The Fred Hoiberg bag of tricks and motivational tactics reached a new level Saturday.
Whether it’s a level of creativity or desperation is certainly up to one’s devices, but the Bulls coach, perhaps seeing the morale on this team slip to an all-time low, showed a motivational video from a famous movie to lighten the mood, and the mild mannered coach even used some profane language to illustrate the severity of things.
“I can’t say what I want to right now. Fight through it and keep battling,” Hoiberg told his team, before some prodding brought out the unexpected phrase.
“Nut the f--- up,” he said only half-jokingly, but considering the Bulls will be without Pau Gasol for their two-game trip to Toronto and Washington, D.C. with swelling in his knee.
Unexpected injuries call for unexpected phrases.
Hoiberg pulled up a clip from the comedy classic movie “Animal House” where John Belushi’s character challenged—or motivated his downtrodden fraternity brothers to band together and disrupt the homecoming parade with some hijinks, as the speech had a couple inaccuracies such as “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”.
Either way, Belushi’s point was made and the group rallied.
“We showed them a little speech from Animal House today,” Hoiberg said. “You just try to keep their morale up.”
It’s not unusual for coaches to pull different tactics in desperate situations, as the great Phil Jackson once used clips from the “Wizard of Oz” to lighten the mood during a playoff series against the Detroit Pistons before a game at Chicago Stadium, when the Bulls trailed 2-0 and were facing potential elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Bulls overcame a double-digit deficit in that contest and forced a game 7 before the motivational tricks could pull no more against the champion Pistons. Then again, that team had Michael Jordan, and he’s not walking through that door.
But on the other side, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards aren’t exactly the Bad Boys from Detroit, either.
“We’re playing a team that’s won 14 of 15 at home and is playing their best basketball of the season,” said Hoiberg, referencing the Raptors. “That’s a big thing with our group, is finding a way to fight through these tough times right now. We’re dealing with a lot of injuries and adversity. You can’t feel sorry for yourselves.”
But if there’s a team that brings out the best in the Bulls, it’s the surging Raptors. The Bulls have won all three meetings this season, by an average score of 111-105, including Jimmy Butler’s Superman performance in their first Toronto meeting. Butler scored 40 in the second half, helping the Bulls rally after getting his lip split open inadvertently.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
That type of inspired basketball has been missing for ages now, and it’ll be needed just to keep their heads above water considering Gasol is out and Derrick Rose’s status appears to be in the air after he didn’t go through a full practice with his injured groin, although he showed improvement.
One hit after another, the Bulls seem ready to fall to the canvas, and have pushed themselves to the brink, as they could return home two games under .500 if the pattern of turnovers at a high rate continue on the road—the thing that doomed them in their back-to-back set against the San Antonio Spurs (21) and Miami Heat (18).
“That’s one thing again, I think we had six straight possessions with turnovers in the fourth quarter the other night, and you could just see our morale continue to go down,” Hoiberg said. “We got to find a way to fight through that stuff. That’s been a big thing with this team, is fight through the adversity. You have to have it. These last 19 (it’s actually 18) games are crucial in that area. We’re going on the road now. We have to get off to a good start, we got to fight through the tough times.”
And even though Hoiberg can pull a funny phrase or movie clip for temporary levity, if he finds a healthy body or two it’ll make his life and the Bulls’ life a little bit easier in the coming weeks.