Heart Over Hype
“It's time to tank” “So much for the season” “No point in trying anymore” These were words spoken by Bulls “fans” after the Derrick Rose injury. They had no hope. They saw the season at an end and felt our saving grace letting us down again.
Ever since Derrick Rose Derrick Rose tore his ACL in game one of the 2012 playoffs, Bulls fans have been holding their breath in anticipation of is return. Last year was tough, constantly being teased with “maybe” and “soon” regarding his return, but we saw glimmers of hope in the play of players like Nate Robinson. After he and Marco Bellinelli left, our offense was looking bleak but we knew that our savior was going to return. What wasn't expected was how short-lived that return would be. He injured his other knee on November 22, 2013 and that's when the quitters arose and argued that we tank the season.
The Bulls retaliated. We had our ups and downs, both in games and morale, but since then, we have showed that we are the dark horse of the NBA and we are not to be taken lightly. After Rose's injury, leadership fell upon players like Noah and Deng, team vets that give it their all every night. When Deng was traded, our offense took another hit, and some fans were getting worried again. Before his trade, we were able to scrap out some wins but now it seemed less likely.
Rather than throwing in the towel, The Bulls were reinvigorated. They showed that they are more than a single player. The Bulls redefined the word TEAM. They showed that if players have something, or someone, to rally around there is no limit to what can be accomplished. The man responsible for this was Joakim Noah. I give credit where credit is due and I know that Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA. However, without Noah's passion, fire, and overall enthusiasm, this team would not be where it is today. He has put this team on his back, maybe not statistically speaking, but definitely when it comes to leadership. This has been more evident than ever in the last three games of this rollercoaster of a season.
Sunday, March 9 the Chicago Bulls hosted the Miami Heat in the United Center, and it was the best game I have seen all season. This game epitomized Chicago basketball. The Bulls came in charging doing what we do best, defense. We have the #1 defense for a reason and it was on full display on Sunday. Lebron James was held to 8/23 shooting by Jimmy Butler. Butler had a phenomenal game, stripping James twice, one of which took the game into overtime, and never allowing him to go to the line, marking the first game since December 20, 2009 that James hasn't attempted any free throws. Although this game was won due to outstanding team effort, Joakim Noah rose above the others. He played his heart out and made his father, who was cheering him on from the stands, proud. In overtime, we outscored the Heat 9-2 and came out on top because, in Noah's words, “We played with a lot of hate.”
Tuesday, March 11 was a very different story. The Bulls fell behind by as many as 29 points. We fell behind early and substantially throughout the first half. It seemed plagued throughout, the defense was slow and simple shots weren't going in (including a botched dunk by Taj Gibson.) Eventually we caught up to lose within 7, although many of those points came when the Spurs had pulled all of their starters. Even so, I was happy to see the Bulls keep fighting even when losing the game was inevitable. This kind of dedication and “never say never” attitude is just what we need if we are to carry on.
Two nights ago the Bulls hosted the Houston Rockets and everything was different. This game, the offense was rolling just as well as the defense. As usual, Joakim Noah led the way and ended one assist shy of a triple-double. He probably would have achieved that triple-double but Thibodeau pulled him when victory was all but certain. As well as Noah played, I'd have to give the game ball to Mike Dunleavy Jr, who was having a quiet first half right up until he took a vicious elbow to the face by Chandler Parsons while trying to draw a charge. His face bloodied, he went into the locker room and had to get three stitches. Rather than sitting out the game and living to play another day, Dunleavy returned for the second half and came alive. He came back to put up 18 points in the third quarter and help lead the team to a 111-87 victory over the Rockets.
Every game I watch just bolsters my love for this team. We average just points per game, among the lowest of the NBA, yet we pull out our wins by playing complete team basketball. Noah is the spiritual leader, while making a strong case for MVP, and Thibs lead us to wins even in the face of certain defeat, making a case for Coach of the Year. They just embody everything it means to be a team and slowly crawl their way up the ladder to the playoffs.