Here are some facts about the Chicago Bulls:
Derrick Rose has played 10 games in the last two years. They traded Luol Deng, the franchise's longest tenured player and its most decent human, for what was essentially just extra money in ownership's pockets. They are the third worst offensive team in the NBA and play at the second slowest pace. Their best guard was the fourth string point guard on the Toronto Raptors just three months ago.
There are plenty of things these Bulls are not, especially without Derrick Rose. But every so often the Bulls play so tough, so inspired that I can't help but take a step back and be grateful. Sunday afternoon's 95-88 win over the Heat was one of those games.
The Bulls had no business winning. They had no business holding LeBron James to 17 points on 23 shots. They had no business coming back from a 12-point deficit during the fourth quarter. They had no business running the Heat off the floor in overtime. But as has become customary over the last two seasons, the Bulls dig deep and find a way. They take the tired sports cliches that lost meaning decades ago and give them vitality. When everything looks lost, the Bulls rattle in a jumper or tip out a rebound or intercept a pass. It defies logic, sure, but who has any time for that. This win over the Heat was simply the continuation of a trend that been developing ever since Tom Thibodeau took control of the franchise and dramatically altered its trajectory three and a half years ago.
This game was, I think, kind of beautiful. There was Lisa Salters' interview with Yannick Noah as Joakim got down in a defensive stance, squared-up James, clapped in his face and forced a missed jumper. There was Yannick Noah's delirious reaction when Joakim sprinted down the court and finished the play at the other end. There was Kirk Hinrich's impossible floater to tie the game in regulation and Jimmy Butler's strip of James to force overtime. There was a tremendous atmosphere inside of the United Center and a home team feeding off it.
The Bulls lose the on-paper matchup against Miami so thoroughly that wins like this one are almost comical. But when you see Noah slapping Butler's hand repeatedly after a big play or cheerlead from bench or wave his arms to draw the crowd into a frenzy, you know the paper matchup has no place here. The Bulls are, objectively, an inferior team when compared to the Heat or many of the NBA's other elite squads. Sometimes, it doesn't matter.
Noah was simply tremendous. Across 42 minutes, he ended with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. We say it 20 times a week already, but it's worth repeating: the Bulls are so, so lucky to have him, and we are even luckier to be able to watch him every game. For as tremendous as the box score numbers are, they don't come close to capturing Noah's impact on either end of the floor. He may not look or play like a traditional NBA superstar, but he is very much worthy of that title. Wins like the one over the Heat on Sunday do not happen without Noah acting as the salt of the Earth. He deserves all of the admiration this city has for Mike Ditka and more.
As Jason noted during the game, for as great as Noah is, the Bulls would not be here today without D.J. Augustin. What a tremendous signing for the front office. Augustin has always had ability, but it took him time to cultivate it and find a system that accentuates his strengths. He's found a home in Chicago and the Bulls would be dead without him.
Augustin was fantastic, finishing with 22 points off the bench on 8-of-13 shooting. For a team that so often feels like it plays basketball underwater, Augustin has the rare ability to kick the game into another gear. He doesn't have Rose's speed because no one does, but the upgrade from him to Hinrich in terms of pace is so essentially when the offense falls into a rut. D.J. gets things going. He hits big shots. The same way Nate Robinson gave the Bulls a considerable boost last season, D.J. is doing this year. Thank the skies he is around.
There's so much more. Butler quietly had a very good second half after a terrible first half. Even when Taj Gibson is struggling like he was on Sunday, he's still a wall defensively and can finish at the rim the way no one else on the roster can. Mike Dunleavy did some things, too. He usually does.
It's impossible not to think about how much better this could team could be if Rose was alive, but the greatest accomplishment of these Bulls might be making us momentarily forget about him. This isn't Derrick's team. It's Thibodeau's and Noah's and Gibson's and Augustin's, for better and worse. It's only one win that counts the same in the standings as any other, but victories like this one pay back all of the hours you've wasted thinking and writing and talking about something as non-impactful as professional basketball.
Thank you, Bulls. We could all be Knicks fans. Man, would that be a drag.