Continued from page 1

The Bulls were looking for more after back-to-back 41-win seasons under Del Negro, and hiring Thibodeau was the next step in a massive overhaul.

They struck out trying to land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in free agency, but they wound up with Boozer and one of the deepest rotations in the league.

It helped that Derrick Rose took another big leap, going from Rookie of the Year to All-Star and now an MVP favorite in just his third season.

He and Thibodeau immediately clicked, and the rest of the team bought in, too.

“He’s a great coach, a phenomenal coach,” forward Taj Gibson said. “He watches every detail. He watches you throughout the year. He’s been phenomenal with me in my growth as a player, being my second year in the league. He deserves it. He turned us around, to a whole new mold of team. Our passion, our aggression toward every basketball game is phenomenal.”

Noah immediately realized Thibodeau was the right choice during their daily summer workouts.

“That’s not something that every head coach does,” he said. “To work out a player individually every day in the summer, to me that says a lot. At the same time, I feel like your coach is your leader.”

And if ever there was a team that reflected its coach, the Bulls are it.

They’ve been locked in from Day 1, and that focus carried them through a dominant regular season that rekindled memories of the championship era.

Not since the Jordan-Pippen era have the Bulls been this good. They lost back-to-back games only four times during the regular season and never dropped more than two in a row, despite the injuries to Boozer and Noah. On defense, they ranked among the stingiest.

No team held opponents to a lower shooting percentage or outrebounded them by a wider margin than the Bulls, who were also second to Miami in average scoring differential. That was hardly a surprise, given their coach’s reputation.

Players, meanwhile, mention Thibodeau’s presence, his ability to command their attention. And, of course, his work ethic, his attention to detail.

At shootarounds, the Bulls will analyze every option in their opponent’s playbook, and they will often look toward the sideline when they hear a call during games because their coach knows what’s coming.

About the only thing they don’t understand is why it took so long for the 53-year-old Thibodeau to get hired. His name often came up when there were openings the past few years, including Chicago’s in 2008, but the wait stretched on.

Now, look at him.

Story Continues →