Heart and Hustle: Bulls Steal Game 1 From The Superfriends

The Bulls may have stolen Game 1 in Miami on Monday night, but they’re certainly not satisfied yet.

They fight through adversity. They never back down. They play for each other. And they have no fear. The 2012-13 Chicago Bulls are one of the greatest sports stories in recent memory whose fairy tale may end when LeBron James decides he’s had enough. But until then, what we are witnessing is a team of warriors who will give anything and everything to win basketball games, playing with an attitude and a swagger that most sports fans would die to see their teams adopt.

After Game 7 of the Brooklyn series, I couldn’t recall a prouder Chicago sports moment in my life. Jordan’s Bulls and the 2010 Blackhawks teams obviously brought joy to everyone – but those teams were great. Those teams were expected to win. This team? Forget about it. Winning just one playoff series with this roster despite Derrick Rose’s ailing ACL, Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis, Kirk Hinrich’s mysteriously strained calf, Nate Robinson’s and Taj Gibson’s flu and Luol Deng’s meningitis scare was an enormous accomplishment in and of itself. “Next man up” has been the recurring theme of this team, and it all starts up top. Since day one, Tom Thibodeau has brainwashed these guys into thinking that, no matter what happens, they have enough to win.

Jimmy Butler, who I felt would be something very special for our team this season, has all but earned his spot as the Bulls’ future 2 guard, playing all 48 minutes (ALL 48 MINUTES!) in each of the last three playoff games. He has been nothing short of magnificent this postseason, averaging 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, nearly five trips to the free throw line and almost never turning the ball over in round one (0.7 TOs/game), all while guarding the Deron Williams/Joe Johnson combo AND never committing more than three fouls in a game. On top of that, he took on the impossible task of guarding LeBron James the entire game last night (only committed three fouls too) and was still able to post a 21-14-3 stat line, hitting 9/10 from the free throw line and 2/4 from beyond the arc (Butler’s 3% during 2012-13 season and postseason: 38.1% and 40.9% respectively; 3% during 2011-12 season: 18.2%). No moment is too big for this kid. In only his second year in the NBA, Luol Deng’s protegé has proved once and for all that hard work and a heavy heart can take you a long way in just a short amount of time in this league – and trust me, he’s not gonna slow down any time soon.

Nathaniel Robinson has been, quite frankly, Jordanesque this postseason. He may only be 5’9, but Lil’ Nate has a ridiculous amount of confidence and a monstrous sack of nuts. He’s never seen a shot he didn’t like, and although players like that can typically hurt your team more than help it, Robinson has been as clutch as I’ve ever seen anyone in a Bulls uniform since ’98. Whether it’s him putting up 34 points (23 in the 4th quarter) on 14-for-23 shooting in Game 4 against Brooklyn, 18 points in Game 6 while puking in between timeouts, or 27 points and 9 assists last night in Miami (11 of those points and 5 of those assists came in the 4th quarter as well) with 10 stitches in his upper lip, Robinson continues to thrive in big moments and show the Knicks, Celtics, and Thunder what could have been had they decided not to let the little Energizer Bunny walk for nothing.

Carlos Boozer has, well, disappointed again. Yes, he actually played well against Brooklyn, and I really do applaud him for that. But we’ve grown accustomed to Boozer laying postseason eggs the past few years, and last night was no different: 6 points on 3/11 shooting, 7 rebounds and 3 turnovers. He watched, cheered and yelled from the bench the final 16 minutes of the game, when the Bulls just so happened to outscore Miami 44-31. Coincidence? I think not. It won’t happen this summer, but until 2014, “‘Tis the season to be amnestied…”

Marco Belinelli has been freakin’ awesome the past few games, not just for his “Sam Cassell dance” in Game 7, but also for his ability to hit huge threes and get to the rim late in games. Belinelli has shot 50% from three (3-for-6), 3-for-3 from the free throw line and  has a +/- of plus-15 in 12 “clutch time” minutes (last five minutes of the game and leading or trailing by five points or less) of playoff basketball. To give you some perspective on how huge he has been, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were a combined 0-for-10 from three, 7-for-25 from the field and a minus-16 each  in 54  clutch time minutes last round (on the other hand, Robinson, Boozer and Noah have +/- of plus-28, plus-24 and plus-20 respectively in clutch time minutes, but they’ve all played much more during those moments). I couldn’t be happier with what Belinelli has given us, as he’s effectively replaced Kyle Korver as our Chicago Hotsauce – he’s just uglier, but at least he can create for himself once in a while.

Not enough can be said about Joakim Noah. In fact, nothing anyone can say will do that man justice. It’s clear that he has become our bona-fide leader, emotionally and physically, and Bulls fans wouldn’t have it any other way. The way he has led this depleted team on essentially one foot, dominating the likes of another all-star center in Brook Lopez and doing everything he can possibly do to help us win has been truly inspiring. Noah is the epitome of a professional athlete. He’s the kind of player that I would have idolized as a kid, and even idolize now, giving 150% night in and night out and fighting til death’s end. It’s admirable, and I feel that all athletes around the country should strive to be as tough and as passionate as he is. Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching him play basketball, and I have no doubt that one day he, along with a fully healthy Derrick Rose, will lead the Bulls to a NBA championship.

If you follow the NBA like I do, you know damn well that these kinds of things never  happen. To predict that a team led by the guys above, along with Taj Gibson, Nazr Mohammed and even Marquis Teague, can go into Miami in front of their pathetic home crowd, steal game one and shock the basketball world? Unthinkable. But here we are, in the wake of Miami’s third loss since February 2 (yes, third loss – they’re 41-3 since then), and we, as fans, aren’t just happy to be here anymore – we’re starting to “bullieve.”

Does this mean Chicago will win this series? No, but every game will be an absolute dogfight. I don’t think the Bulls can truly win this series, but I sure as hell know they’ll leave everything they have on that court each night. Like I said, this is not a great team – Derrick Rose ain’t coming back, Kirk Hinrich is battling through a painful injury, and Luol Deng is still bedridden after a spinal tap. All we can do is pray that the latter two come back soon. But whether we realize it or not, we are all witnessing something great – something inspiring. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Bulls fan right now, and what happens from here on out will just be the cherry on top of an already accomplished and memorable season.

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About Adam Levy

Adam Levy is a diehard sports fan and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. After graduating with a Master's Degree from Indiana University, he began working at a consulting firm in the loop. In his spare time, he watches sports, re-watches Seinfeld episodes for the 23rd time, plays pickup basketball, competes in sports leagues during the summer, and overvalues all of the players on his fantasy teams. He is extremely passionate about his teams and will likely be found curled up in the fetal position on his bed, crying and cursing after significant losses. If you like his insight, feel free to comment, follow him on Twitter @ChiCityBS, or email him at aplevy1@gmail.com.

Posted on May 7, 2013, in Bulls and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. That was an amazing article. I’m also very, very proud of our Bulls. At least the ones that push themselves on the court. I’ve been a huge supporter of Noah since the Bulls drafted him, despite all the naysayers complaining about him. He’s turned into a Beast on the court. I’ll be cheering the Bulls on until they play their last game this season. No matter what happens, they’ve earned every bit of respect I have for them.

    • Thanks a lot Tim, I really appreciate it. I’m with you completely. Noah came into the league as an extremely raw offensive player with somewhat of a cocky attitude, but he always knew how to win. That was the silver lining I saw in him when he was drafted. Since then, he’s worked his way from a scrawny, offensively inept big man to an All-Star/All-Defensive center with the passing ability of Bill Walton and the heart of Rocky. He works and plays as hard as anyone I’ve probably ever seen (Thibs is the same exact way), and that mindset has become contagious throughout the Bulls locker room. Hopefully he stays a Bull for his entire career.

      • I’ve always read that cockiness as more of a driving will to win and encouraging and pushing his teammates to do the same. He’s got a great spirit and his efforts clearly inspire those around him. I understand why other teams don’t like playing against him and fans of those teams hate him. I would too if he was on “the other” team. I’m just very glad he’s ours. 🙂 Don’t get me started on how HUGE he’s getting. That man’s efforts in the gym are paying off in spades. Yet another reason I have so much respect for him. He has worked very hard to mold himself into a major force on the court. Given his development and how great the rest of the team is becoming, next year will be VERY interesting when Rose comes back. I hope they’re able to keep Robinson on the team. At full strength, I could easily see them overpowering the Heat. Come on, look what they’re doing to them beaten up and at half strength! Good time to be a Bulls fan.

      • I couldn’t agree more. He’s the ideal example of a player that you love to hate if he’s not on your team, but you love him to death if he is on your team. Next year will definitely be interesting with a healthy Rose, as we’ll probably grab the 2 seed in the East at worst, and maybe even the 1 seed like the past two seasons. It will be hard to keep Robinson, since he’s going to want a bigger contract, and we already have three point guards under contract for next year (Rose, Hinrich, Teague), but I would love to keep him if possible. We’ll clear up $5 mill of space by declining Rip’s option, and we’ll have another $3-5 mill of space from the Korver trade exception. Not sure how the financials will work out, since Belinelli and Nazr are both set to become free agents as well, but I trust Pax and Gar will find a way to make it work like they did this season. We’ll see what happens. Until then, we’ll just enjoy the ride we’re on now and look forward to giving the Heat another run for their money next year.

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