MILWAUKEE -- Tom Thibodeau doesn't always look like he enjoys riding the Nate Robinson roller coaster, but he had a blast Wednesday night.
That's because the diminutive point guard dropped home 16 of his team-leading 24 points in the first of half of the Chicago Bulls' 104-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. That's because once again Robinson provided the type of energy that Thibodeau seeks. The veteran coach knows about 'Good Nate' and 'Bad Nate', but he believes the positives in Robinson's game are worth dealing with the negatives.
"The good outweighs the bad," Thibodeau said. "He's a catalyst. He's a spark plug. The thing that I like right now is I think he's really improved defensively and he's got to keep working at it. His defense is getting better and better. He's always had the ability to score the ball and he's playing both positions. He's playing the point, I think he tries to run the team more at the point, then when he goes to the 2 he looks to score more, but he's done a good job for us."
Robinson's biggest accomplishment of the night had more to do with his defense and his mind games than any points he scored. That's because he got into Brandon Jennings' head early and frustrated the Bucks guard throughout -- to the point where Jennings got tossed in the fourth quarter for arguing with an official.
Jennings' outburst was a far cry from the dominating offensive display he put on Robinson and the Bulls earlier this month. Jennings, who said he told Robinson to stop talking trash at halftime, scored 20 points of his 35 points on Robinson in the third quarter of that game en route to a win.
This time around, Robinson wanted to make sure things were different.
"I think Nate got the best of him in this one," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "He got him extremely frustrated, not to mention that Nate was knocking down a lot of shots. He was knocking down a lot of shots and was really into him defensively. I think he wasn't letting anything go easy. Nate took it as disrespect last time at home when (Jennings) was doing Nate's celebration. I don't think Nathaniel Cornelius Robinson liked that too much."
No, he didn't
That's one of the reasons why he came so ready to play Wednesday, and one of the reasons why he has been much steadier over the past few weeks. In Robinson's mind, he just had to get back to the basics.
"For me, it just happens like that," Robinson said of his offense. "I just told myself I was going to go back to just being Nate, having fun and bring the energy and playing as hard as I can and not worrying about making mistakes and looking over my shoulder, just play as hard as I can for as long as I can. No matter if it's 30 minutes or 30 seconds, so I went back to my old ways and it's working for me."
Everything seems to be working for Robinson at the moment. He dunked for the first time in two years Wednesday -- proudly winning bets from different teammates who didn't think he would be able to do it in a game this season.
"I know I got a of phone calls from my brothers," Robinson said. "My mom and my kids hit me up so I'm real excited to call my kids and talk to them because my son Ny'ale has been asking me to dunk and I finally got a dunk for him so I'm happy about that."
Robinson was genuinely happy as he got dressed late Wednesday night -- his Superman socks saying more about his confidence than anything else could. The veteran guard has found a niche on the Bulls' bench this season, and everybody in the locker room knows it.
"I knew that he had a lot of energy and always talking a lot of trash," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "But after spending time with him, he's a great teammate and he's playing at a real high level for us right now. He's playing great basketball. I think the last couple weeks he's brought his intensity and he's really channeling his energy the right way, not getting down on himself when things aren't going well and just being aggressive offensively, being aggressive defensively and he's been huge for us."