by Carlos Nazario
On January 29th the Chicago Bulls met the Miami Heat for the first time since being knocked out of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. It was a hard-fought, tough game that came down to the end (again). Derrick Rose had a couple of chances of winning the game for the Bulls but missed some easy shots and free throws. He vowed next time those shots would go in.
On Wednesday, the day many Bulls fans looked forward to, the people were going to see if he was right. Well, it did not work out that way. In the previous game against the New York Knicks, Rose landed awkwardly on a drive, and tweaked his groin; tweaked it enough to keep him out of the biggest game of the season.
So this was going to be a cakewalk for the Heat, right? All this talk about Rose being the entire offense for the Bulls and him not playing meant very little offense against the second highest scoring team in the league, with the Big 3. It was going to be ugly, right?
Not so fast, however. As all Bulls fans have been saying, this is a TEAM. The WHOLE is greater than the sums. Individually, there are not any superstars on the Bulls roster (save for Rose), but collectively they work for one thing: a Bulls victory. They bust their butts to get that W.
The Heat realized how hard the Bulls would play to get a victory. They outworked the superstars and got an incredible game from their THIRD STRING POINT GUARD, John Lucas III and gutted out an inspiring 106-102 victory.
You remember Lucas right? He was the prop on the court in January that Lebron James jumped over for a spectacular dunk. He must have been watching that dunk over and over again because he came out with fire in his eyes. He had 24 points, shooting 9-12, including 3-5 from 3 pt line, 3 rebounds and 1 assist, all in just 27 minutes. He was so hot that down the stretch, Lebron James was called to try to shut him down. It did not work, as he shot a fadeaway over him as the Heat made their run to try to come back.
The Bulls showed how a team playing together can outshine a few stars. The Big 3 of the Heat scored 83 of their 102 points, while the Bulls had all 10 players score, 6 of them in double figures.
The Bulls, who lead the league in rebounding, again had a monstrous effort. They outrebounded the Heat 50-34. This was done even as their leading rebounder, Joakim Noah, only recorded 6.
The Heat came out overconfident at the start of the game, and when they realized the Bulls were not going to roll over, they could not match the intensity. It was a great message sent by the “supporting cast” of the Bulls. In last year’s playoff series, Rose was scoring the bulk of Chicago’s points. The Heat collapsed on him, but no one else stepped up to take the pressure off of him. They want the story to be different this year.
The Bulls so dominated the Heat that even their fans in the stands were livid. One in particular, Dwyane Wade Sr, was ejected from the stadium. He was apparently yelling profanities, was told to refrain from using that language. He refused so he was then ejected.
Playing through while having injured players is just a way of life for the Bulls this season. Rose has now missed 11 games. Luol Deng has missed 9 games, CJ Watson (back up PG) has missed 17 games, and Richard Hamilton, who was brought in to hit the open shots when teams try to lock in on Rose, has only PLAYED in 16 games. Through all that, the Bulls still have the best record in the league, at 36-9.
This team is playing as more than just teammates, says Lucas. “We’re a brotherhood. When one brother goes down, we have their back.”
Head coach Tom Thibodeau also raved about his players. “I think the guys we have on this team are the right guys,” he said. “They have the right attitude, the right approach and there’s a belief that we can win. We’ve had guys out. The next guy steps up and gets the job done. Every night, it’s someone different.”
High praise from a coach who can be depressed at how his team plays during a 30 point VICTORY. Thibs is a hard-nosed coach and expects 100% effort on every play, and the players have bought into it and exemplify his attitude.
After a message was sent on the court, the Bulls sent one through the media as well. Deng noted spoke on how maybe the Heat were not as into the game as the Bulls were. “They lost last night,” Deng said. “When we lose, we come out very aggressive the next night.” The Bulls have not lost back-to-back games this season.
For those who criticized Rose for not dancing and smiling during the All Star game, I hope they noted that he was all smiles Wednesday night.