Three Days Late and Three Quarters Short
A Bulls postmortem.
As I write this, the Boston Celtics are playing in the second round. It’s right there on the TV in front of me, whether I want to believe it or not. The Bulls are gone. But I can’t be mad. Seven seeds don’t beat two seeds. Forty-one win teams don’t upset 62-win division champs, even ones whose best player is resigned to sputter and cuss and jut and burn on the sidelines. Nobody expected the Bulls to beat the Celtics. Not even me.
So how can I be mad?
I’ll tell you why I’m mad. Because by Game Seven, those numbers were out the window. All you had were two teams who’d been so evenly matched that they’d played seven overtimes in six games, standing toe to toe and matching blow for blow like two boxers too exhausted to even fall down.
The Bulls were right there. They had the signature plays at the end of Game Six—Joakim Noah’s dunk on Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose’s block of Rajon Rondo’s jumper. Pierce looked defeated, Rondo looked frustrated, even KG’s waterfall of profanity had run dry. Yes, Game Seven was to be played at TD Banknorth Garden, and yes, the Celtics were still the defending champs, but they were back on their heels, weren’t they? The momentum, no matter how incremental the shifts had been, had swung the Bulls way. Just a little bit.
Not that you’d know by listening to the national media. Oh, no. Jalen Rose and Jamal Mashburn and Charles Barkley all stopped just short of advising the Bulls to skip the flight to Boston. The better team always wins Game Sevens, they said. The Bulls didn’t have a shot.
I watched this and steamed. Didn’t they watch the first six games? Didn’t they see what I saw? Didn’t they understand that this was a whole new series, that at this point regular-season records meant about as much as KG’s impotent bluster? And when Game Seven started, the Bulls came in, ran off to a 28-23 first-quarter lead, took the crowd out, and…lost.
You could point to a lot of reasons: the anemic 11-point second quarter, Brian Scalabrine’s unexpected eight-point explosion, some truly horrendous spacing that led to trainwreck turnovers, Ben Gordon and John Salmons combining to shoot 10-35 from the floor (5-17 from three), Eddie House’s perfect 16 (5-5 from the floor, 4-4 from three, 2-2 from the line). But the bottom line was that the Bulls played exactly like the so-called experts said they would. They were the lesser team, and looked it.
Anyway, I thought I’d wrap the series up by taking some imaginary questions from my imaginary audience:
“So, you got the number of games wrong in your preview, and your team lost. How are you feeling right now?”
Not terrible. Not great, but not terrible.
Look, I didn’t expect the Bulls to beat the Celtics, even without Kevin Garnett. Then again, I didn’t expect them to push it to a seven-game series, either.
Bill Simmons uses the term “house money” to describe the five years following a championship when your team can do no wrong. This is a theory that I absolutely do not buy into—in fact, my feelings are entirely the opposite. But I’ll get into that some other time. I used the term “house money” to describe Game Seven. I wasn’t going to get upset with the result, because the way I figured it, just getting there was achievement enough. Did I want the Bulls to win? Of course. Did I expect them to? Not so much.
“Hey, how about that Ben Gordon? He was amazing! You totally have to bring him back and give him whatever he wants, right?”
It’s not that he didn’t perform. Dude hit shots that were actually impossible. That Twister one where he defied Big Daddy Kane and half-stepped in front of Stephon Marbury? The one where he half-fell in the lane and just chucked it up? He’s got Cassell-sized cojones. Needs a wheelbarrow to cart them around.
Ben Gordon does one thing well. He’s a spectacular streak shooter. He can’t guard anyone. Doesn’t drive to the basket particularly well. Doesn’t rebound. Can’t really run the point. And despite his rep as a big-time shooter, he shot seven of 23 in Game Seven. Five of 12 from three. He’s where ball movement goes to die. And he’s supposed to be worth $10 million a year? More?
Hey, it’s not that I don’t like Ben Gordon. I do. But if I had to pick three future cornerstones, they would be Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. Maybe even (gulp) Luol Deng. The Bulls have long needed a big two and a consistent low-post threat. Giving Ben Gordon a big extension does nothing to help either of those needs. So I hope they thank him profusely—and let him walk.
“Wow, the Bulls went seven against the defending champs and even won some games down the stretch. Does that mean Vinny Del Negro isn’t a terrible coach?”
As if running out of time outs in games one AND two wasn’t bad enough, Vinny’s substitution patterns were incomprehensible and he frequently committed what I consider to be the ultimate coaching sin—not being able to score (or, in at least one high-profile case, get a shot off) out of time outs. While the rest of the NBA coaching universe plays chess, Vinny is still playing—hell, not even checkers. Go Fish, maybe. Or Old Maid.
Then there’s the question of what he’ll do when he finally has a full roster. Much like Isiah Thomas, Vinny did much better once injuries cut down his roster for him. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles things once Luol Deng is healthy.
“OK, you malcontent, what do you want the team to do this summer?”
Besides trade for LeBron James and hire Phil Jackson, you mean? It’s pretty simple, actually:
1) Do not let Derrick Rose anywhere near a motorcycle. Don’t even let him think about motorcycles. I don’t even want him ordering Torque on NetFlix.
2) See what sort of interest there is in Kirk Hinrich. Preferably for a big two. Portland is allegedly interested—what about Hinrich and a first-rounder for Martell Webster, Steve Blake and cash? Then Gordon becomes expendable.
3) Send Vinny to NBA Coach’s camp. Or at least give him Feinstein’s book on Red Auerbach.
“How about answering some actual questions from real readers? What are you, scared?”
No. Bring it.