They say hindsight is 20-20.
Flashback to early July, when the greatest free-agent frenzy in NBA history began, highlighted by the best player on the planet, LeBron James. He created a Twitter page, just to bypass the media and announce that he would be making his decision on ESPN. (He tweeted on July 7: “Check http://bit.ly/apxlxx (lebronjames.com) for updated info on my decision.”)
At the time, Bulls fans here on Bleacher Report and across the world were buzzing about the possibility of James joining forces with All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, All-Star forward Carlos Boozer (who agreed to a deal with the Bulls on July 8) and the core of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to form a “Super Team.”
Obviously, that didn’t happen. And regardless of how the rest of the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Bulls and Heat plays out, I’m going to enjoy rooting for the Bulls every second of the way. And the Bulls are going to relish their attempt to spoil the Heat’s championship march, especially after Miami ordained itself the NBA’s best in the middle of the summer.
Vegas odds say the Bulls are 2-to-1 underdogs in this series. ESPN’s NBA staff overwhelmingly predicted the Heat to win the series. Which of course is odd considering the Bulls won more games than any other team in the league, have home-court advantage and beat the Heat three times in the regular season. Oh, and Chicago also boasts the league’s Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.
But that’s not what this series is about. It’s about the Miami Heat snatching the “Big Three” and the Chicago Bulls scrambling to pick up the scraps in Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson. Boozer can’t play strong defense. Brewer can’t shoot threes. Korver can’t stay in front of his man on defense. Watson can’t be a pure point guard.
Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t…the Bulls can’t defeat the Heat. Not without multiple superstars, the experts say.
Except, as the Bulls showed in Game 1, they can.
As Chicago proved throughout the entire regular season, it thrives on being disregarded, being an afterthought. While the typical players in the East like Boston, Miami and Orlando got all the attention, Chicago, despite injuries, played consistent basketball and raced out to a 62-20 record, its first season of 60 or more wins season since the Michael Jordan era.
Then, once experts started hopping on the Bulls bandwagon as the playoffs started, the team was placed in unfamiliar territory—as the favorite. Bogged down with hefty expectations, the Bulls struggled against a young and aggressive Indiana Pacers team, and then again while facing a “disrespected” Atlanta Hawks franchise.
Now that weight is off the Bulls’ shoulders, and it literally showed as Gibson, Brewer, Boozer and Omer Asik all had a spring in their steps and threw down monstrous dunks against the highly touted Heat defense. The way the Bulls moved on defense, rebounded on offense and supported each other looked as if they felt comfortable in these playoffs for the very first time.
The Miami Heat, in their villainous black jerseys, will undoubtedly fight back with a much stronger effort. After all, arguably the two best basketball players in the world are on that team. Eric Spoelstra will activate more big men and stop the second-chance points, the Heat defenders will contest more three-pointers and LeBron and Wade will force more turnovers.
Yet there’s a reason the Bulls made some Heat players cry during the regular season. Because of what the Big Three did in the offseason, and because of their star power, they are almost always going to be regarded as the favorites. They can’t fly under the radar, because the “Heat Index” is always focused on them and their latest mood swings.
Meanwhile, an equally talented but less star-driven Bulls team evades attention with cliché statements and players who exude little emotion off the court. They have complete faith in each other, and the most emotion you see from the Bulls is when one of their own makes a great basketball play.
That’s why as a fan of basketball, I’m glad James took his talents to South Beach. And I think Rose, Boozer, Noah, Deng and Tom Thibodeau are too. It’s always more fun to slay the giant than to be the one squashing the opposition.