I only want to focus on the fact that the Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat last night 101-97, and not the stuff that others would rather discuss today. This leaves Chicago in 5th place in the East, on pace to play the Brooklyn Nets in the upcoming playoffs. Meanwhile, Miami remains in 1st place, largely due to an impressive 27-game win streak, which ended last night.
Being a Bulls fan, it’s easy to enjoy any one of their wins, but last night meant something more. For those that watched it understood; this wasn’t just any game. This was a test to see who they truly are. Not that they’re strangers to adversity; they’ve been without former MVP and their best player in Derrick Rose since last year. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah has missed many games due to several injuries, most lately being plantar fasciitis. Further, they were also without Richard Hamilton and Marco Bellinelli.
But that’s focusing on who they’re not. It’s almost a dishonor to mention the inactive Bulls in the same context as last night’s game, because each Bull that participated had a positive impact and deserves the credit. It’s easy for any Bulls fan to think about what the Bulls are not and blame injures because of it. But that’s pointless. Injuries are like the weather: you can’t predict them and you can’t get mad about it; it just is. Really, all that matters is who plays the game.
Jimmy Butler played last night, and as their most improved player, he did not disappoint. He played 43 out of the 48 minutes, netting 17 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, a solid stat line for any game, let alone against the best team in the league in a nationally televised game. Chicago fans have really come to love Butler, especially when he pulls off a play like this.
Nate Robinson played last night, finishing with 14 points coming off the bench. Nate’s always been a tough competitor in the league. He’s averaged 11.4 points a game in his 8-year career so far, so he’s always known how to score for whatever team he’s playing for (this is his 5th team). He’s a very passionate player and comes across as being cocky and flashy, but I’d take a Nate Robinson on my team any day of the week.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer played like the big-time players they are. Anyone who doubts that Deng’s a true All-Star can look to last night’s game for approval. He finished with 28 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals while also guarding the best player on the planet. Don’t forget, as LeBron James was receiving nationwide attention during his senior year of high school, just like every year of sports, there was also a 2nd best player.
Meanwhile, Booze had another strong and, more importantly, much needed performance, finishing with 21 points and 17 rebounds. Yes, he does some really stupid things sometimes, such as turn it over in crucial moments or let his man slip in for a rebound, but not many big men in the NBA can do what he does, with the finesse that he does it. Plus, the arc on his jumpshot is so pretty.
Nazr Mohammed and Taj Gibson both played too. Gibson has been a key player for the Bulls since being drafted by them in 2009, supplying sufficient offense and relentless defense, reasons for which Coach Tom Thibodeau keeps him in at the end of close games. His baseline jumper with just over a minute to go practically sealed the game, giving them a 7 point lead.
After looking at the box score, I’m surprised to see that Mohammed logged 16 minutes of playing time, only because his presence was strongly felt. Like always, he played smart and reliable basketball, playing solid defense and making minimal mistakes. In his 14 years in the league, he’s averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds a game. Hence, there are reasons he still plays that don’t translate to stats such as these.
Kirk Hinrich certainly played last night. His tough and physical play seemed to bother LeBron, but he wasn’t dirty or unfair. He made the right plays at the right time. Being the son of a high school coach, Kirk is a fundamentally sound player who’s famous for being fundamentally sound. I’ve loved him since his days at Kansas, and I still remember when he was drafted 7th in the 2003 draft by the Bulls. He’s been on several other teams since then, but luckily fate brought him back to where he started, and where he’s most appreciated. I can’t say enough good things about Hinrich; he’s a tough player who knows how to win. Here’s proof: the Bulls are 32-15 when he’s played, 7-16 when he hasn’t.
It’s easy to look at this season that the Bulls have had to endure and say ‘maybe next year.’ Certainly other teams have made a stronger case for winning the championship, a feat that is ever more difficult when you’re without your best player. But last night wasn’t about what they’re not. Last night they showed who they are, and who they’ve been these past few years. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been one of those doubters. They proved to me once again why I love this team, whether they win it all or not. All championship teams face their challenges. Maybe this year can be summed up as one big challenge. Either way I know they’re ready, no matter who takes the court.