CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau knew that if his Bulls ever started playing defense they would start stringing together the type of victories that have eluded them over the past few games.
After fading down the stretch against both the Knicks and Celtics last week, Thibodeau stressed to his team that if they were going to live up to what everyone expected of them, they had to start digging deep on defense to shut down opponents in the end.
In Monday night’s 94-92 win over the Denver Nuggets at the United Center, he got his wish.
Thibodeau's bunch shut down Carmelo Anthony and company in the final nine minutes, limiting them to just 15 points, to lock up a much-needed victory.
"I liked our defense," Thibodeau said. "I thought it was good ... they have a lot of offensive weapons on that team and they are capable of scoring a lot of points. I thought we made them work."
That was the biggest difference for the Bulls; Instead of turning the ball over and squandering opportunites late in the game, Joakim Noah and his teammates made Denver work for each one of its points in the final few minutes.
"I feel like we executed better down the stretch," Noah said. "Especially defensively. We played some tough defense. We got some turnovers. There's still a lot of things we got to clean up, but we're happy we got a win."
Noah was one of the first to admit that the Bulls had to become mentally tougher in the final moments of games and it was clear they got the message on Monday night. The Bulls forced the Nuggets into five turnovers in the fourth quarter, playing with a hunger they haven't always shown early in the year.
"We just had too many turnovers to win on the road," Denver head coach George Karl said. "Our ball handlers can't make mistakes like that. Chicago played with passion to win the game."
As usual, nobody played with more passion than Noah.
He grabbed 19 rebounds and served as the anchor for the improved defensive unit.
"I can't say no more," Rose said of Noah's performance. "If anyone's going to ride with me on this team, I know he's going to bring it every night. I know it might take me a little time to warm up, but he's starting from the beginning, getting us a lot of energy, and he's a big piece to this team."
There was no question his teammates fed off the energy Noah provided and took Thibodeau's lessons to heart.
"Coach tells us he wants us to be active," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "Get our hands on anything we can get our hands on; blocked shots, steals, diving on the ball. Those are the things we did tonight. Guys put forth a great effort."
If the Bulls play with the same kind of effort this week, they shouldn't have any problem rolling past Golden State and Washington at home as they get set for the Circus Trip.
Rose and Noah praise Melo: Carmelo Anthony spent Monday morning praising Rose and the Bulls. Rose and Noah returned the favor after Anthony, whose name has been linked to the Bulls in trade rumors, dropped 32 points and took over the game at times.
"Who wouldn't want to play with Carmelo?" Rose said. "He's one of the best scorers in the league. There's no way to stop him, but I'm good with my teammates that I have now. We're building confidence with each other, trust with each other, and the decision really is not up to me. It's up to the front office, that's all I have to say about that."
After all the trade speculation that Noah and Anthony have dealt with in the past few months, it's clear that the Bulls center has a lot of respect for the Denver forward.
"I always had a lot of respect for Carmelo as a player," Noah said. "I feel like he's somebody who's obviously very talented, but also somebody who works really hard on his game in the offseason. People don't really talk about how hard he works. I always liked his demeanor as a player. I feel like he's very poised out there. To me, he's the best offensive player in the NBA."