Thibs: Ugly win offers a lesson for Bulls

INDIANAPOLIS -- Joakim Noah stood happily to the side of the Chicago Bulls' locker room late Monday night after a much-closer-than-it-had-to-be 92-90 win over the Indiana Pacers, looking like a guy who had just stolen something.

It makes sense given that the Bulls had just taken back a win they almost gave away. After breezing through part of the second half in which they racked up a 21-point lead, Noah and the Bulls allowed the Pacers to crawl all the way back into the game by going 0-for-17 from the field at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter.

The Pacers went on a 20-0 run as the Bulls managed to go just 2-for-21 from the field in the fourth quarter. Still, despite sleepwalking through large chunks of the final stanza, the Bulls found a way to win.

"We won like some ducks tonight," Noah said with a smile. "But we won. It was ugly. We'll probably forget about this one. I'm just happy we won."

As angry as Tom Thibodeau had to be watching his team fold down the stretch, he seemed surprisingly pleased after the game given the circumstances. With the win, the Bulls have now won seven in a row and 10 of their past 11 games.

"The lesson to be learned is that you got to keep playing," Thibodeau said. "No lead is safe in this league. It's funny because you always hear, 'Oh, you're up 10. Get those guys out of there.' Not in this league."

The debate, in regards to Thibodeau's minutes decisions, has been raging for several years and isn't going to stop, but that's not the takeaway on this night for a Bulls team that continues to improve. The takeaway is that instead of finding a way to lose, the Bulls found a way to win.

Once again, Jimmy Butler stepped up in a big spot and hit a crucial 3-pointer with 1:07 left in regulation to give the Bulls a lead they would not relinquish. As usual, Butler tried to downplay his accomplishments, but his play, on a night when Derrick Rose was just 5-for-20 from the field, is another reason why the Bulls, if healthy, have their best chance to win since Michael Jordan retired.

"We definitely have a lot of weapons offensively that can deliver in crunch time," veteran big man Pau Gasol said. "That's one of the strengths and the beauty of our team."

Butler, who scored a game-high 27 points to go along with nine rebounds, said one of the reasons he remains so confident in his game is because teammates such as Rose, Noah and Gasol are always telling him to be aggressive.

"Derrick's always on me to shoot," Butler said. "Shoot 3s, be aggressive. If your point guard, and Pau and Jo, your big men, are telling you that, they're telling you for a reason."

With Butler playing the way he is, and the Bulls not shaking while the game withered away Monday night, there's a reason why Thibodeau seemed more upbeat than usual. Great teams find lots of different ways to win games -- and the veteran coach knows his team is learning how to be great.

"Each game you want to learn," Thibodeau said. "And so when you look at the game, you have to find different ways to win. Obviously, the first three quarters [there were] a lot of good things. Maybe not so many good things in the fourth. The important thing is to learn from it, to make the corrections, and you have to also be glad that we were able to win the game.

"Hopefully we could take that to learn that no lead is safe. You could never let your guard down. You have to play for 48 minutes. The fourth quarter is when you have to be at your best. We've been a great fourth-quarter team all year long and obviously we didn't play well in this fourth quarter."

But they played just well enough to win. And on the path to a championship, there are going to be nights like this.