BROOKLYN -- Minutes after draining the game-winning basket that would ultimately give the Chicago Bulls an impressive 92-90 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Nate Robinson summed up well the state of the depleted Bulls roster.
"It's like old-school wrestling, man," Robinson said. "Tag team. One guy goes in, tag him, the other guy goes out -- back and forth. We just got to keep playing and keep doing that and I think we'll be OK."
The Bulls were more than just OK Thursday night after a first quarter in which they shot a putrid 26.3 percent from the field. Playing without Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis), Marco Belinelli (ab strain), Taj Gibson (knee), Richard Hamilton (lower back) and Derrick Rose (knee), the Bulls managed to find a way to claw back and win a game against a team they may see two weeks from now in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Bulls have more talent in street clothes than most teams have on the floor -- yet they still managed to find a way. Robinson hit big shots, Jimmy Butler provided a major spark, Luol Deng played his usual solid game, and Carlos Boozer played one of the best games of his Bulls' career, recording 29 points and 18 rebounds. It was the type of effort that has become the norm for a team that has gotten used to playing without so many major parts.
"It's not happenstance that we went out and won," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "If we put the work into it, the magic is in the work. If you put work into it and you do the right things, the results will take care of themselves, and that's the way we want to approach it."
Thibodeau has turned into a soothsayer for his beleaguered bunch. Down 16 points in the first half, the Bulls fought back, outscoring the Nets 56-43 in the second half, validating Thibodeau's pregame contention that his team had more than enough to win.
"I think whenever you hear it enough each and every day, you start to buy into it," Butler said. "Thibs is constantly saying that, we're constantly saying that. And we know that we have enough to win because even though (our injured teammates) aren't on the court with us, they're with us spiritually. Whenever we come into that locker room, they're saying things that they see from the TV. They're always helping, just maybe not physically out there on the court with us."
With just eight regular-season games remaining, the Bulls know this is the type of game they can use as a building block. They have a series of winnable games staring them in the face down the stretch, and they are confident that a lot of their missing pieces will come back soon.
This was the type of jolt they needed heading down the stretch, and that's why there was a palpable sense of joy as they headed out of the locker room. Even with Rose's status for the season still uncertain, they are still confident they can prove many people wrong in the coming weeks.
"We know you guys don't believe in us," Boozer said with a wink. "But we believe in each other, man. The funny thing is we've had some close games. (Tuesday) night was close with the Wizards, Dallas (last Saturday) was obviously a close game. And for us, we just hope all of this is building up to us winning close games in the playoffs, because you know how the playoffs are -- very few games are blowouts.
"Most games come down to one possession, two possessions at the end of the game, so for us we just hope this builds up good habits for us to win those close games when we need to."