Chicago Bulls Charging Forward
CHICAGO – SPORTS – The Chicago Bulls 95-88 win over the defending world champion Miami Heat in an overtime thriller this past Sunday wasn’t supposed to happen.
The Bulls had long since been counted out.
Sure they entered the season heavily favoured in the East due to the return of superstar point guard Derrick Rose from an ACL tear after missing an entire year of action, but after appearing in only 10 games this season, Rose was gone again. He’ll miss the remainder of this year due to his a torn meniscus in his other knee.
With the loss of the face of the franchise, the Bulls were supposed to be done. They unloaded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss of the talented wing who brought so much to the team on both sides of the floor seemed indicative that management was looking beyond the rest of this season and looking to rebuild for next year.
Only the losses didn’t start piling up. In fact, the Bulls kept on winning.
Highlighted by the play of all-star big man, Joakim Noah, the Bulls have put together a 35-28 record good enough for 4th in the East just behind the Toronto Raptors. Noah has been the leader of this team and has put together an MVP calibre season. He recently had a span where he recorded two triple doubles in three games. His skill-set is mind-boggling as he currently leads the Bulls in rebounds, assists, and blocks. He can handle the ball in a way that few bigs have been able to before him.
It’s been Noah’s passion and intensity is one of the keys to the Bulls success. He’s a big man with amazing mobility and matches a powerful court presence with superior footwork and impressive agility for a big man. One of the key plays of Sundays victory was a sequence where Lebron James drove to the hoop looking for the lay-up and out of nowhere came Joakim Noah with the monster block. If you could pick one point where the momentum decisively swung in the Bulls favour that would likely be the winning candidate.
However, you could make a case for another moment in the game provided by a key piece of this Bulls team, Jimmy Butler who stripped Lebron of the ball with time winding down in overtime. Butler is a young phenom for the Bulls and watching his game continue to develop has been an absolute pleasure. He’s also a rarity in basketball, a player who’s just as dangerous offensively as defensively. Butler is just as capable of putting up a double-double as he is being a lock-down defender. His steal on Lebron has been indicative of his play all season as Butler is averaging a team high 2 steals per game.
Butler is only in his third year and is already displaying a defensive ability amongst the league’s elite. Combined with that an offensive arsenal that’s just beginning to fully blossom and you have a player that will dominate the NBA for years to come.
Another contributor to the Bulls success has been a castoff from the Toronto Raptors, D.J. Augustin. The 26 year old was unceremoniously waived by the Raptors last December to make way for the incoming players in the Rudy Gay trade. The Bulls picked him up off the waiver wire when it was clear that Derrick Rose wasn’t coming back. The results were almost instant an quite surprising.
The undersized guard was given minutes that he’d never before received in his career and made an immediate impact in Chicago. Scoring at a rate never before displayed in his career, distributing the ball with a flair never before displayed and elevated his game on defence in a way that nobody have could expected. Augustin has been a real surprise this season and it’s hard to feel anybody but good for a man who was without a job in the league just a few short months ago.
Veterans such as centre Carlos Boozer, backup guard Kirk Hinrich and utility man Mike Dunleavy have also contributed in key roles, while big man Taj Gibson has started to emerge this season as someone that the Bulls can rely on in key situations. This really is a team that has found depth when it needed it most.
Of course, the Bulls would not be enjoying near the success that they have without head coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau has instituted a gritty defensive based system since coming to Chicago in 2010. He’s really displayed an ability to have his team control the pace of games by slowing down quicker, uptempo teams with a grinding defensive style. Under Thibodeau the Bulls are a physical team capable of wearing other teams down just through dominating defensive play.
It is the strength of Thibodeau’s system that has allowed the Bulls to flourish in spite of losing their best player and biggest offensive weapon. It’s also under this system that younger players like Jimmy Butler are able to thrive. Thibs, as he’s known throughout the league, is a student of basketball dedicating countless hours to watching film and developing strategy. It’s that same dedication to learning, to being a student of the game that allows him to have so much success with young players.
Can you imagine what Thibs could do with someone like Iman Shumpert from the New York Knicks? Or how much further back Jimmy Butler’s development would be being stuck on a team like the Knicks?
Where Thibodeau excels is being able to develop players and help them gain a total game. Butler’s defence is as good as his offence – perhaps better – because Thibs is focused on both ends of the floor. It’s what makes him one of basketball’s greatest minds and also is why the Bulls are battling with the Raptors for 3rd in the Eastern Conference and knocking off teams like the Miami Heat instead of faltering out of the playoffs.
If I were the Miami Heat, or any other team in the Eastern Conference for that matter, the Bulls are the last team that I’d want to draw come playoff time. If they don’t beat you, they’ll punish you in ways that few teams can.
That’s the key to the Bulls success.