Instead of focusing on the Bulls’ two losses to the Wizards in round one of the playoffs, I’m taking a different approach.
I have been thinking back to last season’s series versus the Brooklyn Nets, and the Bulls’ performance was nothing short of extraordinary. Overcoming the pounding in the game 1 loss to take the second game in Brooklyn. The amazing triple OT win led by Nate Robinson in Q4 and onwards of game four. The unprecedented effort the team showed during the pandemic game, even though they lost. Jo emerging to lead the team in Luol’s absence and despite his plantar. Winning the final game in Brooklyn.
That was exceeding expectations. And the series was nothing short of extraordinary.
This year, the Bulls find themselves in a different position. Times change, seasons change and plans change. The Bulls were to have been contenders – but that was with DRose and Luol. Circumstances resulted in the loss of both All-Stars for the 2013-2014 campaign.
It wasn’t supposed to have gone this way. This was THE year. The puzzle pieces all in place. Dunleavy brought in to complement DRose. Luol second leading scorer, and “the glue.” Captain Kirk to back up Derrick. Jo with his stellar defense. Taj a starter disguised as sixth man.
The feel good story of Chicago sports, the Bulls winning their 7th NBA title in 2014 – had to be re-written. Horror is the genre which comes directly to mind. And horrific it was, at the outset.
It was a rough November (starting with DRose knee injury two), a terrible circus trip, and most of December was even worse. But glimpses of our resilient winning Bulls re-emerged, starting with a big win on the big stage to a big team with an even bigger salary – and the Bulls were victorious, on national TV on a holiday, despite a noon EST start.
Like I’ve said before, the Bulls might be the only team who likes those sleeved pajama jerseys, because that’s what they were sporting when they beat the Nets on Christmas Day.
There were big games and big wins – and I spent one of the happiest days of my life with my Bulls for one of them – March 9, 2014, when the Bulls defeated the evil Heat at the UC.
The media gave up on the Bulls. Some fans said to tank. Charles Barkley, the ultimate Bulls hater, wrote them off months ago (and as of last night, said the Bulls vs. Wizards series is over in 4). Whatever.
But despite everything going against them, the Bulls made it to the playoffs, at a higher seed than last year, gave us wins to remember against the Knicks (home opener, I was there), the Heat, the Spurs, the Nets, the Suns, two in a row against the Celtics, maybe a win here and there against a few other Western Conference foes.
The playoff series, thus far, has been anything but extraordinary. You hear Thibs, Jo and other basketball aficionados say that “defense wins games.” I guess the part we forgot to mention is that you need to add some offense.
The Bulls have been offensively challenged all year. They lost their two leading scorers. They have built a make-shift team that has exceeded expectations, with “season saver” D.J. Augustin at the helm. And I, for one, am proud of their accomplishments. How they fought. Their attitude. The teamwork, respect for each other, and will to win.
They need some reinforcements. And it doesn’t look like they will be arriving anytime soon. But I contend that the same story could not be written about OKC without KD and Westbrook, or the Heat without LeBron and Wade.
Just where would those teams find themselves if in the same situation as the Bulls? Not at #2 in their respective conferences, I promise you that.
In my view, with what the Bulls were given this season, the exceeded expectations, and wrote an extraordinary story. And while I will be extremely sorry when the story of this season is over, I am as proud as ever to be a Bulls fan. I guess I’ll just have to get my Bulls fix watching NBA Hardwood Classics.
And the playoff series ain’t over yet. Following last night’s defeat, according to Taj Gibson, as reported by Bulls’ blogger Sam Smith, Dikembe Mutombo gave the Bulls a little pep talk.
He said, “We have to keep our heads up. We just have to try to win one on the road. He said we’ve been in this situation before. He said he’s been in this situation. It’s a different game on the road. You have your teammates. First things first; we have to win one.”
Beat the Wizards.