The ever-resourceful Bulls pulled off an escape act Saturday night that will be hard to top. Luol Deng's tip-in of a deflected C.J. Watson shot barely beat the buzzer to give the Bulls a 101-100 overtime victory over the lowly Toronto Raptors.
But while Deng's shot sent the sellout crowd at the United Center into a frenzy and the Bulls celebrated as if they had won the NCAA title, coach Tom Thibodeau was not about to let winning cure all.
Three days after the Bulls played down to the Raptors' level before rallying in the fourth quarter to win in Toronto, they were even more lackadaisical at the United Center. They shot 3-of-23 from three-point range. They were out rebounded 58-44. Joakim Noah was ejected late in the first half when he was called for two technical fouls for arguing a personal foul called against him. And that's just off the top of my head.
In his own measured way, Thibodeau made his unhappiness very clear. He was so upset it sounded as if he had forgotten his team won the game.
''It is disappointing [because] it's two games in a row,'' he said. ''You know there are going to be nights when you don't shoot well. But the other parts you should count on every night -- your effort, your defense, your rebounding, making the extra pass. This are things you should be able to count on.''
The Bulls didn't get much of that at all Saturday night.
''You should be able to win when you're not shooting well,'' Thibodeau continued, as if the Bulls had lost. ''And you should be able to play well when you don't shoot the ball well. So I am concerned about because we didn't play well [against the Raptors on Wednesday night] and we bailed ourselves out with a strong fourth quarter. We had two days off to rest and practice and get ready. And we were dominated tonight. The rebounding. I just saw us snapping our head back and pushed out of the way from the start of the game to the end of the game.''
Even with their first two-day break since the All-Star break, Thibodeau did not put his team through a physical practice between games against the Raptors -- a concession to the taxing pace of the post-lockout season that has seen the Bulls lose point guard Derrick Rose and shooting guard Richard Hamilton for prolonged periods.
But that could change after this game. Thibodeau quickly scheduled a noon practice for Sunday at the Berto Center -- even with Rose and Hamilton injured, with Deng apparently bothered by a sore left wrist (he was 0-for-6 on three-pointers Saturday night, missing badly on three or four attempts), with Deng having played 49 minutes, Watson 38 and Carlos Boozer 37 Saturday night; and with a game against the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
''Well, there are some things that I've got to clean up in practice, there's no question about that,'' Thibodeau said. ''And that'll be done.''
Thibodeau also didn't hide his displeasure with Noah's ejection. Noah was called for one technical when he disputed a personal foul called on him late in the first half. Then he purposely threw the ball toward referee Derrick Collins and Scott Foster -- whom the Bulls have had difficulty with in the past -- nailed Noah with another technical foul and an automatic disqualification from the proceedings.
''I did not see what happened,'' Thibodeau said, ''but I was disappointed in the technical foul and then getting thrown out. We are short-handed already. We can't have that. I thought Toronto benefitted from calls and they probably deserved them. They were playing harder than we were.
''I don't have any problem with the way the game was officiated. I have a problem with the way we played. It's everybody. It starts with me. I have to do a better job of having them ready. Right now we're heading down the stretch and this is about building good habits and improving. And we have not done that in the last two games.''