For the Chicago Bulls, the 2010-11 regular season is over. Yet the thrills, it would seem, are only beginning. By finishing with a 62-20 record the team not only won the Eastern Conference going away (the Miami Heat finished four games back ... and the Boston Celtics six!), but also secured the best winning percentage (.756) in the NBA. It's the fourth time in franchise history the team has been the best overall.
So, fellow Bulls fans, it would seem we certainly have plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks. But before the playoff action heats up, why don’t we take a grateful and celebratory look back at the season that was. Back in August, we gave our picks for the Top Five Bulls games of the season. So the question is: How’d we do? To find out, here’s a Top Five review of those games and some alternate suggestions from our Bulls Contributor, Zachary Lee:
1. Bring On The Heat – Heat @ Bulls, Jan. 15
What we said:
Hey, you’re still sick of hearing about LeBron and so are we, but there’s no getting around him or his cohorts. The first time the Bulls face off against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat, we will all be watching. We will cancel plans. We will throw viewing parties. And we will probably be very tired (or otherwise under the weather) the next day. (It is a Saturday, after all.)
So wha’ happened? Before we get into that, how was your viewing party? Bad hangover, eh? Bummer. Court-appointed attorney? Sorry to hear that. Anyway, this turned out to be a fine, if slightly lower key, kick-off to the Chicago-South Beach rivalry this year.
LeBron was on the bench with a sore ankle. Bosh limped off, too, saying later, "I can’t wait to play these guys again." (Heh heh.) And Derrick Rose’s 34 points edged Wade’s 33. Kyle Korver came up huge with a loose ball late in the game and knocked it down for a three-pointer with seconds remaining. (If you listen closely, you can still hear Stacey King’s call echoing throughout the United Center.)
Bulls win 99-96.
Zach’s choice: Bulls @ Miami, March 6. Hard to argue with this. A win against the Evil Empire within the very Death Star itself? Check. Chris Bosh whining about whether Luol Deng was actually fouled by Mike Miller in the closing minutes of the game? Check. The probable catalyst for a multitude of Miami Heat choke videos on YouTube? You know it. LeBron had 26 points, Bosh 23 and Wade 20; while Rose had 27, Boozer 12 and Noah 11. Team > players.
Bulls win 87-86.
2. Game One – Bulls @ Thunder, Oct. 27
What we said:
So, um, can someone remind me how Oklahoma got an NBA team again? All right, all right … we probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with the trash talking. The Oklahoma City Thunder won more games than the Bulls last season, going 50-32 — including an impressive 27-14 record at home. OKC also has a young superstar-in-the-making in small forward Kevin Durant, who should match up well with Luol Deng.
So wha’ happened? Daver laughs nervously, adjusts his collar. Remind me not to tease the Thunder anymore, OK? Because they’re not just a respectable team; they’re a dangerous one – finishing the season 55-27, good for fourth in the Western Conference. And, yeah, that Kevin Durant matches up pretty well … with everyone.
And this particular contest? It did not turn out to well for the Bulls. Durant scored 30, while DRose’s less-charismatic doppelganger Russell Westbrook put up 28. Boozer was, as you may painfully recall, sitting on the bench with an exercise-bag-induced broken hand. And, overall, head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive philosophy was weeks from sinking in. On the bright side, Rose scored 28, Noah put 19 with 18 boards, and Taj Gibson had a nice double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Bulls lose 106-95.
Zach’s choice: Bulls @ Phoenix Suns, Nov. 24. Indeed, this was one of the first games that got us thinking, "Y’know, this team here … they just might be something special." This was a double OT barnburner in which DRose gave us an early look at his "refuse to lose" approach to the game. He scored 35 points, to which Deng added 26, Korver 24 and Joakim Noah 17. It was also the fifth game of their annual circus trip – on which they went 4-3 (another harbinger of good things to come).
Bulls win 123-115.
3. Here Comes Hinrich – Wizards @ Bulls, Nov. 13
What we said:
So, on this seasonably cool (just guessing) November evening, the United Center will welcome back Kirk, who’s now with the Washington Wizards. Of course, just how we’ll view Hinrich will depend on just how well the team scores in those first couple weeks of games. If new shooting guards Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer are knocking down outside shots with regularity, it’ll be a lot easier to swallow the jettisoning of this low-key, talented and popular player as part of an unsuccessful attempt to lure one of the biggest megalomaniacs in sports history.
So wha’ happened? I’m sorry, Kirk who? I know, I know … we all remember Hinrich, and we wish him well. But the team certainly seems to have thrived without him. Then again, we’ve also been crying out for another shooting guard from Day One, so there’s that.
In any case, Kirk’s presence in this game seemed more of a minor subplot than a driving storyline. He played a little over 27 minutes, went one-for-one from the three-point line and finished with eight points. Meanwhile, Rose scored 24 and said, "I’m just trying to make people fear me on the court," after the game. Done.
Bulls win 103-96.
Zach’s choice: Los Angeles Lakers @ Bulls, Dec. 10. Yet another relatively early-season sign that something was amiss in the basketball galaxy – in a good way. The Bulls hadn’t beaten the Lakers in almost four years. They’d fallen seven straight times to the celebrity magnets after last winning on Dec. 19, 2006. Finally, that changed. DRose scored 29 to Kobe Bryant’s 23. And, more important, the Bench Mob outscored the Lakers’ backups 26-13.
Bulls win 88-84.
4. All Those Former Jazz – Bulls @ Jazz, Feb. 9
What we said:
Boozer, Brewer, Korver. A year ago, those would be the guys we were jeering (at least via our TV sets) in the big, loud EnergySolutions Arena. This year, they’ll be wearing Bulls uniforms on the hardwood during this five-game road trip versus the Western Conference.
So wha’ happened? Well, Boozer got booed for starters. But, all in all, it was just another solid win for a team that got so used to winning in the regular season that it just couldn’t stop. As for the gentlemen in question, Booz put up 14 points, 6 rebounds; Ronnie Brewer had six points and six rebounds in about 18 minutes of play off the bench; and Korver stumbled a bit in his return to the Lake of Salt, going just one-for-one from behind the arc and scoring just five points.
The big news from this game actually didn’t involve any of the players on the court. It centered on long-time Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who kept the media waiting for more than 30 minutes after the game and who canceled practice the next day. He announced his resignation a short time later, most likely at least partly because of personal conflicts with Jazz guard Deron Williams (who was eventually traded to the New Jersey Nets).
Bulls win 91-86.
Zach’s choice: Bulls @ Milwaukee Bucks, March 26. "The worst thing you can do is give me confidence no matter what I’m doing. If I get any type of confidence, it’s going to be hard to stop me." Guess who said that? Yep, Derrick Rose, who simply took over this frustratingly close game at the end, finishing up with 30 points and a career-high 17 assists. Games like this gave the Bulls a very realistic shot at going undefeated in their division. They weren’t quite able to accomplish that goal, but 15-1 ain’t too shabby.
Bulls win 95-87.
5. Holiday Hijinks – Bulls @ New York Knicks, Dec. 25
What we said:
Expect a lot of festive decorations and pre- and mid-game holiday hoopla. Also look for DRose to dance through the Knicks defense, which is expected to be sub-par again this season. Another important subplot: It’ll be Joakim Noah’s homecoming. He’ll presumably have many friends and family members in attendance.
So wha’ happened? Aw, man. Do we really have to end this feature on a loss? I guess it’s kind of ironic, considering how freaking awesome this season turned out to be. The Knicks wore green for this game. And the aforementioned Noah didn’t play at all in his homecoming, sidelined with the thumb injury that kept him out for many a week around this point in the season.
Who did play? Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton both knocked down 20 for New York. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari added 15 each themselves. Who didn’t? Anyone in a Bulls uni with sticky hands. The team turned the ball over 22 times, giving the Knicks 23 points on those possession failures. Boozer did have a huge game (26 points, 19 rebounds), and DRose was DRose (25 points, seven rebounds, eight assists).
Bulls lose 103-95.
Zach’s choice: Celtics @ Bulls, April 7. Now THIS is what I call ending on a high note. On an evening when Scottie Pippen’s bronzed statue was unveiled at halftime, the Bulls encased in carbonite any Celtics’ hopes for reclaiming the top spot in the East.
A win here would put our heroes four games ahead of Boston and Miami with four remaining. And so it went – with Rose scoring 30, Deng 23 and Booz 14. The Bulls defense held Kevin Garnett to a mere 10 points, and DRose put Rajon Rondo to shame once and again – beating him off the dribble and holding him to seven points. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bulls win 97-81.