CHICAGO -- If fans were wondering what an NBA game would look like in the post-lockout era, they should have watched Saturday night's slogfest between the Chicago Bulls and the Toronto Raptors. Understandably, both teams looked exhausted. The Bulls were playing their fifth game in six nights while the Raptors were capping off a seven-games-in-nine-nights stretch.
It was ugly.
But after pulling out his team's fifth win in a row, 77-64, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau really doesn't care.
"We are not concerned with the aesthetics," Thibodeau said. "We just want the wins."
That might as well be the Bulls' mantra for the entire season. Yet again, Thibodeau's bunch got contributions from everybody. Derrick Rose and Luol Deng had their usual solid nights, combining for 32 points. Carlos Boozer had 17 points and 13 rebounds. Joakim Noah had 12 boards. And again, the Bulls' bench players came through when the team needed them to do so. This time it was Taj Gibson and John Lucas III who combined for 21 points and 13 rebounds (12 from Gibson) and made several key plays down the stretch.
"They came in and gave us energy," Rose said. "On this team, you never know who's going to step up. Taj and John Luc, they work hard every day and we weren't surprised. Everybody else is, but the team knows what they can do every day."
That's the type of attitude Thibodeau instills in his players. He wants each one of them to play as hard as they can.
"One thing about our team, we have that mindset," Gibson said. "No matter how many minutes you play, no matter how many touches you get, no one should play harder than you. No matter how many minutes you get, you're supposed to lay it on the line no matter what. That's the kind of key plays I look forward to and I just played real hard and tough."
While the Bulls might have looked lethargic most of the night, their defense was still on-point. They didn't allow the Raptors to get into the lane much (Toronto went just 1-for-7 from the free throw line on the night) and they frustrated them to the tune of 35 percent shooting from the floor. According to Bulls radio statistician, Jeff Mangurten, the Bulls are the first team to hold opponents under 70 points in three straight home games since the inception of the shot clock. The Bulls look to be an even better defensive team than they were a year ago.
"We got introduced to it last year, Thibs' defensive scheme," Boozer said. "We had a chance over the summer to watch the tape and see how we can improve on it. We've got the same group of guys playing the same system, so we just feel more comfortable. You know you're there, you know where you're supposed to be at. We trust in the system. We trust in each other."
The Bulls now have the best record in the NBA, and they've done it during a brutal part of the schedule. One that would flip weaker teams inside out. The way they've been winning games lately may not be the prettiest, but nobody in the happy home locker room seemed to care.
"I think the more you push through fatigue, the more your body gets used to it," Noah said. "Right now, I think this January part of the schedule is probably the toughest. But I think we're showing that our depth is definitely our strong point on this team. You don't get used to playing eight or nine games in 10 days, but I think that overall if we keep fighting and stay resilient, good things will happen for us."