With their 97-81 annihilation of the Celtics on Thursday, Chicago has virtually clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But just how good is this best post-Airness version of the Bulls?
WHY CHICAGO IS GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Derrick Rose is the real deal — 9 of 16 FG, eight assists, two steals, 30 points. He even gets superstar calls from the refs! Rose’s left-to-right crossover is lightning quick, and as he zips through a seam in the defense and approaches the rim he seems to accelerate with every step. Plus, the young man has become a spectacular finisher.
Luol Deng has added reliable spot-shooting to his slashing offense — 9 of 18 FG, 3-6 from beyond the 3-point arc, 23 total points. Moreover, the long-armed Deng is a vastly underrated defender.
Keith Bogans plays relentless defense, and can also knock down open treys. An exceptional role player.
Carlos Boozer sets mighty screens, has a soft touch on mid-range and fadeway jumpers, and is a strong-handed defensive rebounder. Boozer can also totally overpower undersized opponents.
On defense, Joakim Noah covers as much ground as a fleet-footed guard. He’s quite capable of switching on screen/rolls, then dashing over to the weak side to harass a perimeter jumper. And he never stops hustling.
Kyle Korver has unlimited range, uses screens to perfection and surprises everyone in the building when he misses an open 3-pointer. Double-K is also in constant motion and rarely makes a foolish move.
Kurt Thomas can still play bruising post-up defense. In addition, his veteran status allows him to set moving screens with total impunity.
Taj Gibson is another perpetual mover-and-groover. He’s always been active in the shadow of the basket and has recently expanded both his shakes and his bakes. Another valuable role player.
C.J. Watson knows his limitations and plays to his strengths, i.e., quick ball movement, facilitating the offense and playing acceptable position defense.
Ronnie Brewer is an incredible athlete with a quick-handed game.
In sum, the Bulls’ swarming defense totally discombobulated the Celtics by challenging every shot, pass and catch. At the other end, Tom Thibodeau’s troops always make the extra pass, execute with precision an offense that features a constant array of combo screens, and never give up on a play.
The Bulls are a harmonious group that seems to enjoy playing together. All the championship elements are there: talent, athleticism, unselfishness, chemistry, one elite player, and the willingness to play aggressive defense.
WHY THE BULLS AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Only Rose and Deng can create makeable shots off the dribble.
The second unit of Gibson, Watson, Korver, Brewer and either Thomas or Omer Asik has too much trouble scoring.
Boozer’s man-to-man defense is so poor that even Jermaine O’Neal zeroed in on him. The Celtics also showed plus-offense whenever they forced Boozer to defend high screen/rolls. If Boozer has adhesive hands in snatching rebounds, his hands turn to rubber when he tries to secure any ball that’s below his waist. Against equal-sized defenders, Boozer can only shoot jumpers.
Because Rose looks to penetrate, the Bulls’ court balance is frequently askew. That’s precisely why Boston was able to score on at least four breakaways.
Except for Boozer, they have nobody who’s a threat to score in the low post.
The 38-year-old Thomas is incapable of adequately defending an opponent who can turn-face-and-go.
Can Rose finish when forced to drive left?
Despite his registering only three turnovers, Rose continued to make too many unwise decisions in the paint — four to be exact — all resulting from ill-advised over-penetrations. And Rose’s herky-jerky springers are profoundly unreliable — 2 of 6 in the game at hand.
What kind of teams can maximize Chicago’s flaws?
Experienced, well-coached ball clubs that have poise, smarts and their own superstar to offset Rose, and can field taller and longer big men with explosive skills. Fortunately for the Bulls, there are no Eastern Conference teams that measure up to these requirements.
A trip to the Finals, then, seems to be the Bulls’ most likely destination. Once there, they would have an edge over every possible opponent except the defending champion Lakers.
• Despite the havoc he wreaked on both the Continental Basketball Association and the New York Knicks, as well as his allegedly spreading a rumor that Magic Johnson was gay, Isiah Thomas still has his share of apologists. However, when Zeke was an active player, he had one particular habit that’s been mostly overlooked as the bottom-line reason he was universally detested by opposing players.
When somebody in a different-colored jersey drove into the lane and planted a foot prior to jumping to the rim, Thomas’s defensive game plan featured his stepping on that planted foot. This was obviously an incredibly dangerous tactic that sometimes led to sprained ankles, twisted knees and more often than not, missed layups. Once the word got around the league, players would pull up and shoot short jumpers rather than risk having Thomas do his dirty deed.
Back then, very few of the TV color men were NBA vets so Zeke’s sneaky business went undetected. But the players knew. That’s why they celebrated when Karl Malone smacked Thomas upside his face with a vicious elbow. And that’s why Michael Jordan used his influence to keep Thomas off the original Dream Team.
So any manner of free pass given to Isiah Thomas is sorely misdirected.
• The latest news is that LeBron James now owns a piece of the Liverpool soccer team. This move is consonant with his statement several years ago that his No. 1 priority was to become a billionaire with international holdings.
Hey, LeBron, how about winning at least one of those five-to-seven NBA championships that you so arrogantly predicted when you landed in Miami?
• Tex Winter once told me that he personally didn’t give a hoot about the Hall of Fame. And that the only reason he wanted in was because his children would be pleased.
Even so, the anonymous selection committee had previously refused Winter’s enshrinement for lo these many years because their collective thinking held that assistant coaches simply did not rate the honor. Clearly, the guardians of the gate felt guilty after Winter’s debilitating stroke. Better late than never, I suppose, but it’s a shame that the 88-year-old Winter has literally been rendered speechless and unable to deliver an acceptance address that would surely have blistered the ears of everybody on hand.
That’s because honesty was always Tex’s only policy.
• At the same time, the inclusion of Dennis Rodman was a righteous move. The only question concerns what he will wear for the occasion.
A suit of armor? A tutu? A Roman toga? A Batman costume? A male stripper’s pubic thong? Full-body tattoos and/or piercings? Or just another run-of-the-mill wedding dress?
• I’ll gladly admit that Chris Mullin was a terrific shooter, but pardon me for not rejoicing at his entry into the HOF. During his “glory” days with Golden State, the Warriors had a total record of 432-552, and managed only five winning seasons. Forget about Mulllin being one of the worst defenders in the history of the NBA who routinely yielded as many points as he scored.
It was Hubie Brown who once warned about overvaluing a guy who scores lots of points on a bad team. That’s because such high-volume scorers experience very few pressure shots, let alone pressure games. Moreover, opponents tend to relax on defense when they’ve already got a game well in hand.
But in today’s not-so-brave new world, the accretion of gaudy numbers overrules any other considerations, and bean counters have become the sole judges of excellence.