Thibodeau pushing Rose, Bulls to the top

April, 3, 2011
4/03/11
9:11
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose had just finished dropping 36 points on the Toronto Raptors to lead the Chicago Bulls to their third consecutive victory late Saturday night, but he knew coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't going to be happy.

After all, the Bulls had given up 106 points to the lowly Raptors, an unacceptable total for a team that has stuck to a defense-first mentality all season.

“In practice, he's going to curse us out," Rose said. "He's going to curse us out. But we're used to it, man. We're used to him yelling. We always know we can get better. But we just got to go out there and put more effort into it."

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau has pushed the Chicago Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference in his first season as head coach.
The fact that Rose was laughing as he said this, as opposed to shaking his head in disbelief, has been one of the biggest keys to success for this Bulls team all season. Rose, the team's superstar point guard and the potential league MVP, bought into Thibodeau’s hard-nosed style from day one. For that reason, his teammates have bought into it as well. They figure that if Rose can handle the constant scrutiny that Thibodeau gives his players, so can they.

"I love it," Rose said Saturday of Thibodeau's in-your-face approach. "He definitely yells at me a lot because he knows I can take it. I don't show that much emotion when people talk to me anyways. So he's hard on me, but I just go with the flow and go out there and do what he tells me to do."

That is music to the ears of a veteran coach like Thibodeau. He knows that the respect a coach earns in the locker room can only go so far if his superstar player doesn't buy in completely. That's why he's so happy he landed with Rose, as compared to a handful of other elite-level, big-ego players scattered across the league.

Thibodeau could tell that Rose was wired differently from the outset, when the 22-year-old sought out Thibodeau after each one of Team USA's practices earlier this summer in Las Vegas. Thibodeau knew he could push Rose to be better, and that's why the jump that Rose has taken this season from great player to MVP-level talent hasn't surprised the coach much at all.

"My first observation of him was from the opposing bench. Then, once I was able to get here and know him a lot better, I realized how special he was because of his makeup," Thibodeau said recently. "His drive, his humility. Never being satisfied, the way he studied the game. Having the opportunity to watch him practice with Team USA, I think that helped a lot for me to get to know him better.

"But then, when I studied what he did his first two years in the league, I felt like he would make another quantum leap. And because of that makeup and that drive, that's what I think makes him so special. And he's got a lot of confidence, but the confidence, I think, comes from his preparation. He's put a lot into it, and he learns from his mistakes, and he's never satisfied. And the most important thing is what he wants to do for the team. He's helped lead this team to a different level."

It's a level the Bulls never would have reached if Rose had complained about Thibodeau's style. Rose joked that the only person on his team who may ever talk back to Thibodeau would be Joakim Noah, but like Rose, Noah has bought into Thibodeau's system, and style, completely.

"Everybody else on the team, I think he knows that we can handle it," Rose said. "He's hard. He's definitely hard on us, but you know the ultimate goal. Everybody on this team knows the ultimate goal, and that's just to win. Whatever it takes to win. Him yelling at you or whatever, we're used to it by now. So we just listen to him and go out there and do our job."

For Rose, adjusting to Thibodeau's style hasn't been that difficult since he had an emotional coach in college, John Calipari.

"My high school coach [Robert Smith] wasn't that strict on me, but Cal definitely was," Rose said. "Cal was the more in-your-face, fight-you type. Yelling on the sidelines. You see him in the games yelling on the sideline. He'll chase you up the sideline yelling at you. With Thibs, he's definitely different than Cal where when you come back to the huddle, that's when he'll chew you out."

As the season has worn on, those blowups have become more pronounced.

"He's tougher every game," Rose said of Thibodeau. "Every single game, tougher. Saying mental mistakes, that can't happen in the playoffs to have things like that. When you think about it, it's true. Where turnovers, not getting back, not calling out the defense, that stuff can hurt you in the playoffs, if you think about it. So he's just making sure he's holding everybody accountable right now."

With the playoffs coming up in a couple of weeks, Rose knows that Thibodeau just wants to get his team as mentally prepared as it can possibly be. That's the mentality that Rose believes in, and that's one of the most important reasons why Thibodeau has had success so quickly.

Critics worried that Thibodeau's abrasive style could rub people the wrong way, but his players disagree. They certainly can't complain when they're winning ... especially Rose. That's the only thing he's wanted to do since he stepped into the league, and with Thibodeau at the helm, that's all the Bulls have been doing.

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
20.2 3.2 1.7 38.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.8
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.7
BlocksP. Gasol 2.0