BY Herb Gould email@example.com May 17, 2011 7:20PM
Bulls center Joakim Noah holsters his fingers as he comes out near the end of Chicago’s 103-82 win over the Miami Heat Sunday night at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
While everybody else in Chicago was drinking red-and-black Kool-Aid the day after the Bulls’ impressive opening statement, a 103-82 shellacking of the Miami Heat, here’s what the Bulls were doing:
Working on their defensive principles. Because they know that’s what got them here, and what will take them further.
‘‘Repetition,’’ center Joakim Noah said Monday. ‘‘Practice hasn’t changed one bit since the first day of practice. It’s the same practice every day. Overall, it’s really the same thing — a lot of repetition.’’
Asked if all that repetition gets boring, forward Luol Deng paused for a moment, then smiled.
‘‘Boring?’’ he said. ‘‘That’s a trap . No. It works, so it’s fine. It’s a habit. It’s instincts now — especially our bigs, who were great at stepping up on the switches. They did a good job on the traps. It’s what we’ve been doing all year, so guys are getting better at it.’’
The Bulls, who remain relentlessly intent on getting better, know the Heat is going to turn up the heat when the series resumes Wednesday. That’s why they’re emphasizing better defense while outsiders are heaping praise on them.
‘‘That’s the way we’ve been the whole season,’’ MVP guard Derrick Rose said. ‘‘We’re not satisfied. Every time we feel good about ourselves, something knocks us down. We’re just trying to keep things going — making sure everybody stays positive, stays right and stays hungry.’’
It sure looks like the Bulls delivered a message to the Heat and its leader, LeBron James, who managed 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting and was flustered into four turnovers. By the end of the game, Miami looked like it had lost interest.
One game might be encouraging for fans. But the Bulls know it’s not over until it’s over, especially against a team with a trio of explosive scorers.
‘‘This is a best-of-seven,’’ Deng said. ‘‘Game 1 was a great result for us, but we have to let that go. They have guys who can take over games and can go off at any time. We have to realize if they win the next game, it changes everything.’’
When coach Tom Thibodeau talks about team defense, he’s talking about knowing the help defense that allows another Bull to step in when an opponent goes around the first defender.
‘‘We trust each other,’’ Deng said. ‘‘The trust is just there. The guards can go up and pressure the ball, knowing the bigs are going to be there.’’
It also helps that big men such as Noah, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, who spelled Deng on James, can guard perimeter opponents when called upon.
‘‘It’s huge,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘The fact that they can guard multiple positions allows us to be versatile in terms of coverages. That said, it’s only the first step. There’s a lot of things we have to clean up and do better.’’
Thibodeau has a right to be proud of the way the Bulls have absorbed his quest for ever-improving defense. The first-year head coach is more matter-of-fact than upbeat on a subject that’s so central to the Bulls’ success.
‘‘You build your habits throughout the season,’’ he said. ‘‘In this league, you can find an excuse every night, or you can make it good. Do the right things and put everything into it. The serious teams do.’’
After all these months, the habits are very much ingrained, Rose said.
‘‘It comes from Thibs,’’ Rose said. ‘‘When you see how he focuses and prepares for every game, it makes you want to do the same. He doesn’t have a life, so . . .’’
So Rose, who was joking, said he’s not interested in having a life outside of basketball, either.
‘‘Not right now,’’ Rose said. ‘‘I have to sacrifice a lot of things.’’
No Kool-Aid for the Bulls. Just hoops. Repetitive hoops.