One of my goals was to attend a playoff game this season. I accomplished that yesterday, as I was one of 22,028 in attendance at the UC as the Bulls defeated those other guys (the Heat) 95 to 88.
Right. We just sprang ahead an hour this weekend, not two months, but for me, the United Center felt like what I imagined a playoff game would be.
Taj Gibson called it a chaotic battle. That’s Taj who hadn’t eaten for three days due to the flu, who grabbed 10 rebounds and had a monster jam over poor Chalmers.
The booing exception came into play, as I readily participated, with the rest of the fans, to greet the Heat during introductions. And then of course, whenever they attempted a free throw or picked up a foul, or whenever LeBron had the ball.
But the volume of cheers for our Bulls was through the roof, and Joakim Noah in particular, during this “playoff game in March,” which mattered to the Bulls a whole lot more than a nonchalant Heat squad, who, given who they are, don’t need to get hyped up with the hate in their heart.
We all know as Jo goes, so goes the Bulls. He called out his team for lacking passion during the last game, on February 23, when the Bulls lost to the Heat in Miami.
“This is what you play basketball for. I’m loving it; I’m having a great time. I’m having a blast out there. Beating Miami. I don’t care if it’s regular season; it’s always special,” Jo said post-game.
“We want what they’ve got, and we have to go through those guys to get to it,” Noah said. “They’ve ended our seasons a lot. That’s where the hate comes from. It’s not like, ‘I hate this guy.’ The hate comes from, we want what they have. I want a championship, and I know that to get there one day we have to go through them. That’s the hatred.”
“You look at all the ups and downs we go through. We’ve got so many different injuries. We’ve got so many different guys every year. We’ve got new groups of guys but they always seem to buy into what we like to do. … And we just keep flourishing every year,” Taj said.
LeBron was right about one thing. He said he watched the Bulls vs. Grizzlies game Friday night (before he went out club-hopping here in CHI at Y-Bar and the Underground). Wow! He watched…getting ready for his next opponent, I guess. And he said the Bulls didn’t play the Grizzlies for 48 minutes like they played the Heat.
Taj: “We don’t like them at all. They’ve got what we want. This was like a street ballgame. They’re talking and we’re talking. They’re physical and we’re physical. Could you hear Jo on the foul line? He was talking to each and every one of them, telling ’em, ‘Not tonight, not here! It ain’t going down like that tonight!’ Jo feels how we all feel about them. … Look, we’re a blue-collar team and we take pride in leaving it out there every single night … but we see [their] jerseys and there’s so much fire … we see everything they’ve got that we want … the rings, the trophies. That’s what this league is about, going after the champs.”
While Jo brought the emotion, the rest of the team brought it too – booth offensively and defensively.
D.J. with 22 points, Taj with 7 and the 10 rebounds (with the flu). Kirk with his stellar defense and the basket to tie it up in regulation. Jimmy guarding LeBron, keeping him from the free throw line and blocking that shot at the end of regulation to force the OT.
Playing with that intensity for all 82 games is not humanly possible. Cheering, screaming, hooting and hollering (and booing) like I did yesterday. Well, let’s just say I was spent.
It’s a good thing the Heat playoff games only come around four times during regular season and then again in the post-season. That, I think I can handle.
So have we seen the last of them? Or is it Bulls Heat in the second round of the playoffs, or dare I say, Eastern Conference Finals? For now, let’s just say, that anything is possible. And I, for one, will always remember that special Sunday in March when the Bulls triumphed, on National TV, against their most hated rivals.
The feeling may not be mutual, but they’re probably just too Hollywood to admit it anyway.
Notes: K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that Jo was heard singing in the shower while about 40 members of the media waited to interview him after the game. JB played 47 minutes 50 seconds, the most of any player, and scored 18 points and took down 11 rebounds.