After struggling to put away the Indiana Pacers Chicago looked somewhat vulnerable. But on Sunday night Chicago put on a masterful defensive clinic that stifled the Miami Heat and reasserted the Bulls’ supremacy over their eastern conference counterparts.
Coming into the game it was odd hearing reporters recount how Lebron James and Dwyane Wade almost signed with Chicago during this past off season. All that this trivial tidbit did was (a) remind everyone that Chicago would have been a better fit for either Wade or Lebron, and (b) stoke Derrick Rose’s competitive juices even further. Rose as some will recall opted not to participate in last summer’s recruiting frenzy, deciding instead if someone wanted to come to Chicago, they would come to Chicago. Not to say that Rose or his Bulls teammates needed the extra motivation, but hearing james, Wade and the national media waxing nostalgic about what could’ve been, must’ve been as appealing as having to sit through an exes’ wedding. Sure you’re over her, but you also wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to kick her husband’s ass in a competition.
Interestingly enough it wasn’t until watching yesterday’s game against Miami that I was finally able to place my finger on what team the Bulls reminded me of. Chicago is a stabler and better coached version of–wait for it–the Lebron led Cleveland Cavaliers. Both are mid-west teams led by a homegrown hero. Both featured centers that are all elbows, energy and hair. Both have undersized power-forwards with checkered playoff backgrounds. And both rosters will filled out with fringe specialists.
While some will argue that Chicago has a decisive edge in the talent department, I think it’s more nuanced than that and more based on the roles that various players inhabited. For example with Luol Deng is much better than Anthony Parker, there’s also no way that Keith Bogans would’ve cracked Cleveland’s rotation. Having a coach like Thibodeau capable of developing a defensive game plan helps immensely.
But what I think sets the Bulls apart from the Lebron-era Cavs apart is their unrelenting hunger that at times borders on rage. With Lebron at the helm the Cavs were at times perturbed, maybe disapproved of the competition set out in front of them, but they more often carried themselves as if they were a team destined for greatness rather than one who had to fight for it. Chicago on the other hand is compromised of a bunch of high energy nuisances. Everyone is either always moving around, flinging elbows, and pasting themselves to an opponents jersey. Whereas Cleveland might take on this demeanor when they fell behind, the Bulls start out like this–every game.
The team of destiny ethos that hovered over Cleveland has now been transported to Miami, which is why on the eve of the conference finals, Miami’s two premier players were often led into discussing what could’ve been rather than the matter at hand. Meanwhile the Bulls have no past to dote on, for them the most important thing in the world is the game at hand.
Thus while Chicago’s talent was already obvious, Sunday’s victory proved that this team has the DNA of a champion.