outstanding basketball. Thibs ensured as much when he put Kurt Thomas in with the starters, allowing the unchanged Bulls bench to ride its month-long hot streak.Yet another in a string of good decisions that has Thibodeau near the top of the Coach of The Year projections along with Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins.
If you've watched the Bulls at the United Center this year, you know the rest of the story: The defense cranked up the intensity, Derrick Rose took over and the Bulls got solid contributions across the board. Chicago held Atlanta to 77 points, lowering its points allowed average over the last nine games to 80.9. Goodness. Gracious.
A great win for the Bulls, but one they must quickly move past. The Utah Jazz come to town Saturday night, and with a win the Bulls can tie the Boston Celtics atop the Eastern Conference. On a night when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the rest of the 1991 team will be on hand as the Bulls honor the 20th anniversary of the franchise's first Championship, it seems fitting that this year's team has a chance to take hold of first place in front of them.
On a day filled with bad news both inside and out of the sports world, it's nice to know there's still some poetry in motion.
Follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks