- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATLANTA -- Tom Thibodeau always believes he has more than enough to win with.
It's more than just a tired cliché for the veteran head coach; it's a mantra.
No matter who is on the floor, no matter who is healthy, no matter how games his team has played in a row, Thibodeau always believes the Chicago Bulls can win.
He believes he has taught his team enough fundamental principles that no matter the talent level on the floor, they will always find a way.
That was the case Saturday night as the Bulls pulled off one of their most impressive wins of the year in a 93-76 decision over the Atlanta Hawks. Playing without Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis in right foot), Carlos Boozer (right hamstring) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow), the Bulls completely dominated the Hawks.
How do they continue to do that no matter who is on the floor?
That's the power of Thibodeau and the belief he has instilled in his players.
"I see how they work every day," Thibodeau said. "And the first step is always knowing what your job is. And once you know what your job is, then you have to go out there and do your job. So when one guy goes down, everything is predicated on five-man movement, whether it's offense or defense. So if one guy's not doing his job, it's going to make everyone look bad.”
“When someone's called upon, they have to go out there and help the team function well,” he said. “You have to put the team first; so you have to sacrifice for the team and sometimes that requires you not to do what's best for yourself, but you have to do what's best for the team. If you put the team first and you do the right things, you have a good chance to be successful."
The Bulls have proven that all season without Derrick Rose, but especially so on Saturday night. Without three starters, the Bulls played the type of dominant game Thibodeau is always preaching about. They did all the little things they had to do, and it showed.
"It just says a lot about the group of guys that have been here and that are here," Bulls forward Luol Deng said after scoring 25 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. "The guys that the front office bring in, the character of the guys, the core of the team .., we're good guys.”
“We're not trying to, none of us is really trying to, demand the ball or ask for the ball,” he said. “We let guys play freely and play with confidence, and all we do is just encourage each other. It builds a bond where everyone can just play their game."
That bond is palpable on and off the floor. The Bulls genuinely seem to like being around one another, and that shows, too. Sure, there are times when Thibodeau gets on their nerves, but they usually find a way to win games that they are supposed to, like this one. No matter who plays, the effort and attention to detail is the same.
"I think it's because we play incredibly hard and we play for one another," said Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler. "I think that makes everything easy, because you've got to guard all five guys out there on the floor. The ball's not just sticking in one guy's hands, so that makes it difficult. And then if you force rotation, we got shooters or guys that can finish at the rim.
“Other than that, if there's a missed shot we're always there for an offensive rebound."
An admittedly exhausted Taj Gibson had a theory of his own after scoring 19 points and pulling down 19 rebounds.
"We feel like we've got starters on the bench," he said of the Bulls' mentality. "Every time some guy steps down, another guy fills the void. And we got guys that start for us -- like Carlos, Joakim – [who] encourage us; we work hard with them every day and we've got good guys on our team.”
“Nobody's negative, nobody ever gets down on each other,” Gibson said. “Everybody's just trying to get everybody [else] better, because we know it's going to be big for us come late in the season. And right now we're just grinding. Like Thibs said, we're just grinding and we're getting more and more experience top to bottom."
Enigmatic point guard Nate Robinson might have put it best after a disheartening loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. He knows Thibodeau sets the tone for the organization and he knows the Bulls bring in specific players in order to follow his orders. Not every player can play for Thibodeau and the guys in the Bulls' locker room know it.
"He's the general," Robinson said. "And we're just waiting for his command. We go out there and try to do whatever he asks."
What Thibodeau asks is simple.
"He drills it in our heads to know your job and do your job," Robinson said. "Everybody on our team knows our job, and we go out there and try to do it to the best of our ability.
“And it's been working."
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