Entering the Eastern Conference Finals the Chicago Bulls were poised to prove 60+ years of NBA precedent erroneous by defying conventional wisdom and winning a title.
They would win despite not having a shooting guard that averages double figures in scoring, which no team has done in the last 40 years.
They would win despite having a rookie head coach, which has never happened.
They would win despite being led by a 22-year-old player, even though the playoffs have always favored veteran and experienced teams.
They would win despite having a shoot first point guard, which has rarely ever occurred.
They would also win despite having no other "superstar" caliber second option, which is also a rarity.
The Bulls fans deserve credit for believing in their team and supporting their team, as it took the league by storm in the regular season by winning 62 games. But the fact of the matter is, many Bulls fans simply got too excited about the Bulls' success in the regular season and drank too much of the Derrick Rose MVP Kool-Aid, even though he had never even won a playoff series prior to this year.
In fact, there were many Bulls fans and writers, even on this site, who believed that the Bulls 3-0 record against the Miami Heat was likened to already winning a playoff series against the Heat. It turns out, the regular season and playoffs ARE different after all.
Here are the seven pre-playoff beliefs about the Chicago Bulls that proved to be inaccurate.
Conventional wisdom asserts that in order for a team to prosper in the postseason, they need a number of two-way players to avoid predictability. However, supporters of the Chicago Bulls argued that the Bulls' lack of any real two-way talents would not hurt them, since their players were so good at playing their roles.
Bulls fans said: "Ronnie Brewer doesn't need to be a great scorer, because his defense makes up for his offensive issues," or "Carlos Boozer may have his defensive problems, but that's why we can use Taj Gibson for stretches of the game to defend those tough power forwards."
The Bulls are comprised of players whose effectiveness can be seen on only one end of the court, and that lack of versatility gave them few options when games got tight against a more versatile Heat squad.
When you need a bucket and defenses are locking down the Bulls scorers on the floor, do you bring an offensive player in the game who can't play defense? Maybe he comes in and makes a few shots, but what happens if he can't guard his man on the other end?
Throughout NBA history, the title teams always had great two-way players to keep defenses off balance, whether it was Lamar Odom, who had the ability to handle the ball, defend, play several positions and spread the floor offensively for the Lakers or Michael Jordan who was as great offensively as he was defensively.
The Bulls are a team of specialists who come into the game to provide one thing (offense or defense). As it turns out, this would not be good enough to defeat a team like Miami who has four players Haslem (forward, center) Wade, (either guard position) James, (any position on the floor) Miller, (guard or forward) with the ability to use its lineup in various ways to keep the Bulls on their toes.
Despite the 60+ years of evidence to attest to the fact that benches don't win titles, NBA pundits have continued to push this erroneous theory in their analysis.
Charles Barkley said that he liked the Bulls to win the series against Miami because "they have a much better bench." Jon Berry also said the same thing prior to the series, questioning whether the Heat would have an answer for the Bulls "reserves."
Let us be clear: benches don't win titles. I want to say that again because apparently even the pundits seem to buy into this myth; benches don't win titles. Benches win playoff games and superstars win series and titles. This has always been true.
The best example I can use to explain this phenomena is the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Portland Trailblazers had one of the best benches ever with Steve Smith, Damon Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Greg Anthony among their reserves. The Lakers bench was good, but arguably thinner. But they sported the two best players in the series in Shaq and Kobe, who led them to a title.
Benches don't have the capacity to lead a team to a title because they will not have the same impact in every game.
Look at the Bulls-Heat series. No bench player on either team played well every game, (Taj Gibson had his moment early, while Haslem played well later,) so their impact will not be consistent enough to continue all the way to a title.
The Bulls were beaten, like all playoff teams are, by the matchup between the supertstars in the starting lineup. Wade, James and Bosh outplayed Rose, Deng and Boozer. The Bulls' bench was marginally better than Miami's during the series, but they could not prevent the Bulls' ousting.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A player wins the MVP award by leading his team to the best record in the NBA. He is the only true superstar on his team, but the fans fully expect him to advance to the finals and win it all. However, he runs into a team with arguably more stars, and he sees his season end in disappointment.
Am I describing LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki or Derrick Rose? The fact that you probably don't know is the primary reason why the Bulls' playoff failure should finally close the door on the theory that one-star teams can win titles. It almost never happens.
This series was supposed to prove that a team with one superstar could indeed beat a more star-laden team like the Heat. It was about the "team" and not individual talents, and when a group of solid but unspectacular players rally behind one "driven-to-win" superstar, they are bound to have success.
But Rose found out what it took James, Kobe and Paul Pierce several years to learn: single-star teams don't win in the post-season.
The reason is because in the later rounds of the playoffs, most teams will defensively focus on limiting that one star and making the role players beat them.
Since the natural hierarchy of the NBA dictates that role players are role players for a reason (a fundamental inability to dominate a series like a superstar could), the chances are vanishingly small that the role player will be able to effectively lead the team to victory, especially with two or more all-stars on the other team.
Over the last 40 years of NBA Finals competition, I compiled a list of all of the starting shooting guards that averaged fewer than 6 PPG in the regular season.
The number I arrived at? Zero.
I could not find a worse offensive shooting guard in the last 40 years of finals competition in either conference.
The Bulls fans wanted to believe that Keith Bogans' defensive prowess would compensate for his offensive liabilities. But it seemed as though unless he was completely shutting down the opposing shooting guard, he would put no pressure on his man to guard him, which would keep him fresh for the series.
To be fair, Bogans did a solid job on Wade in the series. Most of the games Wade scored in the teens, and only Game 2 saw Wade score over 20. But Bogans' inability to hit perimeter shots was an albatross around the team's neck, as their offense really struggled when he was not making open threes.
It appears as though a team does need an offensive and defensive oriented two-guard in order to advance to the finals. Bogans--while a strong defender--was just too limited offensively to be trusted to excel against one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.
We've seen plenty of teams over the course of the last few years win the regular season's best record yet wind up losing the postseason. In fact, including the Bulls, the top seed in the Eastern Conference has advanced to the NBA Finals only four times in the last 12 years.
What is the reason for this? Doesn't winning the top seed automatically mean that the team is the best in the conference?
There are several reasons for a team to win the top seed. One is that the other teams in the conference could be pacing themselves, and are not really worried about winning the best record. They have confidence that they can win on the road, and are more concerned with health and chemistry than homecourt advantage.
Remember the Celtics last year? They didn't bother winning the East's best record because they knew if they were healthy come playoff time, they could make a run, and indeed they did, even if it fell short.
While the Chicago Bulls were expending all their energy to secure the top seed in the league on the final day of the season, the Miami Heat quietly rested its players the final game against Toronto, content with its number two seed. Miami felt confident it could beat Chicago when it mattered and so saw no reason to overwork its players to win five more games.
The consequence of seeking the top seed in the conference is the inability to avoid fatigue when the playoffs begin. The San Antonio Spurs won 61 games. But didn't they look gassed when the playoffs started?
The Bulls won 62, but remember how tired Luol Deng looked at the end of Game 4? Deng played more minutes a game than any other player on the team during the season.
Pacing is much more important than seeding when the playoffs begin. Granted homecourt advantage is important, but the toll it takes on a team during the season may not be worth the effort.
"Defense wins championships."
The phrase is so common it has become cliche. But it is true. In order for a team to win a title it needs to be very effective on the defensive end. Blocks, deflections, rebounds, traps, and pressuring the ball are all needed elements of a championship caliber defense.
However, offense is also a key ingredient to winning. And despite how effective the Bulls' defense was throughout the Eastern Conference Finals (holding the Heat to 91 PPG), its own limited offensive options could not provide enough backup for the defense.
The Bulls struggled because they had few offensive options outside of Rose, Boozer and maybe Kyle Korver if he was left open on the perimeter. But the Bulls offered precious few consistent offensive options to make the Heat's own defense pay for trapping their best player.
Defense may win titles, but you also need offense to stay with an offensively explosive team like Miami.
This was perhaps the biggest myth exposed by the Heat-Bulls series: the regular season matchup does not dictate what will occur in the playoffs.
Bulls fans were feeling pretty confident after their team swept the season series with the Miami Heat leading to the woefully over reported "Crygate" incident. Maybe Bulls fans felt as though they had "broken" or "exposed" the Miami Heat, or discouraged them from their goal of winning a title. But their overconfidence was very premature.
"We're 3-0 against Miami this season, so clearly the Bulls have show to be the better team," argued some Bulls fans. "When you also add that we'll have homecourt advantage in the playoffs, how can we not get to the finals against the Heat?"
I've said it before, no regular season matchup should be taken at face value. There are plenty of reasons why a team can win a season series: an unexpected and unlikely to be repeated huge game by a role player on the winning team, injuries, back-to-back situations, questionable calls in the final seconds, or simply because the losing team was pacing itself for the playoffs while the winning team was playing the game like its season was on the line.
When Heat fans asserted that the Bulls' 3-0 record against them was misleading because the games were so close and there were unusual circumstances that could explain each loss, (No LeBron in Game 1, no Haslem in any game, two of the games were the Heat's third in four nights, Bosh's once-in-a-lifetime 1-18 game, questionable foul called on Mike Miller that allowed Deng to win the third game from the line, Heat were still struggling to close out games), Bulls fans were hearing none of it, saying that the 3-0 record means that the Bulls were a real "team" and Miami wasn't.
Obviously not the case.