Chicago Bulls 109, San Antonio Spurs 99: Popovich singing Thibodeau singing Popovich
Over at the Daily Dime (Friday morning edition), I make an argument that tonight’s Bulls game might well have been an NBA Finals preview. And if that’s the case, the Spurs will need to figure a few things out between now and June.
The most obvious place to start is Derrick Rose, who torched the Spurs for an MVP-worthy 42 points.
“He’s taken a monster leap this year,” said Gregg Popovich after the game. “What’s really great about him is that he seems to love the pressure of putting his team on his back. He has the character and the demeanor to do that. Superstars have that character and leadership gene.”
For his part, Manu Ginobili was just as complimentary. “Derrick Rose has turned into a really hard player to guard…because of his explosiveness. He’s very reliable with his teardrops and 15 footers. He’s hard to guard.”
And then there is the Carlos Boozer problem. Boozer was a pest for the Spurs when he played in Utah and not much has changed since he left for Chicago. Boozer’s numbers are not overwhelmingâ€”15 points (7-14), 6 boards, and a pair of assists in 28 minutes. But he got whatever shot he wanted. If not for Rose’s big night, Boozer may have had one of his own.
The Spurs even had trouble sticking with Luol Deng. It was a rough night. And it could get worse between now and the next meeting between these teams.
The Bulls, of course, are in the market for a shooting guard to pair with Rose. They have a week to make a move in that direction, and such a move would certainly improve their team. And the return of Joakim Noah will help Chicago’s already top ranked defense.
And, whoa, is that defense good.
Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau are coach of the year candidates, and, in truth, they’re really the only two guys who should be mentioned in that conversation. They’re 1a and 1b, but the pecking order is not at all certain.
“Tom [Thibodeau] is an obvious coach of the year candidate,” Gregg Popovich opined after the game. Pop was employing sincerity, not flattery.
Pop must see a lot of himself in Thibodeau, who has spent the last decade making defensive juggernauts of NBA teamsâ€”those teams were Houston (under Jeff Van Gundy), Boston and, now, Chicago. Â Thibodeau’s recent defensive accomplishments closely mirror Popovich’s best defensive teams of the last decade.
In December of 2009, I wrote the following about Thibodeau’s Celtics:
During the 2007-8 season the Boston Celtics displaced the San Antonio Spurs as the leagueâ€™s premier defensive team. Tom Thibodeau and the Celtics personnelÂ trumped Gregg Popovich and San Antonioâ€™s squad, and theÂ Spurs spent the better part of the last two seasonsÂ with a loose grip on their once proud defensive stalwart status. One of San Antonioâ€™s goals for this season is to re-discover themselves as an elite defensive ball club, and theyâ€™re showing steady improvement. But theyâ€™re still a long way from the night in, night out dominance that once characterized the team.
In the early 90s, David Bowie covered Morrisseyâ€™s â€œI Know Itâ€™s Gonna Happen Somedayâ€ onÂ the album Black Tie, White Noise.Â It sounded odd to hear the rock icon singing a tune ofÂ his musical disciple, but somehow it worked. When asked about the choice,Â Bowie quipped â€œThatâ€™sÂ me singing Morrissey singing David Bowie.â€
Just a moment ago, I briefly outlined a scenario in which the Bulls could improve mightily between now and the end of the season. If the Spurs improve upon their historic start, it will be because Popovich begins singing Thibodeau singing Popovich.
This, it should be noted, is not simply a reaction to tonight’s game.
One game is one game.Â Popovich was quick to remind everyone that the Spurs have been on the road for several days. “I told the team we were not playing as sharp as we needed to be. I hate to admit it but 9 straight road games could affect your execution.” Â My argument isn’t one of knee jerks.
What I’m reacting to, and what makes the Bulls such a formidable opponent is the fact that Tom Thibodeau is not a Johnny-come-lately. The same defensive execution which took Boston to two NBA Finals and one championship has reared its ugly head in Chicago.
The Bulls are for real. And it’s not surprising that, along with the Celtics, Chicago may be San Antonio’s most difficult postseasonÂ match up.