Deng, These Bulls Rose Fast! You Noah It!

May 16th, 2011

The last time the NBA MVP played for Chicago was 1997-98.  The last time the Bulls had more than 50 wins (and it just happened to also be 62 wins) was 1997-98, the same year they last won their division and took the first seed in the Eastern Conference.  The last time the NBA Coach of the Year worked in Chicago was 1995-96, the same year the Executive of the Year award was last in Chicago.  1995-96 just happened to be the year the Bulls Blasted through the Regular Season to a still record 72 wins.

The Bulls 1998 Banner

The Bulls 1998 Banner

Oh yeah, those teams from the 1990’s had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and won Championships. Not that there is any pressure on the current crop of crimson clad ballers from the Windy City.  And also, their roommates (Arena-mates?) just upped the pressure a little last season.

The Blackhawks Raise their 2010 Banner

The Blackhawks Raise their 2010 Banner

[And yes, because you asked, I am still smarting from the Game 7 loss to Vancouver.  They were soooo close to taking that series… And does it get more exciting than a short-handed goal with two minutes to play to send the game to an extra period?  Hang on a sec, I’ve got to watch that again…  Wait, lets try this one…  Ah, that’s even better.  Did you hear about the mystery?  And now back to your regularly scheduled Basketball post…]

The 2010-11 Bulls got off to a slow start, with 8 of their 20 losses coming in the first quarter of the season.   They celebrated Maya’s and my arrival in Chicago by starting a seven game winning streak that permanently distanced them from .500.  They went 34-7 in the second half including a 21-2 stretch to close out the regular season as the overall top seed.

But I was still worried.  Granted that I haven’t seen very much basketball live lately, (it’s hard to watch the games when the start at 3am local time) but this team seems to me eerily like the late 1980’s Bulls:  A superstar lane-driving off-balance-shooting ball-handler filling up highlight reels and willing his team into the playoffs.  Well, these aren’t your 1980’s Bulls, they aren’t even last years Bulls.  Derrik Rose improved his FT percentage from 75% to 85%, and with much publicity improved his 3-point percentage from 25% to 33%.  But what tells an even bigger story is that the third year player our of the University of Memphis roughly doubled his FT attempts and increased his 3-point attempts by roughly a staggering 600%. (from 72 and 60 to 385)  As much as he might have worked on mechanics in the off season, that kind of bump in numbers comes from only one thing: confidence.  (You thought I was going to say steroids?  Shooting in Basketball is so much more about touch than about power, I don’t know how much juicing would help at all.) Oh, and did I mention that he had over 100 more assists this year than his rookie season and over 150 more than last year?

Last night I found myself lying awake in bed a little before 4am counting dog barks like the ticking of a metronome, until it hit me… there was a game on!  Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat.  My laptop is getting fixed for an overheating problem, so I fired up my slow PC with the dark screen just in time to catch the commentators throw the 48-48 game to the half-time show.  I then got to watch one of the best half’s of basketball I’ve seen in a long time.

A 24-15 3rd quarter was followed by a 31-19 4th.  This was a blowout.  James, Wade, and Bosh may have scored 63 points (15, 18, 20 respectively) , but the rest of their teammates managed to add only 19.  Rose, Deng, and Boozer also put up 63 (28, 21, 14) but their teammates put up 40.  That kind of team game makes the difference.  Late in the third, the commentators pointed out that Wade hadn’t yet sat in the quarter, and you could see him looking haggard as he finally made his way to the bench. Deng, Rose, and Noah played comparable minutes to James, Wade and Bosh, but Coach Thibodeau was able to balance the playing time for the rest of the team quite well.  The Bulls out-rebounded (45-33, 19-6 on the offensive glass) , out-assisted (23-11) and out-stole (11-7) the Heat; not to mention a 16-9 advantage in turn-overs and a 10-3 advantage in 3-pointers made.  In the 2nd half, the Bulls were +10 in rebounds, 7-14 from beyond the 3-point line, and just one (1) turn over.

That’s all well and good, but what made this cynical Bulls fan believe that maybe this team is closer to the early 1990’s Bulls than the 1980’s Bulls (aside from that whole linear nature of time thing) was that the highlights from the game were not all of Rose, Noah and Boozer.  Taj Gibson had two and Omer Asik added another highlight reel dunks.  Gibson and Noah also had some big blocks down the stretch.

This was by no means the hyper efficient triangle offence that Jordan, Pippen, Grant, Paxon and Cartwright used to dominate the 1991-92 playoffs.  This isn’t the total domination of the 1996-97 72-win team either.  What was it?  Another statement game: Rose, Noah, Deng, Boozer and the rest of the Bulls are telling us that they are here, and they are ready to play and win as a team.

I get Football and Hockey playoff fever when the Bears or Blackhawks are even in sniffing distance of the playoffs.  (I don’t want to talk about the Cubs right now, so don’t ask.)  It’s much harder to get me pumped about Basketball, but after last night’s game I’m officially hooked.  Now, if only I could get the NBA to move the games to more convenient times so I don’t have to watch them at 4 in the morning.

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