The Bulls Minus D-Rose

Attended my first-ever Bulls playoff game today, a 103-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a phenomenal experience, from the iconic intro to a pretty easy win at the final buzzer. Phenomenal in every aspect until 1:10 left in the fourth quarter, when this happened. The consensus opinion seems to be that the Bulls are done, have no chance of making a deep playoff run, can’t beat Boston if they can even get by Philly without Derrick.

Here’s my attempt at optimism (and obviously thoughts and prayers go out to Derrick, and wish him a speedy recovery):

The Bulls are the deepest team in the league, with the possible exception of San Antonio. The Bulls have beaten Miami, Boston, Orlando, New York, Atlanta and yes, Philly without Rose this year, going 18-9 in the 27 games he missed. That .667 win percentage would still have netted them the No. 2 seed in the East, ahead of Indiana and only two games behind Miami. C.J. Watson, while certainly not the caliber of player Rose is, has shown he can step into the point guard role as a starter, score, distribute, and run the Bulls’ offense. Yes, he didn’t have a great game today, but there’s no reason to doubt that he and the rest of the bench mob can step it up without their superstar.

There’s also been a lot of criticism of Coach Tom Thibodeau’s decision to leave Rose in the game with a double-digit lead and the outcome hardly in question so late in the fourth quarter. Some of that criticism is valid, I believe, but that’s how Thibs coaches, and why he’s been so successful: his mantra — as well as Derrick’s, though it certainly didn’t pay off today — seems to be “go hard, or go home.” I think Thibs has the ability to get this team through, particularly with a healthy Rip Hamilton (who was outstanding today), a hot Kyle Korver, and late-season improvements by Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.

The Bulls will get past Philly, maybe in five or six games instead of four or five, but they will advance. In the second round, they’re likely to face Boston (which, let’s face it, and regardless of Ray Allen’s health, is just a better and hotter team than Atlanta), which will be a definite challenge. The Celtics core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Allen, and Rajon Rondo has a title to their credit and a good deal of playoff experience. Brandon Bass has been great for them all year, and — as none other than Celtic fan-in-chief Bill Simmons wrote — Greg Stiemsma has come out of nowhere to make significant contributions for the C’s. They’re a dangerous, dangerous team fueled in addition by the knowledge that the 2011-2012 season is likely the last hurrah for the Big Three/Four, given the advanced age of Garnett/Pierce/Allen (even despite Garnett’s second-half resurgence getting more time in the paint).

And yet. The Bulls, again, are the deepest team in the league. They have home-court advantage. They’ve beaten the C’s without Rose. No, a regular-season game isn’t the same as a game in a best-of-seven, but they have the best head coach in the league not named Greg Popovich, and they have the talent. It’s absurdly premature to write off their title hopes, though the hill did become that much steeper with the loss of Rose. Are they favorites to emerge from the East anymore? No. Are they done (as so many were quick to assert)? Hell no. They can beat Boston. They can beat Miami. Do I think it’s likely they will? Also no, but they’re by no stretch of the imagination dead in the water. See Red.

~ by Benji on April 28, 2012.

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