By: Bill Renje
As I’ve listened to Chicago sports radio this morning and read some of the various accounts, I can’t help but think how short our memories have become and how much we can quickly lose perspective. To be sure, last night was a collapse. There’s really no other way to put when the other team, in your building, overcomes a 12-point deficit in the final four minutes while closing you out with an 18-3 smack down. But it was a collapse within the confines of this one series and the 2011 NBA Playoffs as a whole. Stepping back from that, it was nothing more than a Game 5 loss in a series where the obvious set in from Game 2 forward that the Bulls weren’t going to win.
The comparisons have been endless by people who otherwise should know better. This wasn’t a Game 7 collapse similar to the Blackhawks blowing a 2-0 lead at home against the Canadiens with a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup in 1971. This certainly isn’t the Cubs, as arguably the better team, going 0-6 in my lifetime in often horrific fashion with a chance to get to their first World Series since World War II. This wasn’t the Bears losing home playoff games in “Bear weather” in three successive years after the glorious 1985 season. And a team that most Chicago fans have long forgotten, this wasn’t anywhere near the heartbreak of the DePaul Blue Demons of the early 1980s breaking Chicago’s heart by losing their first tournament game as the number one seed three years in a row.
Nope, last night was the inevitable end against a team loaded with the league’s best talent peaking at the right time. Two questions that really didn’t need to be answered going into the NBA Playoffs were answered in this series. The answer to question number is yes, the regular season is meaningless. There’s a reason players routinely take nights off figuratively and teams don’t push themselves beyond trying to secure a top three or four seed. The Bulls won more games than other in the regular season. They had the regular season MVP, the regular season Coach of the Year, the regular season Executive of the Year and were undefeated in three games against the Heat (Cry Gate seems like so long ago now). As far as question number 2, in the NBA, team play losses to star power every time. The Heat have an eight-man rotation with two superstars and one All-Star – all at their peak. The Bulls have a ten-man rotation with one superstar and no All-Stars – case closed.
Moving on, the pressure is now on the Bulls front office to do something HUGE – be it a blockbuster trade for Dwight Howard or an equally impactful trade for an All-Star shooting guard. For the parade that was led on General Manager Gar Forman’s behalf, the reality is that this organization has failed time and time again to make the blockbuster deal (Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Lebron and Wade last summer). Their two big free agent signings in the last five years have been (Ben Wallace) or are on their way (Carlos Boozer) to becoming busts.
They lucked their way into Derrick Rose who looked small – literally speaking – at 6’3 in this series. But Rose has the desire, will and heart to dedicate himself over the summer to raising his game to even a higher level. The question we don’t have an answer to right now is whether or not the organization will, or can, do the same?
May 27th Posted in: The Windy City Sports Blog with 1 Comment
All year long, we’ve watched Derrick Rose do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. All year long, we’ve watched Rose drive to the basket at will, pull up for easy jumpers or knock down open threes when the defender over commits to stop the drive by playing back. But no longer – both he and the Bulls have hit their ceiling in South Beach. The air ball with the game on the line at the end of regulation kind of summed up the series – so close, yet so far away.
Rose has gone from looking like he’s playing against high schoolers to looking like a newly hired, recent college grad sitting at the conference table in a corporate meeting room. Not that it’s his fault – he was out of gas late in the 4th after playing 32 straight minutes (get him a blow somewhere Thibs). And he looked completely exasperated facing Lebron’s 6 inch as well as 50 pound advantage while seeming bewildered with a lack of scoring options all around him. Truth be told, this team has maxed out and overachieved; much in the same way that the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers did with their one dominant player, undersized MVP Allen Iverson, when they met their end against the LA Lakers who simply had better star players.
I love Rose’s heart, will and desire. But unless he can swap his 6’3 for MJ’s 6’6, it’s not going to matter much how early he gets in the gym over the summer. Miami looks like they’re not going anywhere for the next decade. The Bulls are set-up to be the Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s – 7 division titles in a row, 0 Finals appearances thanks largely to Boston’s Original Big Three.
Other thoughts from the series to this point:
• Boozer plays D like he’s playing left tackle for the Bears. I’ve never seen an athletic big man so completely useless and atrocious on defense.
• The Taj Gibson highlight dunks in Game 1 seem like faded memories now. Gibson has been a no-show since he entered the game early in the 2nd Quarter in Game. The lasting image was him jawing at Chris Bosh as he defended him on the baseline. Bosh promptly took Gibson to the hole, drew the foul, yapped back at Gibson on the way to the foul line. Bosh went on to score 34 points and Gibson entered the witness protection program.
• Have we seen enough of Kyle Korver yet? The guy is just overmatched and overwhelmed at this level.
• As for all the yapping by Heat fans. Miami fans are typical Florida fans: they forget they have a team and don’t show up until the team is a contender. When they do show up, they’re completely obnoxious. Not that every city doesn’t have obnoxious fans, but Florida fans suffer from an inferiority complex to all the Northern fans that fill their stadiums. So when they have a chance to rub it in your face, they’ll take full advantage. I once had an air horn blown in my ear at a Buc-Bears game which caused me to forever root against the Bucs.
All in all, I don’t even care as the memories of 6 titles are forever seared in the deepest recesses of my brain. I just want Dallas to beat Miami!
May 25th Posted in: The Windy City Sports Blog with No Comments
So long to Sacred Hoops author Phil Jackson who, by the way, was also the glue that held together the two great dynasties, while bringing out the best of the two best players (no easy task), of the last 20 years. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any athlete or player more comfortable in his own skin, more in control of his emotions and more at ease as well as at peace with who he is. Phil was just cool regardless of circumstance and thus his teams never panicked.
That Jackson has had to defend himself against critics that have whispered that he’s won so often solely from coaching the best talent is ridiculous. Besides, what coach of any dynasty in any sport didn’t have the best players? Everyone over the next several days will talk about the 11 championships, but by far his best coaching job was the 1993-94 season when Michael Jordan was off playing baseball. Nothing else comes close in my opinion and solidified him, then, as a great coach. With Jordan gone, the Bulls at 55-27 finished only two games off their 57-25 mark the year prior when MJ led them to their third consecutive title. He also unified the team after Scottie Pippen’s infamous boycott of the final 1.8 seconds of their Game 3 victory over New York on Toni Kukoc’s buzzer beater. The Bulls would lose in 7 fierce games at the height of the rivalry with the Ewing / Riley Knicks, but Jackson’s coaching pedigree was firmly established in my mind. Not bad for a guy Jerry Krause found in the CBA and from a promotion as assistant that most of us thought in 1989 was one of the dumbest moves imaginable by a front office.
After the ‘89 season, the Bulls’ front office made an unpopular move with the fans as well as the media, but a move eventually and overwhelmingly proved correct. Doug Collins was heir apparent to Mike Ditka as the most popular head coach in Chicago. In his three years, the Bulls improved each season, culminating with a playoff run that saw the Bulls lay the foundation for their 1990s dynasty. But in June, the Bulls shockingly fired Collins and replaced him with an unknown assistant named Phil Jackson. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his GM Krause (who hired Jackson as an NBA assistant out of the back alley if the CBA when no opportunities existed for him in the league) took a tremendous amount of heat.
But Jackson, through a blend of coaching and personal philosophies, proved to be a steady hand in guiding the Bulls. Through assistant coach Tex Winter, he implemented the Triangle Offense which forces passing among the players on the court and ball distribution to get all five guys involved in the flow of the offense. Jackson properly harnessed the talent and energy of a great individual player like Jordan, not an easy task with a player of MJ’s caliber. Jackson helped him to fully comprehend true sacrifice and giving of one’s self. Credit goes to Jordan for reinventing himself by understanding and having the willingness to change his mindset for the betterment of his team.
My favorite memory of Jackson memory was sitting on the floor of the Old Chicago Stadium for Game 6 of the 1992 Finals against Portland. The Bulls, up 3 games to 2, found themselves down by fifteen going into the fourth quarter. In one of many master moves made by Phil Jackson over the course of his career, he started the final quarter with four bench players to go along with Scottie Pippen. Jackson, always recognizing the value of “the tribe” above all, would later say the Bulls needed fresh energy on the court. With primarily role players, the Bulls cut the deficit to five—all happening with Jordan on the bench. The crowd, in an absolute frenzy, saw Jordan return to the game fresh and well rested, while knowing Portland had no chance. Two Jordan free throws with twelve seconds left gave the Bulls a 97–93 lead and sealed the win which I had the privilege to witness from mere feet away . So thank you to a unique, if not odd, free spirit. Unlike other former coaches, I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Phil from here on out on TV or anywhere else; take it easy Easy Rider!