Before the season, these were the two teams I predicted to be there.
Because of Chris Bosh being out for much of the ECF, I think the Bulls could have taken Miami. If they did overcome their biggest hurdle, is this current version of the Bulls good enough to beat OKC?
For the sake of this article, let's assume Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were both healthy.
Both teams are young and deep. In fact, they're similar in several aspects.
I'll start backwards, and save the best for last.
On the bench, OKC's key players are James Harden, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher.
Collison and Taj Gibson are similar energy type of players who do the dirty work. Collison is a better shooter, while Gibson is more athletic, a better rebounder and better shot blocker.
The Bulls probably have a slight edge, but it's close.
Fisher is a veteran of the playoff wars, having won five rings with LA. While he's much older, in experience alone he has the edge over Watson.
If the game is on the line, I have more trust in the player who has been there time and time again than Watson, who struggled this year when the job was thrust upon him.
The Harden matchup is not fair because he's not a bench player.
Kyle Korver would be his closest counterpart on the Bulls, but Harden offers so much more. Korver gives you the three, but Harden is a far better player and is seemingly just coming into his own.
Big Edge Thunder
The best of the rest for the Bulls bench is Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik. Asik offers solid defense and rebounding, and there is no one on the Thunder bench who compares.
Brewer is the best comparison to Thunder starter Thabo Sefolosha. They were both taken in the same draft, with Brewer being selected right after Sefolosha.
The back end of the bench is a weak spot for OKC.
Starting in the middle, Joakim Noah of the Bulls goes up against Kendrick Perkins. Noah is the vocal leader of the Bulls, along with being an athletic big man who can run the court. He can also rebound and play solid defense.
His offense comes in the flow of the game, but he is a double-digit scorer.
Perkins is a Rock of Gibraltar filling the lane. He's not afraid to give the hard foul and can be an enforcer, but he lacks Noah's better overall game.
Big Edge Bulls
At the power forward position, Carlos Boozer goes up against Serge Ibaka.
Boozer is a much better scorer with an excellent outside shot. He's also a good rebounder, but no longer has the inside game the Bulls brought him here for. As for his defense, to be frank, it's rather offensive how he performs.
Ibaka exhibited a nice outside shot in the series against San Antonio, and he is getting better in that aspect of the game. He is essentially known as a shot blocker and defensive stalwart.
What he brings is a confidence for his teammates in that he's there to back them up. He can run the court as well.
At the shooting guard, Sefolosha goes up against Rip Hamilton.
Hamilton was brought to Chicago to take the Bulls to the next level. Between injuries and a falling out with the coach, he didn't live up to expectations.
What he does bring is a solid floor game. He can score and is an excellent passer, along with making his defender work.
Sefolosha is one of the best defenders in the league at his position. Long and athletic, he can cover anyone. His only problem is that the position is called shooting guard, and that's his biggest weakness.
For the main event. Mano-a-mano, the Thunder's two best against the best the Bulls have to offer.
Luol Deng is the player who is considered as the glue to the team. He plays good defense, has improved his long-distance shooting and scores in the flow of the offense.
What he can't do is create his own shot.
At times, he appears to disappear on the court. He's a good player, but is not the type to demand the ball in crunch time or take the big shot.
Durant, on the other hand, is a big coffee drinker. In other words, he's a closer. (Reference from the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross: "Coffee is for closers only.")
If you're playing OKC, he's the last guy in the league you want to have the ball in his hands. You can't guard him. He can get his shot off against anyone. If you hold him to 30 points, you consider that a good night.
He's long and athletic, and a nightmare match up.
Big Edge OKC
That brings us to the main event, the one you have all been waiting for—Derrick Rose vs. Russell Westbrook.
Rose wasn't the MVP for nothing last year. He's one of the best players in the league. He's lightning quick. If he and the roadrunner had a race, my money is on Rose.
His outside shooting and playmaking skills have improved. Going to the basket, he has few peers and is getting more calls from the refs.
Too big, too strong, too fast and too good is the way Bulls announcer Stacy King describes Rose.
With what I said about Rose, you would think this would be a slaughter. It's not.
Westbrook practices with Rose in the offseason in California. They know each other's game very well.
Westbrook attacks the basket almost as much as Rose. He's also a tough defender with the speed to stay with Rose, and that's saying a lot.
But, he's also his own worst enemy. He tends to hog the ball at times instead of looking for Durant. He turns the ball over more than you like, though he has improved in that area.
Westbrook is one of the top point guards in the league and, outside of Rose, is probably the most athletic.
The coaches are the last comparison.
Thibodeau has been a revelation since taking over the Bulls, leading them to the best record in the league two years in a row. He won Coach of the Year his first season and finished second this year.
He teaches and expects his players to play defense—other than Boozer. Thibodeau has the respect of the team and, more importantly, he has Rose's respect.
Along with his success, he has his critics. The Bulls have not fared as well in the playoffs as the regular season.
Many think it's because of how hard he pushes his players during the regular season. Continuing to play his players when the game is wrapped up may be why you're not watching the Bulls play OKC right now.
Brooks is not thought of as one of the best tacticians in the game, but he's been very successful in his first coaching opportunity. It's his fourth year with the Thunder, and they've gone 299-174 in his tenure.
He seems to have a good feel for his players. He knows when to substitute and when to keep a guy in the game.
He gained a lot of respect last year when he benched Westbrook in a playoff game because he didn't like how he was playing. It worked and made him a better player. His Thunder beat Dallas, the Lakers and San Antonio to get here, so he must be doing something right.
Slight Edge Bulls
Who's the winner? Is it the Bulls with home court advantage, or is it the Thunder with their explosive offense and the best scorer in the game?
As Rose goes, so go the Bulls. But in Westbrook, he has a defender who can keep him honest, and a couple of beasts in the middle to clog the lane.
The Bulls are going to need someone else to step up offensively to win.
I don't see that player on the roster right now. The style the Bulls play will always keep the team in the game.
Before the season, I said if the Bulls made it to the finals they would get by the Thunder. But, that was before Harden stepped up big this year.
Add in a more mature Westbrook, and it becomes a tough assignment for Chicago to overcome.
The one x-factor is Durant, because the Bulls have no answer for him.
I hate to waffle, but I think I'm going to have to change my mind on this one. Don't forget I am taking into account the Bulls injuries during the season, and that they would have been beat up even if everyone was available to play.
Thunder in six.
Unfortunately, we can't see this play out on the court. But, we can see it in our imagination.
What do you think? Would this Bulls team have been good enough to beat the Thunder with all hands on deck?
I've told you my thoughts, so tell me yours.
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