For the duration of the NBA playoffs, the basketball world has been getting accustomed to what the Chicago Bulls' roster has been reduced to. With countless injuries and even some illnesses to boot, the Bulls have been playing with the smallest rotation in the NBA.
Now before we move on in this article, let me make one thing clear. This is not an anti-Miami Heat or anti-LeBron piece. If you still hate the Heat and LeBron, then more power to you, but that is not the focus here.
Derrick Rose has been one of the biggest stories this past season of the NBA. He tore his ACL in an opening round playoff game over a year ago and everyone hyped his eventual return. Adidas commercials touted his eventual triumphant return. It went from "around the All-Star break" to "a month before the playoffs so he can get his feet wet." Hell, there are still articles circling around the media spectulating that the former MVP point guard will finally return some time this series. You know who have not been obsessing over when Rose will return? The Chicago Bulls.
Instead of harping on the downfall of their franchise's best player for a year, the Bulls have remained steadfast in providing heart and determination, ultimately proving that they have what it takes to continue competing. Plenty of so-called "experts" expected the Bulls to regress immensely in this transitional year. They wound up with a 45-37 record, good for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Coach Tom Thibodeau gets the most out of his players and that is not remotely a cliché.
Before the beginning of this season, not many NBA fans knew whom Jimmy Butler was - hell, a lot still don't. With injuries plaguing Richard Hamilton all season long, Butler stepped in and became a major contributor to a team whose rotation he could not crack a year ago.
Now in his second year, Jimmy Butler averaged a modest 8.6 points per game with four rebounds a game as well. He had flashes throughout the season, but it has been the playoffs where the second-year shooting guard has stepped up. His PPG is up to 12.9 with 5.5 rebounds a game and shooting above 40%. Butler has also raised his three-point percentage. His durability has become invaluable for this roughed up Bulls squad. Butler played every second of games six and seven against the Brooklyn Nets as well as yesterday's game one against the Heat due to the absence of the hospital-ridden Luol Deng and leg injury to Kirk Hinrich. He was also one of the few Bulls players not on the verge of vomiting from flu-like symptoms towards the end of the series against the Nets. He wound up with 21 points yesterday to go with 14 rebounds, a ridiculous stat-line for a shooting guard. Toss in the fact that he frustrated LeBron while defending him all game long.
Two years ago, this was Nate Robinson.
Here he is in 2013.
From towel-waving cheerleader on the bench in the playoffs, to being one of the key contributors for a gritty team looking to make one of the biggest upsets in NBA history a reality. The much-maligned Robinson averaged 13.1 PPG for the Bulls this season and has now stepped in to be the team's lone meaningful point guard with both Rose and Kirk Hinrich out with injuries. He scored seven straight points last night in the closing minutes of the Bulls' victory over the Heat as well as an improbable performance as he single-handedly brought the Bulls back from down 14 against the Nets in game four of their opening round series. He has gone from a possible spark-plug off the bench for the Bulls to the top option on offense.
Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammatory injury of the connective tissue on the sole of the foot. It is extremely difficult to treat as most medical opinions state all you can do is stay away from strenuous activities until it finally subsides. Don't tell Joakim Noah that. The Bulls' All-Star center has been playing with the condition on and off for years and especially in 2013. He missed several games down the stretch of the regular season but is currently fighting through the pain in the playoffs. You would think it would be hindering his game, but somehow he has flourished.
After guaranteeing a victory against the Nets just before game seven, Noah provided one of the sickest stat-lines you will see of a big man in the playoffs. Noah had 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in the decisive victory for the Bulls. Last night he had his third straight double-double in the playoffs by providing 13 points and 11 rebounds along with four assists, a block and two steals. He has averaged 38 minutes a game in the past five games while playing with his injury.
Make no mistake, the Miami Heat are a far more talented and overall better team than the Chicago Bulls. Even after their impressive game one victory, the likelihood of the Bulls making it to the Eastern Conference Finals seems bleak. But don't tell that to this roster. The comradery of this team is off the charts and their heart and determination are unmatched in the NBA. In a league where parody is scarce and manufactured rosters full of superstars dominate, the Bulls are proving that a legitimate team can still compete. They may complete this monumental upset playing with only a handful of players - both Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng are likely to miss game two again tomorrow - or they may not win another game in the playoffs. The Bulls are playing with house money and unless you are a Miami Heat fan, I strongly suggest you keep your eyes on this team and appreciate what they are doing.
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