CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau's message to his team was short and sweet as he drew up the final play with 0.9 seconds left in overtime on Monday night.
With the game tied at 100 and the Los Angeles Lakers looking for one more defensive play to push it into another extra session, Thibodeau drew up a sequence for a man who had never hit a game-winning shot before in his life -- Taj Gibson.
"He drew it up simple," Gibson said in the joyous Chicago Bulls locker room. "It was real quick. He said to get together -- 'Taj, you're going to go down the lane, the lane's going to be wide open, just go strong, try to get fouled. Be physical. Go for a dunk.' And as soon as the play happened, it was just like what Thibs said.
"[He's] a basketball guru."
Yet again, Thibodeau pressed the right buttons for a proud team that continues to find ways to win games. Gibson snagged a pass from underneath the basket and tossed it in at the buzzer. It was a play that made even Thibodeau smile wide.
"Thibs makes fun of me in practice all the time," Gibson said. "Like, 'Use your left! Use your left!' And I'm telling him, 'I have a left, Thibs.' Tonight, once I made it and it counted, I just looked at him and we were just laughing, but it was all good."
Everything is good right now for the Bulls. They've now won eight of their past 10 games and they appear to be gaining confidence by the day. But why is this happening now in a season that seemed doomed after Derrick Rose's latest knee injury and the trade that sent Luol Deng to Cleveland? The players are playing hard, and they are taking orders from a coach they trust and respect.
"I think it's just the way he carries himself," Bulls point guard D.J. Augustin said. "And the way he approaches the game makes us want to approach the game the same way -- with that intensity and that focus. When you go out there and you play like that, you have no choice but to go out and play well and do the right thing. When you do the right thing on the court, good things happen."
Gibson can attest to that. He laughed while admitting that he felt a little bit like a football player during the final few moments after Thibodeau drew up the winner.
"It was like I was [Colin] Kaepernick," he said. "Running the ball straight away, trying to get a touchdown. That's how it felt. The only thing that was missing was me calling the play out. 'Hut, hut, Omaha! Hut, hut.' That's all I had to do."
Few coaches would have devised a scheme to feed Gibson, who before that moment was just 2-for-10 from the field, but few coaches think the way the 56-year-old Thibodeau does.
"You try to designate one person as the primary guy," Thibodeau said. "We have plays that are marked for certain situations. We tried another play that we like and we did not get anything out of it, so we went to the next one. We've adjusted and moved people around. The play was designated for Taj."
In a season that has proved to be the most up-and-down of Thibodeau's tenure in Chicago, the Bulls reached another high point against the Lakers. They never doubted they could string together some wins in this lost season, but now, each night they step on the floor they know they are playing for a larger purpose. That's why they didn't roll over after going down five points to Los Angeles in overtime, and that's why they're not about to quit on a season that some of their fans gave up on months ago.
"I think we're a team that's been through a lot of adversity this year," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I'm proud of the fact that through all this adversity, we're showing that it's all about your character. How you are when things aren't going your way. Are you going to quit? Or are you just going to keep fighting? That's what I'm proud of. I want people to remember that about this team. We still got a long way to go, but I think we can do that."