SAN ANTONIO -- Fred Hoiberg couldn't take it anymore.
At the end of a long, disappointing season in a game in which the Chicago Bulls hung tough in all night against the San Antonio Spurs, the first-year coach finally let serious emotion crack his cool, calm demeanor.
With the Bulls down by 10 and running out of hope with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left in regulation, Taj Gibson went up for a shot near the rim that would change Hoiberg's clean basketball behavioral record forever. Both Hoiberg and Gibson thought the power forward had been fouled, but there was no whistle. So as the Spurs made their way back down the court a moment later, Hoiberg stepped slightly onto the floor, into the path of official Kevin Cutler, doing something he had never done in his professional career -- earning a technical foul.
Hoiberg isn't the type to yell and scream up and down the sideline. His play calls are smooth. A soft directive toward his players, a tap on his chest. Hoiberg is much different than his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau, in that regard. But both men's fire burns deep. Hoiberg isn't as outwardly combustible as Thibodeau, but with one whistle he seemed to earn another notch of respect from some of his players.
"I love it," Gibson said. "I love it. I'm used to our guy last year constantly screaming all the time, show some flair. I got a lot of respect for Fred, he's a good coach, man. He just jumped in at the right time. He felt I got hit, I thought I got hit, but that's a part of the game. You got to keep playing tough."
The Bulls deserve credit for staying in the game in a place where no team has won all season. But moral victories don't count for much in the NBA. Hoiberg's team made the same mistakes down the stretch that it had all season. Chicago had 21 turnovers, including several crucial ones in the final minutes. Missed open shots, missed box-outs, poor passes -- it's the same old story for a group on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
But this night gave the Bulls a window into their new coach's soul they hadn't before peered through. In recent weeks, players have spoken openly about the fact that Hoiberg has used harsher language in practice, trying to set an angrier tone, but the end of Thursday's game showed a different side to the 43-year-old than his players had known.
"That has a lot [of meaning]," Rose said of the technical. "It shows the players that you're involved. Shows them that you're out there fighting for them. And you need that. You need that from any of the coaches. You need to know that someone got your back, especially the coach, so I'm just happy he got a tech while we was out there."
Whether Hoiberg's ability to shake things up emotionally on occasion has any impact on his team moving forward remains to be seen. Veteran Pau Gasol acknowledged that while Hoiberg's small reprimand might have an effect on some of his teammates, it didn't move him one way or another.
"It's not something that makes me feel any better or any different for that matter," Gasol said. "He felt that Taj got fouled and he let it be known to the referees."
But in a season in which the Bulls have struggled to find any kind of consistent spark, Hoiberg's T was a memorable event for a group that has been so often flat and unenthusiastic. The Bulls played with a passion that has been missing in many games and emerged hopeful that the emotion they showed on and off the floor is something that will carry forward into the final month of the regular season.
"I can live with us playing hard and playing with some toughness," Gibson said. "Especially against a great team like that, just keep playing hard. Good things like that are going to keep happening and that's the kind of effort we need if we want to continue to go deep."