PHILADELPHIA -- If ever there was a time to use an excuse, Tom Thibodeau's team could have used it on Wednesday night.
After losing to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, a weary group of players and coaches boarded a Philadelphia-bound charter flight that landed just before 3:30 Wednesday morning. The Chicago Bulls were tired, especially Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, who are tops in league in averaging more than 40 minutes a game. They had every right to fall flat against a Philadelphia 76ers team that was looking for revenge after dropping a game last week to the Bulls in Chicago.
All the chips were stacked against the Bulls, yet they still found a way to pull out a 96-89 win Wednesday night.
So how did they do it?
The answer is quite simple if you've watched the Bulls over the past two-plus seasons:
Thibodeau wouldn't let them roll over while Noah and Deng helped will their team to victory.
In a season full of ups and downs, Wednesday night might have marked the Bulls' highest point to date given the circumstances of the trip and the fact that they were playing without Derrick Rose (knee), Richard Hamilton (torn plantar fascia) and Kirk Hinrich (left knee).
"I think we're a no-excuse team and we play hard," Noah said. "We're always prepared. It doesn't mean that we're not tired, but we're a group of fighters, of good character, on this team. We just got to keep going. There's a lot of basketball to be played, a lot of ups and downs, but we just got to keep fighting. And I think we did a good job with that tonight."
Without Derrick Rose on the floor, there are two players that Thibodeau trusts more than any others -- Noah and Deng. Thibodeau expects them to lead the way on the floor and serve as an example for the rest of their teammates. That's exactly what both players did against the Sixers, and the proud coach knew it.
"It showed a lot of toughness," Thibodeau said of the win. "[We] dug down, a lot of guys stepped up. I thought Luol and Joakim set the tone right from the start of the game. The thing that I liked about what they did, they didn't play their best [Tuesday], but they set the tone for today. They bounced right back, and then we had a lot of guys come in.
“Nate [Robinson] did a good job for us. Marco [Belinelli] was huge. Marquis [Teague] came in. I thought he played terrific defense."
The beauty for Thibodeau was that while Noah and Deng set the tone early and finished it late, several other players stepped up to fill in the voids on both sides of the ball. This one was a team effort.
"We gave a game away last game against the Clippers," Robinson said. "[There has been] a lot of games this year that we should have won. Our record should definitely be better than what it is, but [in] basketball there's ups and downs, man. Sometimes you go out there and have a hell of a game; some days you got to grit games out.
“Tonight, it was like we're going to really focus on playing hard, get back in transition and make everything hard for the other team.”
Bulls games without Rose may not always look pretty, but the players are starting to have more fun. They understand that no matter who they have on the floor they can still win games if they make smart plays late and continue to play solid defense. It's the Thibodeau way.
The coach has instilled confidence and belief within his team so that whenever they step on the floor they seem to feel they can win if they execute. After failing to get a W on Tuesday night, the Bulls made up for it in a big way against the Sixers.
"It's big because it's always a quick turnaround in this league," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "You've got one game, then you've got to go to the next. We got in pretty late but we were focused. When we woke up this morning we knew it was time to go to work again, go to battle. With a man down [in Hinrich] everybody was ready, everybody was prepared, so when we stepped foot in this locker room we knew what we had to do."