It was set Monday morning at the Berto Center when coach Tom Thibodeau absolutely tore into his team for its lackadaisical play at the United Center this season. Thibodeau was furious that his team was just 10-10 on the season at home and he let them hear his displeasure as they got ready for another game they were favored to win.
"As soon as he called us (out) in the walk-through and his face, his tension, how he was just looking everybody in the eye just raging," Taj Gibson said. "He was raging this morning. He basically said it was his job to really focus and get us better. And he said that he felt that he's been slipping because he understands that we need to play harder, we need to work harder, because every game in this league is tough to win. He really dug into guys. He looked at everybody straight eye to eye and guys understood that. Nobody was joking around in here today. Everybody was serious faced and everybody knew what we needed to do today."
Joakim Noah put it another way.
"It's not fun to be screamed at at 9 o'clock in the morning," Noah said. "A lot of F-bombs. A lot of F-bombs."
What exactly was he yelling about?
"That we were 10-10 at home," Noah said.
"A lot of F-bombs this morning, right?" he said to veteran two-guard Rip Hamilton.
Hamilton chuckled as he got dressed.
"All day," Hamilton said.
The Bulls players may not have been pleased by the way Thibodeau delivered his message, but it was clear that the point got through. They set a franchise record by holding the Hawks to just 58 points and they did it by playing with the type of intensity that Thibodeau has been searching for. They finally played with the type of consistent fire that had set them apart the last two seasons.
"Thibs said it in film this morning," Gibson said. "He said that we're so phenomenal when we go away from home on the road, when we're at home it's like we're a different team. When we're at home guys just tend to forget our defensive plays and how we want to run things. Tonight guys just got back to basics. He really dug into guys ... the main thing he's been telling everybody is just do your job. Don't worry about the next man, just do your job and we'll be fine. Everybody just did their job tonight and we got a win."
For his part, Thibodeau thought the difference in this game was simple.
"Well, we played defense," he said. "We have to be well balanced with shot selection and floor balance and effort to get back. Two things that kill team spirit more than anything else are shot selection and one-on-one play. Also, the lack of effort getting back. The two things that help build team spirit are when we are sharing the ball and playing together.
"When we do that there is a willingness to get back and help your teammate. I thought we played tonight with a lot more mental and physical toughness. For us to be successful playing shorthanded is we have to have intensity all the time. You can't relax, never exhale. We have to fight, we have to do it day after day and strive for improvement."
That's the way Thibodeau will coach until he leaves the Bulls. That's just the way he is, for better or worse, and his players understand that.
"It was crazy how he was yelling at us with so much passion," Gibson said. "And understanding what it takes to be the best. He said the East is so crazy, you can be high one moment and lose the next couple of games. And we understand that we need to stay on a high pace because we really need to do better because we don't have Derrick [Rose] right now. We don't have our superstar that helps us out in the fourth quarter, especially when we're down a lot of points late. We have to push and understand that we need to help each other and get better."
In order to get better the Bulls know that they must continue to play at a high level and that's why they feel like the next few games are even more important than usual. If this performance can serve as a turning point, it could shape the rest of their season. If the Bulls fall flat on Wednesday night in Toronto, Noah knows that Thibodeau will continue to tear into his team whenever he sees fit.
"I think it's our mindset," Noah said of the major difference. "I think our mindset was good tonight. Everybody was on edge. Everybody was focused at the start. To me, what's going to be interesting the rest of the way is just to see how we deal with playing at home when things aren't going our way. When things aren't going our way how do we react to not hitting shots? We have to play together, when we play together I feel like we're very tough to beat."