We’re Number One: Bulls 97, Nets 92

The Bulls finished the regular season with 62 wins and 20 losses.

The Spurs lost in Phoenix.

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.

It’s astounding.

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.

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

18 Responses to We’re Number One: Bulls 97, Nets 92

  1. Inception April 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    a dream within a dream 😉 ….right on Matt.

    let’s hope it continues and ends with everyone waking up with a smile.

  2. bleigh82@gmail.com'
    bleigh82 April 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    What a magical season. But Derrick is right, there is a bigger prize there for the taking. Go get it Bulls!

  3. kuwabarra@mail.ru'
    Mr Bull April 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Big Sexy is the BEST!!!

  4. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath April 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    This was a surreal game, for sure.

    I didn’t get to watch the whole game wire to wire and when I turned it on, I was wondering who hit that shot?

    Rasual Butler! Yes! I was hoping he would get some good minutes in this game.

    Kudos again to Thibs and the staff for coaxing this win out of an odd line-up and for really creating and gaining momentum throughout the year. At a lot of turns, we were expecting worse things to happen and, my goodness, WE NEVER LOST THREE GAMES IN A ROW! And, for the team with the most back to backs … that is an accomplishment.

    Bravo!

    And, I enjoyed this blog and the commenters immensely.

    Thanks, everyone … Go Bulls.

  5. kuwabarra@mail.ru'
    Mr Bull April 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Yeah,this blog is the best!

  6. jake_vick@hotmail.com'
    Jake in Minnie April 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    I think the team has the GLOW:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04ldSSe8r3E&feature=share

    Also, Whose the Masta? DROSE!

    (sorry, for some reason Barry Gordy’s “The Last Dragon” is stuck in my head right now)

  7. Adam@Adam.com'
    Adam April 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m puttin this here so D. Rose might see it. This kinda stuff fuels him (and us as fans).

    http://25twofour.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/why-the-chicago-bulls-will-not-win-the-championship-in-2011/

    GO BULLS! :)

  8. Inception April 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    @Adam

    all eyes will be on Deng – if he plays consistent and like a legit #2, we will go far….Rose can have the playoffs of his life, but if Deng doesn’t show up, we’ll still come up short.

  9. Herbert April 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Can you guys believe all the media hype that Kobe is getting in his quest for #6?! There are even media-types that are saying this will solidify him as the GOAT! Crazy talk. Would be so satisfying for the Bulls to meet them in the finals and destroy Kobe’s hope for ever passing MJ in people’s opinions (although I’d love to see Phil get another 3-peat)

  10. cliniclysick April 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Wasn’t able to see the end of the game because League Pass fucked up. Hope I will soon. Nice win, now let’s go get the Pacers and take ’em down fast.

  11. Ryan April 14, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Nice way to end the regular season!! Take this momentum through the Playoffs and lets show Granger/Indiana how Deng, Brewer, Korver can shut Danny boy down on both ends. I’m excited to see Boozer step up and show why we really picked him up… Post-season monster!

  12. Inception April 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    i’m hoping LA’s post-season will be reminiscent of the one in 2004….everyone thought they would cake-walk through DET and go for the 4-peat….well, they lost and Phil left that year….Phil is 99% to leave this year….let’s hope history repeats itself, with CHI on the other end celebrating a title.

  13. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale April 14, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    “At a lot of turns, we were expecting worse things to happen and, my goodness, WE NEVER LOST THREE GAMES IN A ROW…”

    That’s one of the things that has amazed me the most. Like you said, lots of turns, misfortune (in terms of injuries and schedule), and to never lose more than two in a row. Really, that’s what makes this team so special, and why I’m in favor of Rose winning MVP. Stats aside, Rose personified this team’s will to come out and play with focus every night. They didn’t always play well. They lost. But there was a focus and determination. No questioning of coaching decisions. It was amazing.

    “And, I enjoyed this blog and the commenters immensely.”

    Thanks for being a big part of that. I want to keep it going. If anybody has any ideas of how I can make By The Horns more reader-friendly, let me know.

    “I’m puttin this here so D. Rose might see it. This kinda stuff fuels him (and us as fans).”

    Quick! Somebody start playing the Rocky theme!

    “Can you guys believe all the media hype that Kobe is getting in his quest for #6?! There are even media-types that are saying this will solidify him as the GOAT! Crazy talk.”

    Anybody who wants to seriously argue for Kobe over MJ for GOAT either 1) needs heavy medication or 2) is currenlty on heavy medication and needs to ween.

  14. Brian April 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    Matt, I had a hardcore Laker fan vehemently denying MJ the label of GOAT in favor of Kobe. and Jerry West, Shaq, James Worthy, Wilt, Kareem, and Magic. dead serious. he’s some old time basketball fan who thinks that all of those players are better than Jordan, and that Jordan isn’t even top 10.

    and you thought people that just put Kobe over MJ was bad. haha.

  15. bob.edwards47@yahoo.com'
    BoppinBob April 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    If Thibs is not COY there is something wrong with the voters.

    It will be interesting to see if Thibs shortens his rotations for the playoffs, or if he will stick with the 10 man rotations he used throughout the season.

    While I did not expect a 62-10 season, I did expect that the Bulls would continue to improve thru the whole season. There is still room for improvement. The ceiling for this team has not been reached yet. The core of this team has only been together for one season, most of the playoff teams have had their core team together for 3-5 years. Familiarity and experience is where the Bulls will continue to improve.

  16. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale April 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    “Matt, I had a hardcore Laker fan vehemently denying MJ the label of GOAT in favor of Kobe. and Jerry West, Shaq, James Worthy, Wilt, Kareem, and Magic. dead serious. he’s some old time basketball fan who thinks that all of those players are better than Jordan, and that Jordan isn’t even top 10.”

    Lord. First off, Kobe’s not even the greatest Laker ever. I’d put Magic ahead of him without blinking. I’d probably put Kareem ahead as well. It’s hard to place West because he only won a single championship, but he got to the Finals I believe nine times, usually while carrying his team against superior Celtics squads. I’d put Kobe ahead of Shaq.

    As for the GOAT debate, Kobe’s body of work doesn’t begin to match Kareem’s (including his Milwaukee days) or MJ’s. He may have the career totals to match up, but Kareem an Jordan (and Wilt and Russell) all have much more impressive GOAT resumes than Kobe.

    “If Thibs is not COY there is something wrong with the voters.”

    The only coach who, in my opinion, could possibly deserve COY over Thibs would be George Karl. I mean, he survived cancer and returned to a complete poopstorm courtesy of ‘Melo and his ‘Melodrama and managed to squeeze 50 wins and a playoff appearance out of a wacky, thrown-together group of players. That really is a testament to his coaching and personal fortitude.

  17. rmb727@comcast.net'
    Sports-Glory April 15, 2011 at 3:36 am #

    This is the year of the Bull. Kobe and the Lakers will be taken out of the playoffs by the Nuggets. The Bulls will face the Spurs in the finals and win in 7 games.

  18. EnJaySee April 15, 2011 at 4:00 am #

    part of me is hoping Rose doesn’t get MVP and uses that as fuel to punish everyone who dares get in his way.

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