Ouch. This one really hurt.
Just like the ’69, ’84, ’03 and ’08 Cubs. Or the ’71 Blackhawks. Or just about any Big Ten football team that has played in the Rose Bowl since 1970.
It hurt like the Ditka-era Bears teams perennially without the services of quarterback Jim McMahon come playoff time—except for the golden year of 1985.
The 2010/11 Chicago Bulls had the league’s best record. Home court advantage throughout the playoffs. They were mature and seasoned beyond their years; a team that intrinsically knew the value of playing defense and moving the ball.
This was going to be fun.
Then there were the convincing, series-closing victories in games five and six over the Atlanta Hawks, and the twenty-one point win over the Miami Heat in game one. Yes, after a rocky stretch in the playoffs, the Bulls had rediscovered their groove. The Bulls were ready to roar.
But then the wheels came off. The Bulls went missing. They became the first basketball team in sixteen years to drop a playoff series after such a resounding, opening-game victory. Could they have picked a worse time for their first four-game losing streak?
The team that spent the season playing as one forgot everything it learned.
They forced shots. Made more turnovers than Sara Lee. Thought focus was the exclusive property of movie theatre projectionists and that defense was something that happened in a court room. They were unglued by NBA officiating.
Worst of all, they repeatedly relied on a single player down the stretch, which is probably why so many games resembled the economic collapse of ‘08, right down to the fourth-quarter cave-ins.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Bulls are young. Young-enough to learn from the hideous wreckage of this series and apply it before their bodies hit athletic middle age.
Same goes for rookie head coach Thibodeau, who seemed unable (or unwilling) to respond to his counterpart’s adjustments, or even to create some of his own. Or to play veteran Kurt Thomas, who might have been able to settle the distracted Bulls.
Or to vary his play calling enough to keep even the there-to-be-seen neophytes from knowing where the ball was headed in critical, late-game possessions.
Yes, Derrick Rose is wonderful. Great, even.
But there is no way he should be taking twenty-nine shots in an elimination game which takes place during a series in which he’s shooting like the bastard offspring of Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson, and being guarded (in the fourth quarter, anyway) by a man half-a-foot taller.
It’s called passing. Point guards all over the world do it. And when one is making just one-third of their shots, it would behoove one to try it.
You could say this is just a lot of day-after whining, made even more-obnoxious by the fact it’s through the rose-colored glasses of hindsight. But there are grains of truth here. Ones that need to be taken to heart before next season starts.
That and that alone will tell us if this is 1975 and Thibodeau is Dick Motta, or if this is 1990 and the reigning coach of the year is a nascent Phil Jackson.