Following Friday’s Chicago Bulls practice at the Advocate Center, Tristan Thompson fielded a question about his first playoffs experience, which ended with the Cleveland Cavaliers losing to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Thompson talked for 2 minutes, 15 seconds straight.
So you might say Thompson, who, with 83 games, has more playoff experience than any other Bulls player, is locked in and ready for the intensity which begins on Sunday night in Milwaukee.
In fact, in that epic answer, Thompson first recalled how ESPN Countdown predicted the Bulls to defeat his Cavaliers in four or five games in an Eastern Conference semifinals that the Cavaliers captured in six games. And then he also dropped this intriguing nugget.
“I think some of their (Bulls) players quit by Game 2 or 3. I won’t say their names,” Thompson said. “I always believe the team that has the mental toughness and got dawgs and got the heart are going to have a chance to win the series.”
This season’s Bulls are heavy underdogs against the defending NBA champion Bucks. So Thompson knows they’ll need plenty of mental toughness to have a chance.
“You have to mentally be locked in,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it’s so much in terms of skill and talent. It’s more so which teams can pay attention to details, can execute at a high level and who’s got more heart and more fight.”
And Thompson didn’t limit his local observations to the 2014-15 Bulls. He also revealed that he challenged both Zach LaVine, who is making his first playoff appearance after his eighth season, and Nikola Vučević, who never has advanced past the first round as a primary option.
“This will be a great opportunity for Zach,” Thompson said. “I challenged him. This has got to be the ‘Zach LaVine Come Out’ party. He has to be the best guard in this series.
“He’s been waiting for a long time. He has worked his ass off to get to where he is, being an All-Star. This is the next chapter in terms of your whole journey. For a guy like him, it’s, ‘Alright, you made your All-Star game. Now it’s can you do it in the playoffs and be like [Devin Booker] was the last two playoffs where everybody talked about, ‘He’s gotta be All-NBA.
“I challenged Zach. He accepted it. He wants to be great as well. He has to have people leave that arena saying, ‘Man, that boy Zach LaVine, him, Donovan (Mitchell), Devin Booker, they’re all in the same stratosphere.”
In a nod to the Bucks’ size, coach Billy Donovan has said he’s not averse to trying the pairing of Thompson with Vučević, a look that didn’t produce much in limited regular-season minutes. The bigs started the third of fourth regular-season meetings together.
“I told Vooch, he’s gotta be the best big in this series,” Thompson said. “He’s too gifted, too talented, can do too many things on the court. He’s gotta be a mismatch problem all night.
“I know he’s excited about this. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove something, especially because of what happened in the past in Orlando. He wants to show he isn’t the issue. And I believe he’s one of the best bigs we have in our league.”
Thompson said in terms of intensity, the regular season ranks a seven out of 10 and the playoffs rank 11. So do his media sessions.