Bulls’ leader offers candid look at team’s success.
by Tracy Weissenberg
It is hard to believe that last season, the Bulls fought for a Playoff spot until game 82, clinching the final seed in the East on the last day of the regular season. One year before that, the Bulls engaged the reigning champion Celtics in an epic seven-game series, which included an NBA-record seven overtime periods. That series alone showed the Bulls have no quit in them.
Now, the Bulls are once again battling the Celtics, only this time it’s for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The assistant coach who helped transform the Celtics into a championship team as well as the defensive standard of the NBA is now the head coach of the Bulls.
Led by unassuming superstar and leading MVP candidate Derrick Rose, the Bulls have quietly overstepped the hype surrounding battle-tested Boston and juggernaut Miami to assume the top position in the East. In an era where the players control their press as much as the media controls perception, the Bulls have been content to let the coverage come to them.
Before Tuesday’s game against Atlanta, Rose chatted with several reporters pregame about everything from the ironic similarities between the Bulls and Celtics to the unique focus of first year head coach Tom Thibodeau.
On approach to final stretch before Playoffs:
Derrick Rose: “Finishing on the right foot. Making sure we finish positive. We don’t want to be taking any step back. We’re trying to finish right, we should be playing our best basketball right now going to the Playoffs and we should be playing with a lot of confidence.”
On this point in the season:
DR: “You know, it’s hard. Right now, we’re just trying to keep things going where we’re playing against good teams, we’re playing against teams that’s fighting for their lives right now. Even when you play against bad teams, they’re playing for their future, like they want to let people know that they could play. It’s hard definitely, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
On who has stepped up lately:
DR: “I think everybody on the team has stepped it up a little bit, the way people been playing, our bench has been playing great, giving us the lead. People stepping up their games, a lot of people I could say like Keith [Bogans] helped us out yesterday (Monday vs Kings) with driving the ball, being active. CJ [Watson], everybody else playing good, passing the ball, sharing, and that’s what we need, definitely, on this team.”
On the Bulls’ ability to focus amidst the attention:
DR: “We know, especially on the road, it’s gonna be kind of crazy, you’re gonna get everybody’s best. You kind of get used to it, where you come to games, you can’t come out sluggish.”
On which members of the team he hears from the most regarding past experiences:
DR: “Thibs. I think you’re never gonna stop hearing from Thibs. He always say if we want to be this team that we say, so called want ourselves to be, we got to put a lot more things into it and that’s what we have to do right now, keep pushing ourselves. We can’t be satisfied with where we are right now and we just got to keep going and pushing each other.”
On which stories Thibodeau shares with the team:
DR: “He always tells us stories about the Knicks saying that they were in a situation where guys wasn’t playing up [to potential] or like certain plays that they didn’t call or defensively…where a guy didn’t follow a assignment, it cost them the championship, stuff like that. So he always throws things out there like that and make you think about it.”
On being one of the top defensive teams, buying into the system and maintaining that intensity:
DR: “If you want to win, you’ll do [what it takes to] separate yourself from all the other teams in the NBA. We got good guys on the team where they’re winners, like doing extra stuff like shooting after practice, shooting before practice. When you come to practice, having the right attitude. Making sure that you don’t mess up practice, you don’t want to be the one that mess up a whole practice because you messing up that practice—there’s other teams that’s having great practices around the NBA—and that could put you back a little bit. So we just try to come in, work every day, especially defensively, work hard and try to learn each other better on the defensive side.”
On the irony of all the Celtics-Bulls connections:
DR: “Yeah, it’s kinda weird [laughs]. Definitely weird. [Thibodeau will] say something about [the Celtics], how good they are. It makes you think about it. We’re kind of like the same team where we both over-help on the defensive side, where usually people do that in college. That’s not normal NBA defense, I would say, where most of the time NBA teams leave you out on the island, and us, we just help everywhere and we depend on each other.“
On whether the Bulls have become more vocal on both ends of the floor:
DR: “Yeah, we’re definitely vocal. [Coach Thibodeau] makes us be vocal. Making sure that we call out our defensive plays and make sure we send people certain ways. But with Boozer himself, I think that you’ll definitely hear everything that’s going on if Boozer’s on the court.”
On whether he had ever played for a coach with Thibodeau’s memory and focus:
DR: “Never. Me and Joakim was talking about that… I never played for a coach that was that focused where it’s nothing else: where it’s no kids, no wife, no leisure time just to watch TV. I’m dead serious, it’s nothing else but winning. I never in my life played for a coach like that.”
Asked (lightheartedly) if he ever worries about Thibodeau sometimes:
DR: “No, he’s healthy [laughs]. He’s healthy; we’re winning. He seems like he’s enjoying himself, so I’m fine with it.”
On how he thinks his coach spends his spare time, if he goes out to eat?
DR: “I’ve never heard about Thibs being out eating anywhere or never ran into him eating anywhere or don’t you know, when you go into a restaurant, they’d be like your coach just left—never. Never, no matter what city we’re in. I won’t see him until the next day and I’ve never been around a coach that’s like that. Never. Or never met a coach that’s like that.”
DR: “As long as we keep winning, he could keep this going.”