NEW YORK -- The tone of the Chicago Bulls' hard-fought 90-82 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals wasn't set at any point during the actual victory on Monday night.
The tone was actually set in a lower-level meeting room in one of New York City's swankiest hotels Sunday afternoon, just hours after Tom Thibodeau's team was embarrassed in Game 1 on Saturday. That's when the hard-charging coach let his team have it for playing without the type of edge that has set them apart in a season in which expectations were tempered because of ongoing issues to key players.
"He was really laying into guys," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said inside a raucous visitor's locker room at the Barclays Center. "I never saw him so inflamed. He was really calling guys out, letting guys know what he needed (them) to do. Everybody needed to go out there and dominate their matchup, go out and just put forth effort, and he really challenged guys the last couple days."
Obviously, the Bulls got the message loud and clear. After allowing the Nets to do whatever they wanted on both ends of the floor Saturday night, Thibodeau's crew pulled together for the type of win that has become their trademark during his three-year tenure. Just when you're ready to count out this Bulls' team, they pull themselves up off the mat and find a way to win when the odds are against them. The Bulls played together and slowed down the Nets, holding them to 35.4 percent shooting from the field.
"We just got in a fight tonight," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "They didn't feel us at all in Game 1."
The Nets felt Hinrich plenty in this one, specifically Deron Williams, Brooklyn's star point guard who scored 22 points in Game 1. Hinrich took it as a personal challenge to slow down Williams this time. Williams went just 1-for-9 from the field and the Bulls made it a point to stifle him and clog up the paint throughout the game -- two areas where they failed miserably in Game 1.
"It was like the Baby Bulls days," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "Kirk can play. Kirk's defense is great, man. And tonight it was huge."
Hinrich and Deng set the defensive tone that the rest of his teammates followed. They heard Thibodeau's fury and took it as a personal challenge to make things different this time around.
"When we're not on a string and not relying on each other it's hard," Hinrich said. "We have to have that trust; it was there tonight and we have to continue to play with that kind of defensive energy when there's multiple efforts tonight. We had a head about ourselves as far as executing our coverages and knowing what we wanted to do."
After being punched in the mouth Saturday, the Bulls decided to punch back. They did all the little things that have set them apart. They set the tone early and held down the pace until the end.
"It was a big difference," Bulls guard Nate Robinson said. "We got loose balls, long rebounds, we did everything. We made them turn the ball over. We pushed the ball. We just did whatever it took to make it hard for Deron (Williams), make it hard for Joe (Johnson), and all the rest of them guys who we know they're a load ... Coach said win your matchup, own your matchup. Take the challenge of going against that guy, and we did that tonight."
Now the Bulls head into Game 3 at home Thursday night with the type of confidence and swagger they've played with at various points throughout the season. They always thought they could win this series, but they needed to remind themselves to play together in order to take back all the momentum. They headed to the airport late Monday night knowing full well that if they play defense like this for the next week they'll be headed into the second round for a likely showdown with the Miami Heat.
It's a matchup that Hinrich and his teammates have waited for all season, but they know they have to take care of the Nets first. They took a big step in Game 2, and it all started with Thibodeau's message on Saturday.
"It was definitely a different feeling," Hinrich said of Thibodeau's message. "I'm sure he was embarrassed. We were embarrassed, and nobody likes to be embarrassed. We just came out and played much harder tonight."