ended for the Chicago Bulls vs. the Miami Heat, in five games Wednesday night. A miserable season spent waiting on a point guard's return that never came. It will be remembered as a frustrating, miserable year marked by injuries, by the lost promise of what Rose's return would have meant. It will have footnotes about Luol Deng's spinal tap condition, Kirk Hinrich's calf, and Taj Gibson's knee. Oh, and Joakim Noah's foot.
Underneath all that, though, there needs to be admiration for this Bulls run. It was tough, it was full of determination and heart, things that beyond all the metrics we do truly enjoy watching. It wasn't successful, because talent is better than those things. But they deserve recognition for accomplishing so much with so little.
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Throughout the season, the Bulls largely stepped up in key moments. They won games they had no business winning. They out-executed teams with more talent, they hustled and worked over teams with more energy. So much of this comes down to the identity that Tom Thibodeau has instilled. Thibodeau led the Bulls to believe that they could beat any team if they stayed with the things they do well.
Rebounding, effort, and defense, defense, defense.
Look, you can't ignore the elephant in the room that Derrick Rose never returned when so many teammates played through injuries. But injuries and bodies are different, and it doesn't matter now. Let's not cast judgment on Rose, let's celebrate guys like Joakim Noah.
Noah played through the year with plantar fasciitis. The condition isn't structural. It doesn't heal with anything but rest. It's not damaging. It's just painful. Really, exceptionally painful. But at least Noahs game isn't based on jumping and running, oh wait. Noah got so bad he missed the start of the playoffs because of the pain. But he came back, and lead the Bulls emotionally past the Nets.
That Nets series was a great example of how all those things I've described above can make up for a talent differential, if the talent isn't optimized in its approach. They played smarter, harder, and tougher than the Nets and got past a team that should have handled them.
Then they walked into Miami and stole Game 1. Nate Robinson was a hero for short Bulls fans with too much confidence everywhere. Jimmy Butler was Pippen 2.0. Carlos Boozer was a monster. Joakim Noah was a super-monster-demon.
Then reality happened.
But Chicago went down fighting. So many teams would have bailed in Game 5, started planning vacations, mailed it in. Down 3-1 to the best team in the league on the road? It should be over, it is over. But Chicago took it to them. Went down 17, took it to them.
Chicago has problems. Their coach pushes them too hard with too many minutes. They need more skill in the post. They need shooters, badly, and a backup center. They may not get any of that. Derrick Rose may not come back who he was. There are dangers. But they have a coach who gets his players to compete every single minute of every single game, and leaders who want to play at a high level.
Don't feel sorry for Chicago. Make sure you're ready for them next year. Because just like it was every time they were down this year, you had better know one thing.
They're coming back at you.