PHOENIX -- When asked before Wednesday night's game whether he was concerned about his team playing on the second night of a back-to-back against an up-tempo team like the Suns, especially after a hard-fought loss the night before against the Lakers, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau laid down a gauntlet of sorts for his players.
"This is what you prepare for," he said. "All your conditioning. All your work. Everybody plays back to backs. It's a good test for our defense ... our discipline will be tested."
After his team clawed its way back from a 23-point deficit to knock off the Suns 123-115 in double overtime, it's safe to say Thibodeau's bunch passed the test.
"This is our team," Thibodeau said. "There's no quit in them. They'll keep fighting. The challenge for us is every day we want to continue to improve. I think we're learning how to win. We're not there, we still have a lot of work to do, but I think we're moving in the right direction."
For the moment, that direction is straight up.
Quite simply, last year's Bulls wouldn't have been able to win a game like this. Sure, they may have clawed back, but they wouldn't have been able to get over the final hurdle, or worse, they would have folded up the tent all together. What's evident when you listen and watch this year's edition of the Bulls is that Thibodeau has instilled a confidence in them that is unshakeable. They never believe they are out of a game. And, like their coach, they are determined not to get too satisfied with any one performance.
"We're never going to stop," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "We could be down 20 points, 30 points. We never want to be in that situation but if we're forced to be in that situation by the way that we're playing, we're willing to come back."
So where does the new-found confidence come from? Why is it that the team has bought into Thibodeau's system so quickly?
"I think it's just character," Bulls forward Luol Deng said after playing a game high 54 minutes. "We have characters that really care about the game and trying to win."
They proved that over and over again Wednesday night. Just when you thought the Bulls were out of it, they came back. Just when you thought they were completely out of energy, they found some more. It's the type of win that Rose and his teammates know could help propel them throughout the year.
"We already have confidence in each other, but it makes [our confidence level] higher." Rose said. "Knowing that we can win a game like this against a good team like that. We just got to keep it going. We know that we have two more games left on this trip."
There's that new attitude again.
Even in victory, the Bulls are always looking forward. That's a credit to Thibodeau and the culture he has created.
"To win on the road is tough," he admitted after the game. "I think you have to be mentally tough and you have to do the things to put you in position to win so. We always say there's three things we want to do, to get established on and that's defend rebound and be low turnover. We feel if we do that we'll be in position to win."
That's exactly what happened. The Bulls overcame a fatigued slow start and sloppy play in the first quarter to pick up their biggest win of the year.
"It was a huge win," Joakim Noah said. "It feels good to win right now. The thing that sucks about the league is we can't celebrate it for a week. That would have been great, to be able to celebrate a win like this for a week."
The Bulls will be back at it on Friday in Denver, but if they keep playing with the same purpose, there will be plenty for Noah and his teammates to celebrate down the line.