INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Thibodeau had been begging his team for days to play with more energy at the start of games. The veteran coach couldn't stand watching his team fall behind early only to claw back late and fall just short. It was becoming a trend that Thibodeau and his players knew they had to stop before it started spiraling out of control.
"[What's] lacking at the beginning of our games is our energy," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said before Friday morning's shootaround. "We come out with low energy. I think tonight will be different ... we got some rest. We looked at film. Everybody was disgusted with ourselves looking at film, knowing that we could have did better. But I think tonight will be a totally different game than what you saw last game."
In this particular case, Rose and the Bulls called their shot. From the outset of Friday night's 99-86 win over the Indiana Pacers, the Bulls looked like they had the type of energy they had been lacking at times for the past few weeks. The points didn't pile up right away, but that never seems to be the root of the problem when a team is searching for more energy. The root of the problem is that the defensive intensity that had been a staple of the Bulls' early season success disappeared for long stretches of time.
Not on Friday night, though.
Led by Luol Deng, who set the tone early on with his defense on Danny Granger, the Bulls looked and sounded more like the type of defensive-minded team they started to become earlier in the year. The Pacers shot just 33 percent from the floor and struggled all night to find open looks.
"That's who we want to be," Deng said. "We want to be a defensive team. And if that's what we we're going to be we got to stop people. We can't be trying to outscore people which we're capable of doing. But we got to stop teams and win games that way."
That was the mantra Thibodeau has been preaching for weeks, and that's the one the Bulls stuck with all night. By playing consistent defense again, it opened up other areas of their game on the offensive end. The Bulls controlled the pace and pushed the Pacers around down low, outscoring them 46-24 in the paint.
"We had a good balance to our offense," Thibodeau said. "I thought we had a good mix of post-ups, pick and rolls, catch and shoot, transition. I thought we were much more high energy with our cutting and making the ball move. And when we do that, we're going to be successful. But the big thing is the defense. On the road, it starts with the defense, the rebounding and the low turnovers. You do those three things, you should be in position to win."
The relief that comes with that kind of defensive effort was palpable in the Bulls' locker room. Players joked around with each other more than usual, knowing that if they play that way against most teams they are going to rack up a lot of wins as the season reaches its halfway point.
"I'm just proud of my guys," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "We were ready to go. Our intensity was there, our focus was there. We did a great job of helping each other on D, and we won a big game for us. This is the kind of effort we needed tonight."
It was the kind of effort that Thibodeau has been hoping to see.
"Each and every game you have to analyze what happened and why you either win or why you lose," Thibodeau said. "And I think this team has been very good at taking the things we need to correct, focusing in on those things and trying to correct them. I thought today, you could see it in the shootaround, you could see it in pregame, that we were going to be ready to play."
As Saturday night's huge contest with the Miami Heat loomed, Rose knew it was imperative for his team to get back on track and put together the type of complete game they haven't had in a while. He heard Thibodeau's message and he delivered upon it on Friday night.
"We just wanted to keep playing defense, where we didn't want to give up," Rose said. "I think we played hard, played with a lot of intensity in the beginning of the game and it followed the whole game."