The Bulls finished the regular season with 62 wins and 20 losses.
The Bulls have the best record in the league.
And homecourt advantage in every possible playoff series.
They did it by winning 21 of their last 23 games. That stretch began with back-to-back road wins in Orlando and Miami. It included wins over playoff teams like Atlanta (twice), New Orleans, New York and Memphis. It included a total of 11 road victories. It included a big-time statement game against the Celtics in Chicago.
And, finally, it included a regular season finale in which coach Tom Thibodeau finally pulled his foot off the accelerator a bit. It wasn’t a full stop. But Joakim Noah played only 23 minutes. Carlos Boozer played 25. Derrick Rose played 30. And, naturally, Luol Deng logged a team-high 31.
The Bench Mob came through by winning the fourth quarter 29-24 and closing the game out down the stretch. Chicago’s bench outscored their counterparts 50-26. Check the box scoreand pay close attention to the plus-minus stats. The second unit was the best unit last night. Of course, it didn’t seem like the starters were going full tilt, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out Thibs told them to go out and play good basketball but not to do anything crazy (i.e., don’t get hurt). What I’m saying is: Boozer, Deng, Noah and Rose didn’t play with their usual edge.
The Bench Mob did, though, and you can tell this group takes real pride in their role.
And so the Bulls are the regular season win-loss champions.
I’ve mentioned this before: It was a blow to the organization and the fans when management whiffed on last summer’s biggest free agents. When LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to take their talents to South Beach and play alongside Dwyane Wade, it felt like years of cap management and planning had been flushed down a particularly filthy toilet.
Carlos Boozer? Undersized and injury prone. C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer? Castoffs and second-tier roleplayers. Omer Asik? A pencil-thin rookie who might be years from contributing at the NBA level. Kurt Thomas? More ancient than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
That’s what it felt like. I figured this team’s ceiling was finishing with 50-ish wins and winning the Central Division. And that was before Carlos Boozer tripped over his athletic bag.
Nobody ever could have realized that Rasual Butler would hit a go-ahead three in the final minute of the season’s final game to help the Bulls wrap up the league’s best record. Or that the final and most satisfying win would be secured by a blocked shot by Big Sexy.
Said Rose: “I’m happy, I’m definitely happy. I wouldn’t like to be on a losing team, but what’s the point of celebrating now when you can get knocked out in the playoffs?”
I wouldn’t say Derrick is a wet blanket exactly. But his words are a reminder that one dream-like journey has come to an end and another one is going to begin on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.
One last note: For the season, the Bulls finished first in both John Hollinger’s Defensive Efficiency (97.3) and Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Rating (100.3). The finished 12th in Hollinger’s Offensive Efficiency (105.5) and 11th in BBR’s Offensive Rating (108.3).
Their improvement on offense should be noted. The Bulls spent most of the season in the 15-20 range in those offensive categories. They made a huge jump once both Boozer and Noah were playing.
What’s more, if you check out Hollinger’s Team Statistics page, you’ll notice the Orlando Magic finished 10th in Offensive Efficiency at 105.7. So the Bulls were two-tenths of a point from finishing in the top 10. I’m just saying: Many pundits keep citing an “average” offense as a reason why the Bulls will likely fail in the playoffs. Well, go back to 2007-2008, when the Celtics finished first in Defensive Efficiency and 12th in Offensive Efficiency…and won the NBA title.
I’m not trying to make any wild predictions just yet. All I’m saying is that rumors of Chicago’s average to below-average offense has been greatly overstated. There’s every reason to believe that the Bulls would have been in the top 10 in Offensive Efficiency and Offensive Rating had Boozer and Noah remained healthy.
Guess what? They’re both reasonably healthy now.
Let the playoffs begin.