INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Thibodeau has turned the Chicago Bulls into one of the most respected teams in the league in large part because he is never satisfied.
No matter who is on the floor, no matter how many minutes they have played, no matter who is injured, the veteran coach always believes he and his team can find a way to win.
Playing without Kirk Hinrich (for the 16th time this season), Richard Hamilton (back) and Taj Gibson (knee), and with Derrick Rose still out and looking on from the bench for the first time this season, Thibodeau made his team believe it could knock off the Indiana Pacers. That's what made Sunday night's 97-92 loss even tougher to swallow for Thibodeau and his team.
They grinded all the way to the end with a Pacers team many believed would crush the beleaguered Bulls. They got contributions from little-used players such as Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic and Marquis Teague.
But the Bulls still didn't find a way. And that's what Thibodeau wants his team to remember: The effort was nice but the result wasn't good enough.
"It could be better," Thibodeau said. "The thing is we got to find ways to win games. It doesn't matter. We have more than enough in that locker room. Those guys are all capable of doing well. We played from behind most of the night, and it's important to play with a lead. We got to come out with more fire to start the game, more intensity; the level of intensity has to be a lot higher."
The beauty of Thibodeau's manic drive was present for all to observe Sunday night. He has set a standard for the Bulls over the past three seasons that he wants his players to strive for night after night.
People watching the game at home might well think the Bulls would be pleased by the effort they exuded and the character they showed by battling a tough opponent all night. But not Thibodeau's players. They know they didn't execute down the stretch, and they know they let a winnable game slip through their fingers.
"We're mad right now," Bulls guard Marco Belinelli said after playing a team-high 45 minutes. "That's a game we want to win."
It's that kind of attitude that should make fans pleased about the future. It's also that kind of spirit that has to make even Thibodeau crack a smile deep inside, although he would never admit it.
With the talent the Bulls had on the floor, they shouldn't have had any chance to beat the Pacers. The second unit that Thibodeau leaned so heavily on in this game hadn't played meaningful minutes in a game together all season. But they didn't use that as an excuse and continued to play at a high level, which is a direct result of Thibodeau's coaching.
The key for the Bulls is that while they tried to downplay the significance, this game could serve as a turning point for the rest of the season.
Maybe this game will give Thibodeau confidence to use some of those reserve players in larger stretches in the future. Maybe it won't. But at least they proved to themselves and their teammates that they could get the job done on the big stage. That development was lost on nobody inside the locker room, despite the disappointing result.
"[The second group] played really well and that's what we need," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We need a team effort every night and everybody to be into it. It's always tough to lose, but I think that we fought collectively and I think we fought really hard."
But, of course, that's not good enough for the fire-breathing coach. His message to his team was clear: Energy and effort are nice, but if they don't result in a win it doesn't matter. It's that kind of mentality that sets the Bulls apart, despite the constant injuries and setbacks with which this team has dealt.
"We lost," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "You always acknowledge the great things we did out there, but at the end of the day we got to find ways to get that win. It's tough every time you lose."