Redemption: Bulls 87, Heat 86

Are people starting to believe yet?

The Bulls have been beating the odds all season. Last summer, management went all in to acquire a second superstar to play alongside Derrick Rose. The targets were obvious: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and/or Chris Bosh.

They spurned the Bulls and decided to join forces in Miami instead.

Look, I’m biased. I’m a Bulls fan. And let me tell you: When those three guys decided to take their talents to South Beach — or, in Wade’s case, to stay in Miami — it felt like I’d been punched in the face by Mike Tyson. Actually, I felt like Iron Mike had punched me all over. It was brutal.

Management “recovered” with a series of smaller, less spectacular moves that were made both before and after The Decisions, bringing in coach Tom Thibodeau, Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik and Brian Scalabrine.

They weren’t bad moves. It was obvious even then that (barring injury and misfortune) this was going to be the best Bulls team in some time. On paper anyway. But there was also a sense of bitter disappointment that something better hadn’t been done. Something bigger. That, in spite of the makover, the Bulls were still several shambling steps behind the Celtics, Lakers, Magic and, now, the Heat.

Then Carlos Boozer broke his hand tripping over a gym bag. Before the preseason even started.

Man, it felt like chunks of death were raining from the sky, because the early-season schedule was cruel. And there was the annual circus trip. But guys stepped up. The team slogged through the bad luck. Had a winning circus trip for the first time since the Jordan era. Stayed above .500 until Boozer returned.

After a couple “getting Booz into the swing of things” beatings from the Celtics and Magic, the team took off, winning seven straight. Then Joakim Noah went down with a thumb injury. And suddenly the sky was falling again.

Noah was out for 30 games. It felt like forever. Heck, it was forever. Still, against all hope or reason, the Bulls kept winning. However, it seemed like there was always a “but” attached to the wins.

“But they’re only beating bad teams.”

“But they’ve also lost to some bad teams.”

“But they beat the Celtics without Garnett.”

“But they beat the Heat without LeBron.”

“But they beat the Magic at home…can they win in Orlando?”

“But they’re so-so on the road.”

“But their offense is average. At best.”

Meanwhile, circumstances bumped Rose into the MVP discussion. Simple logic seemed to indicate that his season had become MVP-worthy. After all, even at full strength, the Bulls didn’t have the raw talent of Boston, L.A., Miami, Orlando, et al. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah combined to miss nearly 60 games. Keith Bogans was (and is) the starting shooting guard. Despite it all, the Bulls were right there in the thick of things.

The “M-V-P!” chants got fired up. Even in arenas outside Chicago.

That seemed to set off a fire alarm in the advanced stat community. Article after article was published explaining why Rose wasn’t — and, in fact, could not be — MVP. His Player Efficiency Rating wasn’t high enough. His Plus-Minus numbers weren’t there. The team wasn’t winning enough games. And the success they’d had was due as much (or more so) to other factors (defense, coaching, bench) as it was to Rose.

So on and so forth.

Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference even cobbled together a formula that showed the Bulls would be only one game worse if Derrick wasn’t even on the team. Rose worth one game in the win column? Really? The “Rose isn’t MVP” argument started to take on a life of its own and, in some ways, began to overshadow what was happening with the team.

Fortunately for the Bulls, Rose didn’t curl up and die because the metrics don’t support his MVP candidacy. He kept ballin’. Just ballin’. So did the rest of the team. They won 13 of 16 games before the All-Star break, a stretch that included victories over the red-hot Mavericks and league-leading Spurs. But D-Rose was Chicago’s lone ASG representative. Boozer had missed too many games. Noah had been out more than he had been in. And Luol Deng? He didn’t have the stats to be an All-Star.

When Jo came back after the break and the Bulls immediately faceplanted against the Raptors, people snickered. The Bulls wiped some of those grins away when they downed the Heat — with LeBron this time — the very next night. “But,” I was informed, “Chris Bosh isn’t going to shoot 1-for-18 again.” Ergo the Bulls had gotten lucky. The skepticism was still strong. And I was getting shelled in the ESPN Daily Dime Live chats. If I suggested Chicago could hang with anybody, or that Rose was right there with the best of them, I was accused of homerism. Dismissed as irrational. Even crazy.

I have to admit, the doubt was getting to me, so much so that the collapse in Atlanta shook my faith a little. Giving up a 19-point lead and losing on the road to a playoff team felt like a pretty solid smack down and decent proof that the Bulls weren’t ready to join The Big Boys Club. It had been a test of legitimacy and the Bulls had failed.

I was pretty bummed.

But the team kept ballin’ and won their next game against the Magic in Orlando. Even then the “But Faces” were out in full force. “But,” it was argued, “the Magic expended a lot of energy coming back from a 24-point deficit to beat the Heat in Miami the night before. The Bulls just caught ’em on a bad night.” Once again, a major victory was stripped of his legitimacy. Just another lucky win.

Then came yesterday’s showdown in Miami.

The Heat had no excuses. The game was in Miami. They had a day of rest to recover and lick their wounds. LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh all played. And, as predicted, Bosh certainly didn’t go 1-for-18 again. He finished with 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

The Heat led by as many as 12 points and were up 49-40 at the half. They had plenty of motivation to finish the game. In the past seven days, they had blown double-digit leads against the Knicks and Magic and then gotten blown out by 30 against the Spurs. This was supposed to be a redemption game for them.

Instead, the Bulls earned redemption. As if they needed any.

Boozer didn’t shoot well (6-for-15), but he scored 12 points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Chicago’s bench outscored Miami’s reserves 16-6. The defense — which surrendered 36 fast break points the last time the Heat visited Chicago — held Miami to a mere 11 points in transition. Forced Wade into 7 turnovers. And, according to ESPN Stats and Information, “completely took away Miami’s isolation offense, holding the Heat to 1-for-7 shooting on plays where a potential shooter is isolated against his defender. The Heat typically score 13 points per game on such plays, according to video review, but the Bulls held them to just three points on Sunday. ”

Then there was Rose. He scored a game-high 27 points against a defense determined to stop him. He outscored LeBron 8-4 in the fourth quarter. And, to me, his game was defined by the following sequence:

With the score tied at 76-76, Rose scored on a difficult layup to give the Bulls a two-point lead. Then, in one-on-one defensive coverage, he forced Wade into a bad miss (Wade was more concerned with drawing the foul than converting the field goal attempt). On the other end, Rose took it right to Wade, drew the foul and knocked down both free throws to put Chicago ahead 80-76. On Miami’s next possession, Rose — with help from Noah — forced Wade into a bad pass that sailed out of bounds. Then Rose brought the ball down, dribbled himself into shot and nailed a 19-footer to boost the lead to six with 3:30 left.

It wasn’t all warm sunshine and delicious candy, though. After that burst, Rose went on to commit back-to-back turnovers and shoot an airball. The Heat came back to take an 86-84 lead.

But Deng and Noah helped save the day.

Deng — who scored 9 points in the final quarter — has come through for the Bulls all season. Remember, this is a guy who has been repeatedly left for dead over the years, by everybody. Bulls fans included. His stats didn’t earn him an All-Star spot, but that just proves a man’s value can’t always be defined by data. Lu regularly logs 40+ minutes. Plays defense. Scores. Rebounds. Whatever the team needs. Tirelessly and without complaint.

For years, people have claimed that Deng is not worth his hefty contract. Well, he’s earned every penny he’s made this season. He has been the team’s most quietly dependable player.

With 17 seconds left and the Bulls down two points, Deng made an aggressive move with the basketball and got fouled by Mario Chalmers. Stepped to the line and drained the first. Missed the second.

Now, that could have been game over for the Bullies. Had Miami controlled the rebound, Chicago would have been forced to foul. But Noah, who never, ever gives up on a play, managed to tip the ball back toward Deng. Luol went after it while getting pushed from behind by Mike Miller. Tweet! Deng stepped back to the line for two more freebies. This time, he knocked both of them down.

Redemption. Bulls by one.

So here come the Heat. According to advanced metrics, LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. Based on those same metrics, Wade is barely a half-step behind James. And Bosh, as noted, was an All-Star while Boozer, Deng and Noah were not. Surely this team should be able to close.

LeBron got the call. He drove, one-on-one, against Noah. An unstoppable force to the hoop. Noah stuck him. Forced him into an incredibly difficult left-handed layup attempt that was nowhere close to the mark. Wade snared the offense board and squeezed off a short jumper at the buzzer. No good.

Bulls win! Bulls win!

Maybe the ending shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. According to ESPN Stats and Information:

“The Heat are now 1-for-18 this season in the final 10 seconds of regulation when trailing by three points or fewer.”

And get this:

“James’ former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, may not be having the best season, but they are 5-for-11 in similar situations in 2010-11.”

Well now. Isn’t that interesting?

What does it all mean? That a guy with a history of injuries can still make an impact. That a player who has been derided as an overpaid loser is more of a winner than anybody thought. That a group of limited castoffs and castaways can comprise one of the league’s best benches. And that a man can lead and inspire his team to win after win even if he’s outside the top 10 in PER rankings.

And sometimes a team full of players ballin’ — just ballin’ — can trump three superstars.

Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.


22 Responses to Redemption: Bulls 87, Heat 86

    Richard March 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Thanks, Matt. Great summary/ post!!!

    This was pretty inspiring and great points to add.

    I totally agree with you and I think Luol is starting to show the nation (and many experts) that he is indeed our “glue”, as coach Thibs says it.

    The Bulls have won impressively and Los Heat definitely have some issues to deal with.

    Let’s Go Bulls!

    bleigh82 March 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Hard to believe the Bulls went 4 for 5 on the road trip. Great wins over the Magic and Heat after a gut punch of a loss in Atlanta.

    I think the best thing about this team is that they find ways to win games when they don’t play their best (especially offensively). Also, they seem to respond very, very well after tough losses. There is a reason they have yet to lose more than two games in a row this year. These are traits of teams that can go far in the playoffs.

    As for now, time to refocus. It starts tonight at home against a Chris Paul less Hornets. I’d love to see the Bulls win this one going away giving their starters some time to rest at the end the game…but a win is a win is a win no matter how it is earned. Go get it Bulls!

    Nicky C March 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Matt – I’ve been a reader of this blog since day one, and this particular post might be my favorite post ever. Emotionally charged. Great story telling. Completely engaging. I love how you paint the Bulls as underdogs who don’t know any better than to just fight it out and not worry about what they are expected to do from anyone else but the people in a Bulls uniform because, essentially, that’s who they are.

    God, I love this Bulls team.

    Side note: After the game, Rose was interviewed by ABC and before Derrick said anything about winning, he made a comment along the lines of “I almost lost that game for us…two bad plays in a row” before going into how his “teammates picked up the slack and won the game.” DRose’s humility and innocence are seemingly unparalleled in the NBA…maybe even in all unprofessional sports. People love people like this.

    Example: My buddy (from Chicago) is in grad school in DC. My buddy attended the Wizards/Bulls game a few weeks ago, and he contends that there were more Rose jerseys in the crowd than any other jersey…including Wall.

    Again: God, I love this Bulls team.

    Tony C. March 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    I agree with Nicky, Matt. As the Bulls have turned the corner from being promising to really good, your posts have reflected the excitement felt by fans. And to think that the best part of the ride is still to come…

    Mike Berttucci March 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    Matt- great article. I completely agree with you when you say Deng is quietly the most dependable player on the Bulls. Thibs even says that Deng is the glue to the team. He has done an unbelievable defending this season. Sure, Lebron had 26 points, but he had to work for them.

    Given how many minutes Deng has been playing, along with his injury ridden past, I’m starting to wonder if Thibs should start to limit his minutes a little bit, maybe try to get him around 34-35 a game rather than upper 30’s…..especially against weaker teams. Either way, after Rose, I’m starting to believe that Deng is the Bulls next best player.

    Jake in Minnie March 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    One of the Defining characteristics of the Bulls for the last 5 years has been scrappy over-achievers…hence the play-offs in 4 of the last 5 years. This team is is still Scrappy, but I would be hard pressed to call them over-achievers anymore, and I think that scrappiness, carried through the last few years with Noah and Deng and transferred from Kirk as well is why the Bulls feel they can beat anyone when they play hard.

    Also, Anyone else cringe when they say we have our own Big Three? Big Four, I could understand. But, I don’t know besides Rose, which of the two of Noah, Deng and Boozer they are referring too.

    Enigmatik March 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    Let them keep doubting and crying while our team continues to take it one game at a time.

    By the way, so far this season two coaches have lost their jobs and one team has been brought to tears after losing against our Bulls…

    One game at a time…

    Ethan March 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Great post. It’s been a rollercoaster year. With The Decision and Boozer getting hurt, wow, before the season it was really tough. But now… this team is so damn fun to watch.

    I think it’s funny how these people try to quantify a basketball player’s ability with these ridiculous statistical thingies. I mean come on. I hope the MVP voters vote with their eyes, and not with their calculators.

  9. Dunkatron March 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    It’s not all gravy. That Chalmer’s drive made me seriously consider if Boozer is worth having in at the end of games. Taj would’ve made that go ahead lay up much more difficult than boozer’s concrete feet could.

    brittney March 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    great post matt! by the way I enjoy you in the DDL! Hope to see you more often in there!

    Anonymous March 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    I’m glad that you mentioned advanced stats, Matt. Hollinger seems to be on a one man “Deny Rose the MVP” mission this season (as one example, last week he wrote about Rose’s (admittedly) “ghastly” 5-21 shooting line but tempered Joe Johnson’s own 5-20 shooting night by pointing out that Johnson also contributed 9 assists. No mention of Rose’s 12 dimes). Rose’s advanced stats may not compare to, say, Russell Westbrook (2 points better in PER), but even a casual basketball fan can watch a couple of Bulls games and see what a huge winner Rose is. I honestly wonder if Hollinger is worried that Rose is somewhat disproving the value of PER, the stat that Hollinger created out of thin air and most basketball writers take as gospel.

  12. Inception March 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    I loved Thibs reaction when the final buzzer went off…i was just as pumped as him!…good to see that in a coach…the roles are reversing between CHI and MIA now…I just hope these bulls are ready for their new identity….

  13. Ryan March 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    I was astounded with D. Rose and his fast break(s) on Wade, James, and Bosh. I’ve seen amazing from him, but this was another level. There was no hesitation, just taking it right to the rim and saying, ‘if you want it, come get it.’ I think his awesome play and humble attitude make Wade and Lebron’s skin crawl with envy. Luol is finally getting some good publicity as well, and there is no other player that deserves it more.

    I’ve said it since preseason (with little luck)… Keep healthy!

    Gordon March 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Bulls now #2 overall in both ESPN Power Rankings!

  15. Anonymous March 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    I completely agree Dunkatron. I honestly feel that Boozer has been a weak link on this team. If he’s not letting opposing players blow by him, he’s throwing up contested jumpers and crying about calls. He’s not powering to the rim like he’s supposed to. I saw a few occasions yesterday where Lebron and DWade just stuffed him on jumpers.

    But aside from that GREAT WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Nicky C March 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Anonymous / Dunkatron –

    Totally agreed with both of you. Carlos played a overtly shoddy game yesterday…on both ends of the court. He seems to slink away in tight situations, and the third CHeat game was no different. His help defense is terrible on a good day, and the fact that he couldn’t find another way to help the team win even though he was mentally out of it on the offensive end (blocked and airballs galore) makes me wonder why Taj wasn’t in during the waning moments of the game, especially for the big defensive stance at the end.

    Jake in Minnie March 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Speaking of Rose as MVP candidate:

    As usual, Skip Bayless,wants only the Best guy on the Best team, and then goes about off handily dismissing Rose for being the best guy on not the best team. Of course, if that is your definition of MVP, I would say that Rose maybe the best player on what could be argued is the best team.

    The other commentator’s points about Dwight Howard are right on, and I would have a hard time arguing against his case for Howard. Personally, I would have it as Rose, Howard, Dirk and Kobe. With no one else really in the conversation.

    chitown4life March 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    This was a great week-end of basketball wins for all Bulls a sweep in florida way to go. I know that the media is like all over the heat crying and all, but its like so liekthem to let them over shadow the Bulss great wins this week and week-end. I myself heard skip payless talking that rose is not an MVP he says kobe is his MVp well kobe is great but this year
    without boozer or Noah for a combined 60 games what is this suppose to look like meaning our record , without rose this team would have not been probally even in the playoff race. Is it not an MVP that makes his team better who else has had to deal with Rose had to deal with being only in his third year and handle the spot light so perfect without being big headed just humble meaning being himself. skip payless is a hater yes i said it. Great win Bulls this is our year i knew you were gonna beat the heat. Too big, too strong ,and too fast and too good DRose MVp and company Do All Deng the west side hustlers. This is the year we win the title I can feel it .Peace

    inkybreath March 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Agreed all around … loving it … Rose has made me feel like a lucky fan since day one.

    Like a lot of you, that Chalmers drive was a slow-motion shocker.

    It seems that it is really starting to click for Asik and between he and Gibson, we have serious options when Boozer can’t be counted on to challenge shots.

    Gibson had some really important points in this game, too. Maybe we should call him D-oozer, since his offensive game (and look of his jump-shot) are similar, except he actually plays active Defense.

    If we meet Boston, late playoffs, it will be quite a culmination. We have been such clear underdogs to this point (since Rose’s arrival). Now, we have the bodies and talent to stand tall and bring down the house.

    (getting a little ahead of myself, but it is so exciting to actually be able to visualize getting out of the first round… it’s like graduating from the kiddie table to the adult table – we get to drink wine now and not just grape juice!!!!)

    BoppinBob March 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Another team win, and a statement win, actually the one I was looking for. The Heat were a team with their backs against the wall, on a losing streak, it was time to prove that they were the class of the division and knock down the upstart Bulls. They came out and controlled the game for most of the first half. At the end of the half the Bulls started chipping away and never stopped. The Bulls took this game away from the Heat. Every player to see the floor filled their role. A signature Bulls win, enough offense to win and excellent defense.

    Gorditadogg March 7, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Chitown- Agree with you about Skip Brainless, remember we rode him out of Chicago after 1 year, he was saying Jordan was over-rated.

    And while we are on sportswriters let’s not forget that half those ding-a-lings wanted us to trade Noah and Deng for Melo!

    chitown4life March 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    @ Gorditadogg Very good point about those so called experts wanting us to trade gibson and ASerk for Mello. Would of been nice to see mello in a bulls uniform but to tell you the truth I am glad we still got Do All Deng he is a more complete player than mello he plays on both ends of the floor not just hard but very good D, its about time he gets his proper due of respect for what he contributes to this team. He is more than just a mere role player.The team would not be winning the way it is without his play he made some big shots time and time again including against the Heat so we as Bulls fans should show him the love and the respect he has earned not demanded. Peace

Designed by Anthony Bain