- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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They aren't rebounding particularly well, and their offense stalls out more than a beaten-up old car. Still, over the past few weeks, the Bulls appear to have turned the corner and strung together a few wins against quality teams because they have done the one thing that coach Tom Thibodeau preaches more than any other, day after day: They play solid defense.
That was the case again in Saturday night's 83-82 win over the Brooklyn Nets and the reason why this group is feeling more confident than at any other point this season. No matter who is on the court, the Bulls are starting to play the type of lockdown defense that has been one of their hallmarks over the past two seasons.
Why are they so consistent?
"Because we work on defense every day for at least an hour," Noah said. "Every day."
If fans are wondering why the Bulls have suddenly won seven of their last nine games after all the ups and downs of the first month of the season, look no further than some of the defensive numbers the Bulls have put together. The Bulls are among the best in several categories, giving up just 91 points a game while holding teams to an average of 43 percent from the field on most nights. Those numbers held true Saturday, as the Nets scored 82 and shot 39 percent from the field.
"There's no question that Coach Thibodeau, he's very good when it comes to defense," Noah said. "I think there's nobody better than him."
What makes Thibodeau great is that he never allows his team to be satisfied with its performance.
He never allows the players to become complacent and always finds a flaw at which to pick. He knows they can play better and expects it each night.
"We can do a lot better," Thibodeau said, issuing a common refrain from the past two seasons. "And we have to continue to strive for it and improve. There are some things we do well, and finishing defense is critical. We did not rebound the ball the way I would like us to, and this is something we have to get better at."
The constant pressure to be perfect grates on players sometimes, as does Thibodeau's angry demeanor, but they still respect him because they see the results. On a night in which the Bulls didn't play very well and found themselves down six with under six minutes to play in regulation, they still found a way to win because of their defense, a fact that was lost on nobody in the locker room.
"Defense wins basketball games," Noah said. "We know that if we play good defense, we're going to be able to stay in the game. Some teams down six, eight, three minutes to go, they can't go and get a win. We feel like we can get stops and get into a ballgame. That's huge."
That's the difference between good teams and teams that want to be great. Thibodeau has instilled a belief into his team based almost solely on defense and being able to outwork an opponent.
That's what makes the Bulls different, and the players know it.
"Everybody knows that if you play defense you stay on the court," Bulls swingman Marco Belinelli said. "So everybody wants to play defense, wants to be aggressive. When I was in New Orleans with Monty Williams, I think we played really good defense too, but right now it's just like a championship team. We want to be good; we want to do something big. So if you want to do something big, you need to [put] defense first."